Rahul da Cunha: Steely Dan, too cool, man

Sep 10, 2017, 06:14 IST | Rahul da Cunha

Illustration/Uday Mohite

So, it's been a tragic 17 months for rockheads of the 70s — David Bowie, Glenn Frey of the Eagles, Keith Emerson of ELP, Greg Allman of The Allman Brothers Band gone, all of them aged, coincidentally between 67-70.

Last Monday Walter Becker of Steely Dan, joined that list, aged, yes, 67.

I first met the Steely Dan duo, Becker and Donald Fagin in 1977. On a small cassette player.

Typically, the St Xavier's canteen beckoned far more than the college's classes — Pink Floyd infinitely more compelling than Political Science.

Steely Dan had a unique quality, compared to other bands of that era.

They had a boppy sense of humour. Their song Pretzel Logic stated —"I have never met Napoleon, but I plan to find the time" They were wry, they were whimsical, they were cynical, they were quirky, they were New York, deep without being dense and crucially they didn't take themselves too seriously.

They didn't write about love, ladies who had left them, life in other galaxies or LSD trips — like other bands of that era.

They wrote about, well, frankly, I haven't the foggiest. But, you were still lured in by their lyrics.

Check out these words from Rikki Don't Lose That Number, Dan's most famous song — 'Rikki don't lose that number, it's the only one you've got, you can use it if you feel better, when you get home'.

Who's Rikki, what's the number he might have lost, and why was it the only one he'd got?

They teased you with their songwriting. And their music was never genre specific — songs could be fused seamlessly with Big Band, Bebop, Blues with a garnishing of jazz rock.

When you were doped, felt like dancing, in that deep thought — like trance, depressed after an average teenage angst moment, they had songs for every state. And always laced with that poker faced sense of humour, as the Brits would say, taking the piss.

But bands that you 'freaked out' on in college are often relegated to the dusty out-tray of nostalgia. Steely Dan has followed me into adult life — across cassette players, two-in-ones, CDs, vinyl turntables, Sony walkmans, iPods, iPads, iTunes, they've kept me interested and I've dutifully followed, when I work, when I work out, when I'm worn out.

Still clueless about what they're saying.

So, when Mr Becker passed on, last Monday, a smile crossed my lips. The kind of smile that dances through your heart, through the heavy heart. Becker was not an icon, like Bowie or Prince, to be mourned — he was an under the radar guy, happy to create in the background.

In much the way when Groucho Marx passed on, or when say Jerry Seinfeld, or Woody Allen finally pass, the sadness will not be sentimental, their tombstones will say they led a RIProaring life, and brought to you a certain lightness of being.

I'm still figuring what most of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen's lyrics mean, but, boy, have they brought meaning to my life.

Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at rahuldacunha62@gmail.com

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