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The Lefsetz Letter: Walter Becker


"Do It Again"

We thought they were a one hit wonder.

"Go back, Jack
Do it again"

There was something about the sound, which made it so strange for AM radio. Which I listened to because that's all my car had. You usually didn't hear this depth on Top Forty, but that's where Steely Dan resided, in the winter of '72-73, when I had to go to Nick Nichols's room to hear it.

Bob Lefsetz, Santa Monica-based industry legend, is the author of the e-mail newsletter, "The Lefsetz Letter". Famous for being beholden to no one, and speaking the truth, Lefsetz addresses the issues that are at the core of the music business: downloading, copy protection, pricing and the music itself.

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Bob has been a weekly contributor to CelebrityAccess and Encore since 2001, and we plan many more years of partnership with him. While we here at CelebrityAccess and Encore do not necessarily agree with all of Bob's opinions, we are proud to help share them with you.

That's right, in the seventies we did not have everything at our fingertips, that's a relatively new paradigm. So certain albums we only heard in others' rooms, dorm rooms that is, I was in college.

Steely Dan was not.

They'd left Bard.

As had Michael Tolkin, to join his girlfriend Wendy Mogel at Middlebury. We became friends. He told me that Bard was falling apart, that people would pull out balustrades.

But Bard had a reputation for creativity.

But the seventies were ending.

"Dirty Work"

This is the song that stuck out, the one you got the first time through, it came right after "Do It Again" on the LP. It was sung by David Palmer, who was excised from the group shortly thereafter, but at this point Donald Fagen did not believe in his vocal chops.

"Midnite Cruiser"

And in this case, the lead vocal was by Jim Hodder, the group's drummer!

"Thelonius, my old friend"?

They were serving notice that they were not the average band, whether white or black, they were off on their own adventure, in a world where dumb ruled, but they were smart.

And today's acts could listen to the chorus and see how it's done, that's right, the Dan never lost singability.

"Reelin' In The Years"

This was the follow-up single. Also sung by Fagen, like "Do It Again," a catchy chorus with a meaningful lyric. It sounds like college, where I remember hearing it, at some frat house, where you went to drink beer and be glad that you were not a member.

"Brooklyn (Owes The Charmer Under Me)"

My favorite Steely Dan song?

Quite possibly.

I did not own "Can't Buy A Thrill," but when I moved to L.A. permanently I purchased the stereo of my dreams and borrowed my older sister's copy and this was the track that stuck out, the one I played when I came back from my girlfriend's house elated. "A tower room at Eden Roc
His golf at noon for free"
This was when Miami was passe, when Kennedy was dead, Jackie Gleason was over and everybody went to the islands, but for those of us who lived through the sixties, we remembered.

As did the Dan.


"My Old School"

Took me at least a decade to get over Middlebury, I'm still not sure I'm over it. Put a couple of thousand kids in the middle of nowhere and it's like "Lord Of The Flies," everybody jockeying for position, meanwhile losing status in the real world which was passing them by.

Whenever the chorus comes on, with Jeff Baxter's guitar for emphasis, I thrust my arm in the air and sing along…


That's what Becker and Fagen were all about, rejecting their upbringing, they were middle class, infected by the music, and they woke up one day and said they were not going to paint by numbers anymore, they were a beacon.


This was a staple of the live shows. But it was not part of the culture upon release. Hell, "Countdown To Ecstasy" was a relative stiff, with some of the best reviews of the act's career, but it was sans a hit. And it was on ABC, which lacked credibility, we still weren't sure where the Dan fit…we hadn't quite learned that was their essence, they didn't belong ANYWHERE! They created their own paradigm, which only they followed, there were no imitators, just them.


"Rikki Don't Lose That Number"

It was ubiquitous, a huge hit when we thought the band was done, with sonic textures and gravitas, I'd push the button when I heard "D'yer Mak'er," but never when I heard this. They ultimately broke the code by explaining the backstory when they were hyping their comeback in the twenty first century, but I liked it better the old way, when all we had were the lyrics, which we had to decipher and come up with our own meaning.

"Night By Night"

I bought "Pretzel Logic" from the Record Club of America, I returned it, the vinyl had so many clicks and pops, but so did the replacement. Once again, the LP got almost no FM play, but you dropped the needle and it was all of a piece, the same tone, engrossing, the album cuts could never be hits, but they were in your mind.

"Any Major Dude Will Tell You"

Sunny, but dark at the same time, how did they do this?

"With A Gun"

"Pretzel Logic" was full of winners, it was the first Steely Dan album I purchased, I immediately bought "Countdown To Ecstasy," I wanted more, I needed more.


"Bad Sneakers"

And a pina colada my friend!

I was addicted. I didn't care that there were no hits, I didn't care that the reviews were not as effusive as they'd been previously, I bought the LP and was enraptured. First by this cut, with so many words in the chorus, nobody ever packed them in this tight.

"Your Gold Teeth II"

Throw them out and see how they roll!

This was my second favorite cut on the album, so east coast serious, where your body is secondary to your mind, it swung, you could not help but get in the mood, nod your head.

"Daddy Don't Live In That New York City No More"

I know every lick of "Katy Lied," because I went to a family friend's stereo store and borrowed a tape deck to make cassettes to drive cross-country by, and in those pre-satellite radio days you injected the tapes you had into the deck and played them over and over again, back when driving cross-country was still a thing, scratch a baby boomer and they'll tell you about that one album that they might not even love that they know so well because…it was one of, if not the only tape they had!


"Don't Take Me Alive"

Speaking of cross-country drives…

I had the world's worst case of mononucleosis, I was sleeping on the couch in Al and Jimmy's apartment, the ski season had ended, they were moving to a new abode, it was time to…

Go home.

But Utah was far from Connecticut.

But I went down to Odyssey Records and bought six cassettes, one of which was "The Royal Scam."

And on the drive to Denver, whilst my driveshaft donut was breaking apart, I listened mostly to Wings's "At The Speed Of Sound" and Steve Miller's "Fly Like An Eagle."

But after getting my BMW repaired in Denver, charging the $45 cost to my father's Chevron card, since I was flat broke, I took to the highway, to drive across the great plains of Kansas.

And I was fatigued, I was sick, but I couldn't find a hotel room. And it's getting late and it's been dark for hours and I remember stopping at a gas station while this song was playing.

"I'm a bookkeeper’s son
I don't want to hurt no one"

I don't think I'd ever heard that word in a song before.

And I kept driving, and I kept flipping the tape in the Blaupunkt, this was before the head would automatically jump and play the second side, keeping an eye out for a place to sleep. I was in a trance, and it's in that window when I learned "The Royal Scam" by heart.

I eventually slept in a truck stop, with the bathroom down the hall…

"Haitian Divorce"

Bob Marley was not yet a legend, at least in America, but Steely Dan was employing the reggae beat, with a story.

"Everything You Did"

"Turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening"


This was after "One Of These Nights," but before "Hotel California," the Eagles were not quite legends, and they couldn't be any more different from Steely Dan, was this a put-down?

Of course it was.

But this was before we learned they shared a manager.

Irving Azoff.


"Deacon Blues"

Now it's very important you get the lyric right… "I cried when I wrote this song Sue me if I play too LONG!" No, not WRONG, that's completely wrong, and screws up the meaning.

This player has dedicated his life to music and the lifestyle, he's escaped from the mainstream, and he has not won, he's not on the hit parade, but he's got his sax, he's got the music, and that's enough, he's made his choice and he believes in it, it's the most important thing to him, he's not gonna let you mess with him.

"Deacon Blues" is the first track that reached me on "Aja," which came three years after "The Royal Scam." You'd hear "Kid Charlemagne" on the radio now and again, but then Steely Dan took a left turn, into jazz, and became national icons, the radio was all over their record, it was the soundtrack to dinner, to the bedroom, no one had a bad word to say about "Aja" other than the punks, but the joke was on them, Steely Dan was not long in the tooth, repeating themselves, they were following their muse, surfing the zeitgeist, and most everybody got on board.

Proving you're best when you do it your way.

Never forget that.


"Hey Nineteen"

They were old. It happens when you don't notice. It just happened in the music business, where a schism between old and young was precipitated by streaming, the youngsters got on board when the oldsters refused and now they rule.

What I always worry about when thinking about getting involved with a woman junior in years is whether she'd get the references. That's what life is about, not eye candy, but connection. You don't want a slave, but a compatriot, someone who gets the jokes.

"Time Out Of Mind"

That woman in "Brooklyn (Owes The Charmer Under Me)"? We moved in together, shortly thereafter.

And then we broke apart.

We were the first generation to live together, we didn't need no piece of paper from the upstairs choir keeping us tied and true. Life was a process.

So I moved into a new apartment. And bought a bunch of records. And the first thing I did when I moved in was to set up the stereo, I dropped the needle to soothe the pain, breakups are hard, even if you initiate them, and the two albums I played were "Arc Of A Diver" and "Gaucho." And "Gaucho" had no hits, but at this point it and the debut are my favorites.

"Third World Man"

So slow and languid, little did we know this was the end, for now.

Fagen went solo, but something was missing, kinda like Mick without Keith, those records were good, but they were not Steely Dan.


"Jack Of Speed"

They came back! Back when that was still a thing, before all the classic acts made the dash for cash, before it became about endless victory laps, I remember seeing them on Letterman with the backup singers and having the hair on my arms stand up straight, here they were!

And all that's remembered about "Two Against Nature" is the belief that it won an undeserved Grammy.

Is that true?

You can make your own decision. Awards are irrelevant. It's the art that remains.

If it's worth remaining.


Including you and me. But we didn't expect Walter Becker to go this weekend. This is not how we thought it would end, we thought we would live forever, but this proved to be untrue. Rock stars were supposed to O.D., or never age, last forever, like their music.

But the Big C doesn't care if you're rich and famous. Health is your most precious commodity. I laugh at all the smokers. All those people abusing themselves. Ask Pete Townshend if he still hopes he dies before he gets old. He IS old, and he LIKES IT! The older you are, the happier you are.

If you're not sick.

I heard it was a momentary illness. I didn't expect Walter to pass. But since he missed those Classic shows, it's not a complete surprise.

But it's upsetting. He was only 67, born in the fifties, like me, like so many. We expected him to continue to crack jokes on stage for many more years. Yes, if you haven't seen the band recently it's Walter who adds the humor, who demonstrates that this is a band of whacked outsiders who refused to sell out and won by doing it their way.

But now Walter's gone.

But it's very weird, because Donald is still here.

What exactly did Walter do? Alice Cooper carried on without the band, but never underestimate the genius of Michael Bruce, who wrote so much of the early material.

You don't know where Donald ended and Walter began, and vice versa.

And they never told us.

So we're flummoxed. The band continues, but here we are doing eulogies.

We lost something, but we're not exactly sure what it is.

But one thing's for sure, whatever was created will not be created again. That line died out.

And you don't know what you've got till it's gone.

Walter is history, but his music lives on.

Exactly the way he'd like it.

That was Steely Dan, it was about what was on wax, nothing more, no cult of personality, no "Cribs," all you had was the music.

And we still do.