Even Chewbacca is confused by all this retarded merchandising.

I sat in on a couple of history classes in Tracy this morning, at West High, and came away impressed. I had been expecting a gaggle of disinterested punks, but these kids were curious, vocal, and — with a fair amount of steering — engaged. I was also impressed with the curriculum, which is a far, far cry from the thuddingly dull book/lecture/test/purge cycle I remember from high school history.

Hey, maybe I can do this after all.

An update on Ken and Lupita is in order. First, the answer to the question everyone’s asking: No, she doesn’t really have a brain tumor. See? I told you. Everyone who was calling me an insensitive dick for making fun can now officially eat my balls. The truth is fairly mundane and a little sad — Lupita has an ulcer. They didn’t know this at first, just that she was coughing up blood, so they went to a clinic, where a not-too-bright nurse mentioned that cancer could be a possibility. The word “cancer” is apparently where Lupita stopped hearing, which is perfectly understandable.

She also believes, according to Ken, that she has “ghosts in her stomach.” I guess this could be what she was telling Leah when we thought she was saying she might be pregnant. I have no idea. The important thing is, no brain tumor. No one’s life is in danger, and my funny story is still funny.

As for the lovebirds, I think clouds are on the horizon, but that’s between the two of them. I made it known that Leah and I did not want to be put in the middle of that kind of thing. Problem solved, as far as I’m concerned.

Please, God, let it be solved.

Lots of reading to do, so I’m a little distracted, and I’m also fighting my way through a bad case of the afternoon sleepies. I stopped at that big-ass mall in Tracy for lunch, was delighted to find a Hot Dog on a Stick in the food court, and had an enjoyable half hour of munching and people-watching. Now I feel like taking a nap.

But first! It’s Tuesday! That means new Downloadablesâ„¢!

Our artist for this week is a band made up of two highly acerbic, well-read, crazy-talented college-professor-lookin’ dudes named Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. They named their band after a dildo in William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. My wife can’t stand their music.

Give up? It’s Steely Dan.

I understand the Steely hatas; I used to be one myself. All things being equal, I like my music endearingly sloppy — give me the creak of fingerprints on steel strings, the anguished almost-but-not-quite straining of a vocalist whose chutzpah outpaces his ability, the warm hiss of the magic air that hangs between a group of musicians playing together in a single room. Steely Dan’s albums offer none of these things. Messrs. Becker and Fagen are insane perfectionists; they make Brian Wilson look like a slacker. Since paring the band down to a duo, they have employed a phenomenal supporting cast on their albums, a veritable who’s who of ace session players. They hit their apogee with 1977’s nearly-perfect Aja, took a break after eking out an inferior follow-up three years later, and didn’t get around to reconvening for many years. Even when they did get back together, in the mid-’90s, it was years before they did anything but tour — and this was a pair of guys who had always hated touring.

Yes, the Steely Dan fan must be patient, and he must be able to tolerate — appreciate — contradiction.

A certain amount of musical literacy also helps. As I said, Steely Dan’s albums ain’t sloppy, and their precision comes at the expense of a certain amount of life in the recordings — rockitude, if you will. Their songs are lyrically and musically dense, with highly literate lyrics containing obscure pop culture references scattered between instrumental interplay that often requires a musician’s ear to appreciate (or notice). It has more to do with jazz than rock & roll, in a way.

Personally, I didn’t really “get” the Dan until I saw them in concert. I was a singer, and have never been able to play a thing, so I’m always rapt with amazement when I get to see musicians do their thing — especially musicians who know what they’re doing. Becker, Fagen, and every damn body on that stage knew. It’s one thing to just be a tight musical unit; with enough rehearsal, almost any group can achieve that status. But these guys had crossed over. They were so tight, they were loose, using that freaky musician’s ESP to improvise without ever stepping on toes, without ever straying from the song’s essential framework. In the wrong hands, this jammy tendency can result in music that is painfully fucking dull (I’m looking at you, Blues Traveler) — and it’s in the wrong hands so often that “jam” has become a four-letter word for most people.

It works so well — at least in part — because of the lyrics. Becker and Fagen offer aspiring songwriters a clinic in how to avoid tired love-above 4/4 pop couplets. Reflective of the music’s complexity, the lyrics are polysyllabic, flowing, conversational. Which they need to be, given the subject material. Rare is the Steely Dan song that does not tell a story — and one you’d never expect to hear set to music.

So this week’s batch of tunes may not be as immediately gratifying as last week’s vibrant XTC bouquet, but its charms are there, even if they take a little longer to manifest themselves. Spend some time with the cynical divorcee of “Things I Miss The Most,” the self-loathing lech of “Hey Nineteen,” the unrepentant, incestuous creep of “Cousin Dupree.” Groove to the big hits (“Peg,” “Do It Again,” “Reelin’ In The Years,” etc.) And, before long, you’ll be singing to yourself:

No I’m never gonna do it without the fez on
Oh no
That’s what I am
Please understand
I wanna be your holy man:

Steely Dan – Black Cow
Steely Dan – Peg
Steely Dan – Bodhisattva
Steely Dan – Your Gold Teeth II
Steely Dan – Everything Must Go
Steely Dan – Things I Miss The Most
Steely Dan – Hey Nineteen
Steely Dan – Time Out Of Mind
Steely Dan – Any Major Dude Will Tell You
Steely Dan – With A Gun
Steely Dan – Any World That I’m Welcome To
Steely Dan – Do It Again
Steely Dan – Reelin’ In The Years
Steely Dan – Kid Charlemagne
Steely Dan – The Fez
Steely Dan – Cousin Dupree
Steely Dan – What A Shame About Me

About the Author

Jeff Giles

Jeff Giles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Popdose and Dadnabbit, as well as an entertainment writer whose work can be seen at Rotten Tomatoes and a number of other sites. Hey, why not follow him at Twitter while you're at it?

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