Pete's Blog

The Dan

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Fans of the Eagles express bewilderment that I shouldn't like their boys. So do fans of Frank Zappa. I may have liked him when I was 15, but on reaching adulthood I concluded that he will be remembered in the future mostly as a footnote to the career of Captain Beefheart. There are others, too, groups or soloists admired by people I respect whose appeal I just can't fathom. You'd think I would understand, then, when people express exasperation, or worse, towards Steely Dan, one of my fave-raves. But I don't. It all seems self-evident to me, the instrumental chops, the songwriting craft, the biting, often self-biting, humor. There are people in the world, though, for whom the fabled Dan of Steel is a kind of musical rash. I've even read the words "Nazi-like" and "really, really boring." Ah, well. I can see how people would feel intimidated and, it's true, now that studio technology has entered the Digital Age Becker and Fagen can and do indulge their perfectionism at its most hermetic. But the great '70s albums were stronger for the struggle you could hear within the tracks to reconcile the ideal of the chart with the humanity of the players. It wasn't like Zappa, after all. The notes existed on their own terms, not just to express their composer's technical abilities. But has the punk thing so infected the way we think about music that any statement we can't make ourselves is automatically oppressive, establishing a hierarchy whose purpose is to damage our self-esteem? I would think listening to music that is better than we can make it should make us feel better about ourselves, not worse. After all, it's our taste that is being catered to here, isn't it? The artist makes the art for the patron, not the other way around. Even in Country music, where the everyman pose is everything, recordings are engineered to a high level of craft (you can't always say the same about the songs, but hey) because even the trashiest of trailer-trash wants to feel that "his" music takes him seriously. Even when it doesn't. So don't can the Dan just because they've got a plan.

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