Steely Dan: Reelin' in the Years Paperback – Aug 1994
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An honest and unpretentious read'. Q 'Well researched'. Mojo --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
Brian Sweet is the author of The Complete Guide to the Music of Steely Dan, the only other book on the group to have been published and is a noted Steely Dan archivist and collector. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
After informing us that he could not get any interviews with either of Steely Dan's principals Walter Becker or Donald Fagen in his preface, ("for reasons best known only to themselves, Becker and Fagen, declined to be interviewed despite several earnest requests."),Sweet then spends the next 36 pages detailing Fagen's childhood (but not Becker's), the songwriters school days at Bard College and then a long study of a terrible film the duo wrote the score for in 1971 ('You Gotta Walk It, Like You Talk It'..so bad that it's never been aired on tv).
One of the things that die hard 'Dan fans hoped for before this book came out was a detailed account of how and when the group came into being when they were signed by ABC Dunhill Records in 1971. Despite lots of details and a plethora of non-source credited quotes (in fact none of the quotes in the entire book are sourced!)the reader will still come away somewhat confused as to how the original group (which toured for three years) was first assembled. Sweet himself seems confused, on p. 40 he states that Denny Dias, a longtime guitarist for the band, was the first to join the band. Five pages later he states that the group had already recorded and released their first songs before Dias had "yet to arrive in California."
Aside from compiling a sloppy chronology Sweet gives off obsessive tones with comments like "What more do they want?" as he demands they release a new album in his introduction. Later he takes on the roll of psychologist with, "Fagen seemed to be blaming his parents and the American lifestyles in the Fifties for his thirtysomething creative problems." What lifestyles of the 1950's were a! ffecting Fagen some 30 years later one can only guess but Sweet seems confident in telling us the true psyche of this person he's never interviewed.
Now I don't blame all of these faults with the book on the writer..... But what you get is a half baked account, slapped together (complete with a picture of Donald Fagen in kindergarten)for a quick buck....maybe Fagen and Becker are saving their version of the Steely Dan story for Hollywood!....I can see it 'Steely Dan: The Trip We Made To Hollywood..(and back)!
fan of the composers and not a writer or researcher. My father said that you can always
judge a book by its index and bibliography...this book has neither...no index + no bibliography= sloppy writing...Steely Dan deserve better.
of reading its forward. Despite his catchy title, Brian
Sweet's forward does and, alas, MUST stipulate that he could
not convince Steely Dan's key members to participate in the
the production of "Steely Dan: Reelin' in the Years." As we
are soon to learn, the characteristic retiscence with,
occasional manipulation of, and general disdain for popular
media by Mr.s Fagen and Becker are an essential part of the
exposition of this "band." If J.D. Salinger has a musical
counterpart, it is Donald Fagen, and perhaps Walter Becker is
a psychedelic Hemingway. In either case, the deliberate, if
uncalculated, mystery of Steely Dan is Sweet's most obvious
"take" on the Fagen/Becker collaboration. Anyone who has an
abiding interest in the work of either of these figures knows
this full well, but one cannot blame Sweet for thematizing it.
As a result, Sweet must rely on an assemblage of extant press
accounts and interviews, which really turns the book into a
second order cut and paste job. This said, however,
what "Reelin' in the Years" does successfully is lay out some
basic facts about the band in chronological order, using an
apt phrase or song title to characterize each period. This
presentation is satisfactory, but perhaps avoids the most
difficult interpretive work to be done here: Namely, to do
some enjoyable figuring on just what the hell is going on with
the music. It is true that "Only a Fool" would pretend to get
at anything like an "essence" here, if for no other reason
than there ain't one to get. Nevertheless, as unprecendently
postmodern and ironist as Steely Dan was (and, incidentally,
the solo Donald Fagen of "Nightfly" and "Kamakiriad" was
certainly not), there are chunks of coherency and discernible
irreverency in the lyrics and particularly the music of Steely
Dan that is there for the taking, the surface of which Sweet
really does not limn. Incidentally, if you want a coherent,
third order, take on the history of the band, listen to
"Kamakiriad" with Sweet's account in mind--the clues are
everywhere--Fagen denials notwithstanding. For example, the
fact that Becker lives in Hawaii and Fagen in NYC is not
entirely inconsistent with "Kamakiriad's" first cut about a
"Trans-Island Skyway." But even though it is intriguing to
think about "Kamakiriad" as a Freudian prelude to Steely Dan's
"rebirth," this is not an objective exam and will not be
graded. This is another way of saying that I wish Sweet had
done less to try to "find" a coherency in what were highly
contingent, accident-ridden, and thoroughly brilliant years of
songwriting and studio sessions. Instead, I'd like to see
what he makes of what Becker and Fagen assembled. This said,
I think Sweet has skillfully begun excavation on a site where
the artifacts are never quite stable in shape or location.
"Steely Dan: Reelin' in the Years" whets the appetite and
makes me look forward to the next dig.
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