Week Of Music #3: the church of Steely Dan

I'd love to tell you where it began, but the truth is that I don't remember. Instead, I have to choose a beginning point, arbitrary though it is, and begin from there.

The speed limit on the Cutoff was 40, but anyone with half a brain knew that the cops never policed that section of road, because there was no place for them to park, and even if there was, Bauxite didn't have cops anyway. The descent to the paved-over area where the railroad track used to be was one such that if you hit it at just the right speed, your car wouldn't go airborne, but you would.

Just for a moment, you would fly.

It would have been 1994, and it would have been one of those lucrative nights in which I'd baby-sat the son of my mother's co-worker while she and her husband went out for some social time with friends. Keenan was easy to tend to, even for someone like me who lacks the innate child-tending gene. A gentle reminder that it was time to get in bed was all it took; with in just a few minutes, his teeth would be brushed, his pajamas on, and he would be ready to have the night light turned out.

I would sit in the living room and read after he went to sleep. It was easy money.

Once his parents got back home, I would bid them goodnight, pack up what few thigns I'd brought, and head to my car. Once in the car, it was the same ritual, every time: on the floorboard of the passenger seat would be a caffeinated drink, a snack, and my little box of tapes.

More often than not, I made the half-hour drive home to the sounds of Steely Dan.

This was 1994, the year that Nirvana and Pearl Jam influenced half the kids in the country to pull out those previously-uncool plaid flannel shirts and wear them with pride. I listened to them, and liked them, but for some reason, my car always seemed to end up playing Steely Dan more often than not.

Unlike most fans, who had been been in on the joke since the Dan first sprang on the scene, I grew up in a world where there was already an oeuvre of Dan albums to listen to. As a newbie, I worked my way backwards, starting from Gaucho.

Given the right timing, I'd hit that perfect little airborne leap right during the chorus of 'Time Out Of Mind.' I'd sing, and I'd fly:

Tonight when I chase the dragon

The water will change to cherry wine

And the silver will turn to gold

Time out of mind

This music - this album, this band, these songs - were mine, in a way that I still can't explain. They held a fascination and appreciation that no one else I knew shared; for all I knew, I could be the only one in the world listening to this particular album, this particular song.

I would hit the top of that hill and fly for just a moment and think, "One of these years, when I'm old enough to do things like go to concerts on my own, I'm gonna see these guys." It was a pipe dream, said with the fervor and intensity of teenage years, thought about intensely while driving home and immediately left behind with the tape deck after I got in the house.

I grew up. Got older. Finally got a CD player, and started replacing the beat-up Steely Dan tapes with shiny CDs. Suddenly, I didn't have to wait through 'Gaucho' to get to 'Time Out Of Mind'; what luxury! I could listen to the songs in whatever order I wanted, without having to juggle my half-crazed tape player to make it rewind so I could hear that lovely chorus one more time.

...and Steely Dan stopped making albums.

I chalked it up to a lost cause, a dream unfulfilled. They toured a few times, but nowhere near me.

Then came the unexpected album 'Everything Must Go' - and, what was this? A tour? My stomach did the flying lurch again as the tour dates were announced. No one heard the squeal that came out of my mouth when I learned that an Atlanta tour date was scheduled, but I was there, and I can tell you it tasted like sixteen and babysitting and, just for a moment, like flying.

People sometimes ask me if I have dreams for the future, and the truth is, more often than not, I don't. I used to, when I was younger, and then I began to figure out that no matter how much you plot or plan, things never quite work out the way that you envisioned them.

So when I sat down in my $85, middle-of-the-road seat, I looked at my spouse to my left and admitted to myself that all those years ago, I never imagined actually sharing this show with someone else. In that fevered dream, my induction to the church of Steely Dan would be a solitary act, just as all the years of listening had been mostly a solitary act, but there he was, with me and smiling at my restraint when it must have been so amazingly obvious that I was just about to bubble over with laughter at any given point.

How was the show?

Oh, it was a show. I can sit here now and tell you that technically and sonically, the Damien Rice show from the night before was better. This was a golden-oldies revue, the show in which the jazzmen played their familiar tunes and the audience basked in the music as much as the memories the music invoked.

I sat in the audience, pretending not to notice the occasional slanting, laughing glances my spouse sent my way, simply amazed by the fact that for probably the first time in my life, I was not the only Steely Dan fan in the room.

They played "Time Out Of Mind," and I leaned over to Jeff and whispered, "I always wished I could hear this song live." I didn't explain why, but from the expressions on the faces of the people around us, I had a feeling that I might just be among the kind of people who would understand.

For a moment, I flew, and that was enough.


I'm a big Steely Fan myself - they stopped here on August 4th - the same day we moved into our new house - so I didn't get to go, sadly. I was also hugely pregnant, which would have kept me home anyway, but still. Damn. I'm glad you got to see them.