Saturday, October 14, 2006

Satire: Steely Dan Have Tongues Surgically Dislodged From Cheeks, Proclaim "We're More Popular Than The Beatles!"

"It just couldn't be / And only a fool would say that..."

The 2000 Steely Dan album Two Against Nature might constitute a bit of a misnomer. After a scandalous and health-related in-your-face brouhaha today that saw the jazz-rock group all-too-publicly proclaiming they are “more popular than the Beatles” -- this incident quick on the heels of recent allegations made on Steely Dan's website against a new, perceived 'Dan-centric' movie -- perhaps a more suitable album title would have been Two Against Human Nature.

With the onset of medical complications following surgery that separated each of their congenitally conjoined cheeks and tongues -- a lifelong tongue-in-cheek affliction that nonetheless helped shape and infuse their perverse personalities and archly ironic songs -- Steely Dan main men Walter Becker and Donald Fagen showed the world they still had some surprises in store.

But to their fans and anyone familiar with their reclusive and standoffish ways, the writers of such hits as “Peg” and “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” and the core musicians responsible for the albums Pretzel Logic and Aja, the last thing anyone expected from Becker and Fagen was a lot of stentorian lung power and unexpected athletic prowess. Which was about the nicest things to be said when the two uncharacteristically -- and seemingly in astounding earnestness -- sprinted through Boston's crowded Logan Airport, blissfully and, to many, blasphemously proclaiming again and again, "We’re more popular than the Beatles! We’re more popular than the Beatles!"

Chaos at the airport ensued as people scrambled for cover, parents shielded their children, security personnel took early lunches, and shoe-bombers boarded planes.

Word quickly spread more publicly, with heated reaction close behind, about the new and not-quite-improved -- and definitely delusional -- change in the hitherto cynical and malcontented mainstays who comprise the Grammy-winning jazz rock group. A firestorm of controversy ensued as radio station programmers refused to play any Steely Dan songs, more Beatles songs taking up the sonic slack. One popular disc jockey broke all copies of Steely Dan’s records and CDs live on the air, saying, "This Steely Dan must be banned!"

TV personalities organized "Bonfires of Vanity" and “Vinyl Resolutions” inviting the community to “pack up all your cares and woe” -- all Steely Dan music, books, videos, DVDs -- and “perish all thoughts” by casting “the has-beens from the cut-out bin to the ashbin.” There seemed to be special interest in watching the incineration of Steely Dan's most recent album, 2003's Everything Must Go. "You mean 'everything must go…up in smoke!'" was heard more than a few times.

In addition, a local elementary school principal called on parents and teachers to collect from their children and students all Steely Dan records "so we can fan the flames of Fab Four-dom forever by fouling the air with the a Steely stench"; in an unprecedented move, the Environmental Protection Agency authorized a pollution waiver, issuing a statement contending that “A variance in the name of Beatle-hood is no vice, and compliance in the name of Steely-Danism is no virtue.”

Rounding out the onslaught of activism, protesters were also quick to form picket lines in front of Reprise Records, the label for which Steely Dan records. In a hasty counter-maneuver, the chagrined but scrappy company reminded the picketers of Reprise’s “close association” with the estate of the company’s founder, Frank Sinatra, intimating an “organized and continuing legacy” and “connections in regard to certain elements of society who could still get certain things done…if you get our drift.”

Subsequent monitoring of the picketers showed a dwindling force, but the ones that stayed displayed an added determination as they held aloft such signs that read “Any Major Dude Will Tell You: You, Sir, Are No Beatles!” and -- in an allusion to a song off 1975's Katy Lied -- “Are You Crazy, Are You High?”

Getting Nowhere, Man

Clearly, Becker and Fagen are no longer, as the song expresses, "ordinary guys." Well, they never really were in the first place, even when they performed with Jay and the Americans in the 1960s. And of course, that weekend at the college didn't turn out like they planned.

What did happen, though,  since they've never left their eccentricities at the studio door -- or any other door -- for the matter, is that now they’re being viewed as, in the words of one TV self-help wag, "differently-unordinary."  They're rebels and they'll never ever be any good, but that doesn't mean that the ultimately vulnerable Becker and Fagen are impervious to a few societal salvos to the system, jolts that, according to their physician, Dr. Wu Wu, denote "a profound psychological change that is at the heart of the current turmoil."

In an unusual coincidence, Wu elucidated, “both of these musical artists had been burdened since birth by a congenital affliction in which, lacking new technology, their tongues were virtually fated to stay permanently planted in their cheeks." However, with the advent of new surgical techniques, the miracle of modern science has come "to the rescue of wise guys and smart-asses everywhere," including Becker and Fagen, who underwent the operation last week and were released from the hospital three days ago.

But why did Becker and Fagen have such a bad reaction? Why the over-the-top, erratic behavior, overweening arrogance and ecstatic delirium? "The trouble stems from a maladjustment and insufficient recuperation,” Dr. Wu explains. “These particular patients prematurely abandoned the needed bed rest for libations, sensations that stagger the mind, and to see if their hotel room trashing skills were still intact."

As Wu goes on to detail, "When the recovery period is rushed, as it was in this case, an imbalance of precious bodily fluids occurs as the new burgeoning sense of earnestness and an irony-impaired outlook rejects or conflicts with the gradual release of the over 50-year build-up of contents-under-pressure -- if you will -- fear, loathing, neurosis and low self esteem." It's a sad state of demon-wrestling affairs, Wu pointedly asserts -- they're really just the shadows of the men that we once knew. 

"This may be the year of Steely Dan’s ‘expanding man,’ whatever that is," Wu days, "but the expanding man must take baby steps. Otherwise it’s a baby man taking expanding steps, which is tantamount self-deception and thinking they’re better than the Beatles. And that’ll get you nowhere, man, just -- you know, sitting in your nowhere land, making nowhere plans for nobody. Put that in your pipe dreams..."

Sinners In The Hands Of Four Angry Rock Gods

Clearly, a shocked and bewildered public reaction over this fab four faux pas signals the uneasiness and conflicting feelings of Americans confronted by this breach in the time-honored separation of the powers of Beatle-dom and “Every Other Musical Artist Or Group On the Face Of The Earth” (in a blanket 1967 Supreme Court ruling, all British Invasion pop/rock groups were granted amnesty whether they wanted it or not -- and subsequent legal citizenship, though the United States has been “a bit too busy” lately to tell England, and is still “looking for the right time, okay?”).

Adding to the complexity of the issue, according to the wildly popular website, many in the record-buying public largely prefer their intake of Steely Dan sardonicism “straight up, no chaser,” but are nevertheless fans of both groups. That is, says another completely objective and impartial industry observer (“no really, some of my best friends are ’Dan fans”), as long as “these Steely Dan people know their place.”

Burgeoning tensions aside, the blatant and audacious nature of Becker and Fagen’s assault on the delicate sensibilities of many Mop-Topians has triggered swiftly-marshaled and widespread resistance that begs for corrective measures to tip back the musical scales to its traditional Beatle-favored position. Stemming from Steely Dan’s perceived potshot heard ‘round the world, this delicate and now-disturbed balance of power pop-rock, especially vulnerable in this in-one-era-and-out-the-other dearth of compelling or sustaining musical movements, demands the perspective and proactive impetus afforded by the community of Beatle know-it-alls and Merseyside movers-and-shakers, aided by the rational guidance and expertise from authoritative music historians and scholars.

Then again, emotionalism and venting is good, too: “Our Guitars Not-So-Gently Weep over this mockery,” states local Beatles Fan Club president Carrie Thatwate when disdainfully discussing Becker and Fagen, “whoever they are and whatever a Steely Dan is! Sounds like something they made up -- self-serving nonsense that serves no functional purpose whatsoever!”

Climaxing her comments, this avowed “Beatles Fan’s Beatles Fan” passionately continued on, and though almost getting off topic now and then, she ultimately spent a disproportionate amount of time on her central concern, with special emphasis, on what is Uppermost in the Uppercase mind of one who Tends To Talk In Caps: “These Sinners In The Hands Of Four Angry Rock Gods Are Sullying The Beloved And Sacrosanct Beatles Soundtrack Of My Life And Many Other’s Lives…undermining the Beatles’ status as spokes-group -- minus Ringo, naturally."  

The attempt to come to terms with the various strands of connotations and convolutions triggered by the unseemly sight of psychotically happy yet arrogant bastards full of the milk of human kindness -- after thirty on-and-off years of sourly crying over spilled milk -- may not be for the faint of heart. And to be sure, “Any World That I’m Welcome To (Is Better Than The One I Come From)” is a great Steely Dan sentiment as well as song -- one of their best -- but there seems to be growing evidence that Becker and Fagen's "new" sensibilities are blinding them to a growing consensus among the stonewalling public who are setting up obstacles to impede any inroads the "new" Steely sensibilities might allow them to seek.  The welcome wagon doesn't stop here, boys, you are no longer freeway close to your once-adoring fans. 

Becker and Fagen need to understand that going from a down-with-people world to a full-on "Up With People" one is not a good career move for the un-dynamic anti-duo. There wasn’t even an intermediate stage -- a Fed-Up-With Uppity-People stage -- that would’ve made for a more tolerable and gradual transition to buffer the blow.

"They were smiling, but in a weird Uncle way..."

As far as the particulars of the events leading to the rock ‘n’ shock felt worldwide, details are still being pieced together from eyewitness accounts. According to Boston postal worker Clifford C. "Cliff" Clavin, Jr., at the airport to pick up his mother and another mail order bride, "The chain of events, you see, caused what you would call your lapsus calami to become lapsus linguae, and with other calamitous controversies evidently falling into the lapsus of...hey, where're you going? -- I'm not finished!

One nine-year old girl, Vera Chukandave, was frightened to tears. "They were smiling, but in a weird Uncle way -- it really creeped me out!” Business traveler Quando Paramucho sat at a bench shaking after the Dans had earlier passed by. "It reminded me of Richard Simmons, or that old Wham! video -- you know, 'wake me up before you go-go’”?

Paramucho shuddered as he followed up, “Please tell me we won‘t be seeing Donald Fagen and Walter Becker blubbering and dressing in tank tops and shorts, or that they‘ll end up like Michael George, touring the world's public toilets instead of concert halls.” With added emphasis he pondered, at a loss: “More popular than the Beatles? Why in the name of all that is good and true and not the Rolling Stones would they say such an awful thing?”

Why indeed? We took our soapbox and hit the road.

Steely Dan T-Shirt or Corporation T-Shirt, Stupid Bloody Tuesday?

"Well, I’m the biggest Steely Dan fan in the world, or, well… I used to be. Hell, I don’t know -- I just don't know what to think," says truck driver Sawyer Filmtuday. "Oh Boy," he goes on, "this is such a kick in the teeth. I even belong to a fan club, too, if you can believe that -- 'the 'Danatics,' we call ourselves. Got the Steely Dan T-shirts, too -- but hey, who didn't"?

It did indeed seem like every fan of the jazz-rock smoothies Steely Dan had been there and done that and got the T-shirt. Or actually, would've been there and done that if the leisurely lollygagging studio-bound creatures-of habitual OCD perfectionism hadn't stopped being everywhere and doing everything for years at a time. Still, Filmtuday is hanging in there for now, until it becomes more comprehensible as to how this crisis of confidence will play out -- perhaps there will be a better indication later in the day after a scheduled news conference by the so-called “terrible two.”

In the meantime, Maxwell not only has his Steely Dan T-shirt, he has dozens of Steely Dan T-shirts, including the lucky Steely Dan T-shirt he’s wearing now, the one depicting the cover of Aja, which is virtually all black. And since what little color there was at one time on the shirt has since run together, it looks just like an ordinary black T-shirt. That costs twice as much. And which may end up being cast into one of the many bonfire infernos raging across the city with increased intensity and greater frequency.

"Well, at least I like the Beatles, too," Filmtuday adds. "And who knows, maybe I’ll be wearing one of their shirts in solidarity. I have one that packs a Walrus-wallop with ’Corporation tee-shirt, stupid bloody Tuesday’ emblazoned on the front. And tomorrow’s Tuesday. This better get sorted out before then, or I won't know who to wear."

“Our children are the future,“ says one outraged father, Maxwell Edison, as he braves the smoke and fumes at one of the “Bonfire of Vanity” confab conflagrations, wielding a silver hammer to smash scores of old eight-track tapes; among the splintered and shattered cartridges one can make out such classics as Countdown to Ecstasy, Katy Lied, and Pretzel Logic.

Maxwell continued, "We have to protect any and all kids -- well, maybe not those snotty show-biz kids making movies of themselves. I hear they don’t give a f**k about anybody else -- those kind are not the future. But we need to shelter the ones we don't kill from the likes of these so-called jazz-rock vermin who can't even decide if they're jazz or rock. I mean, come on -- pick a genre and stick to it, guys!

Just then, Maxwell's wife Polly -- you could say she’s attractively built -- along with daughters Athena and Pam, creeps up from behind. "Or, better yet," Polly interjects, "they should just break up and take that long winding road to oblivion so our children can have a future -- did you tell him about that, Max? -- without the likes of these so-oh-oh-oh lazy bums who take fifteen years to release an album, and then when they do, they put out like three within eight years! You can't tell me there's no drugs involved -- some role models for our kids, who, I hope you know, are the futu..."

The rumble of a big Warner Bros./Reprise Records truck drowns out Polly’s voice. The driver gets out to unload the "writing on the wall," so to speak -- Steely Dan albums, tapes and CDs, pallet after pallet, carton after carton. “Meet the new box, same as the old box,” he quips quite cheerfully, although the company he works for is taking a considerable hit -- a problem that may jeopardize his job.

Can he afford to be so happy? "Oh, sure. Everything will work out fine. Those guys, Becker and Fagen, have been around for over thirty years of disbanding and solo releases and reuniting time and again. They go 'round and 'round and they always come out better than ever.”

Lowering his voice, he continues to confide, “This whole mess is just a bump in the road, a misunderstanding -- but it'll make 'em better than ever. You'll see, the Dansters are gonna be having a press conference later on that'll clear it all up -- they'll explain, apologize, and land on their feet, just like the hep cats they are."

Do Steely Dan have more lives in them, though? Only time, and forthcoming updates will tell…


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