Fine Art Tuesday

Steely Dan. L-R: Jeff 'Skunk' Baxter, Denny Dias, Donald Fagen, Jim Hodder, and Walter Becker, 1972.

“…Steely Dan drew from the gamut of American musical styles to create some of the most intelligent and complex pop music of the 1970s.

You know, I could let it go at that, but I’d like to expound a bit. Not on how great Steely Dan was or the nature of their music, but on how their music came into my life and other such connected randomness. Think of this one as “the art of life” or somesuch.

Pioneer KP500 Supertuner. This is what dreams were made of. Mine, anyway.

Back in the 70s, I was a big stereo nut, which led me becoming a music nut, even though I can’t play a note and have to carry my tunes in a bucket. And one thing about the 70s (and to some extent, the 80s as well), the best radio stations played everything, without regard to genere. And radio was everywhere-in your car, at work, often even in school if you had a cool teacher or two. I had a decent, sort of middle of the line stereo setup that my parents hated. And I always jonesed for one of these beauties. But I never managed to get the money together unless something of higher importance came up, like fixing the car it would have ridden in.

These were what you had if your car, as was the case in most late 60s or early 70s vehicles a high school kid could afford, only had an AM radio. This is how you got the beauty of FM radio-with “no static at all”.

My formal introduction to Steely Dan was by accident. Sure, I’d heard them on the radio, but you heard everyone on the radio. It was just another band that had a couple of songs I sort of liked-but not enough to plunk down the cash on an album. But then I messed around and failed to let Columbia House Records know that I didn’t want this particular month’s selection, which was the soundtrack to the movie FM. Little did I know that that mistake would lead to one of those enjoyable detours that life can often take.

(Parenthetically, did you know that Columbia House is back in business? Now they sell movies-but not at 12 for a penny.)

So, it showed up, received with the joy that one holds for yet another dumped cat that finds you when you already have 5, but you love cats. You take it in and figure out how you’re going to afford it. And I did, and had a look at the cover. Who is Tom Petty? I did know the Steve Miller Band and Foreigner. Cool…Linda Rondstadt, Boz Scaggs, Boston and the Eagles. OK, let’s give it a play.

And yes, I’m listening to it right now. How couldn’t I?

And I heard this. I was 17 and this just got under my skin, and so I had to see the movie. Well, that was a mistake if I ever made one. The movie gave me the DJ bug. Dougan in that Porsche, hauling it through San Francisco? How could you not want to be him?

That fall, after I had arrived at college, utterly unprepared for the experience and in search of somewhere to fit in, I found the school radio station, made friends with some folks, started doing some news, hung out for other guys’ shows in the evening and eventually had my own show later on in the fall semester. For a very short time. A new station manager showed up and changed the format to…disco. A lot of us refused to play that stuff, and constantly blew off his playlists and his format. And, of course, eventually lost our gigs. Which eventually played into my decision to leave that school and try my luck elsewhere.

However, while I was there, I found that a guy on my hall was a Steely Dan fan and had every album that had been released. We traded albums back and forth, making cassettes as we had money to buy some blanks. So when I left, I had quite a collection of music, as did he.

When WKRP in Cincinnati showed up (interestingly enough, inspired by the movie), and the bug just doubled down on me. By then I was working and going to a local university part-time, and to that I added time spent at the right parties, meeting some of the on-air “talent” from some of the better local radio stations and attempting to schmooze my way into a job-any job at all-at one of those stations. I figured I could be like Bobby and work my way back on the air.

Yeah, that didn’t work out. But it made for some good stories to tell the grand kids when they’re old enough.

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