See copyright notice at

Steely Dan

Date: Tue, 14 Feb 1995 01:23:01 -0800
From: "jules n. binoculas" (p00518@PSILINK.COM)
Subject: the mighty quinlan

DATE: Mon, 6 Feb 1995 22:10:40
FROM: Anders Gvransson (

explaining the lyrics of the songs by Fagen-Becker? E.g. Doctor Wu.

speaking of fagen and becker and dylan: does the below testimony imply that the "anthony 'mighty' quinn" theory is now shown to be apocryphal?

_Steely Dan: Reelin' In the Years_ by Brian Sweet Omnibus Press, 1994 ISBN: 0-7119-3551-3.
When William Burroughs decided to name a succession of dildos Steely Dan I, II and III in his controversial 1959 novel _Naked Lunch_, he could never have imagined how such an apparently insignificant name would still be reverberating around the music business well over thirty years later.

In the late Sixties at bohemian Bard College in upstate New York, two smart-alec students called Donald Fagen and Walter Becker met, became friends and started writing songs together. Both were jazz fans, avid readers -- especially of the Beat writers -- and they shared a similar ironic sense of humour. But the material they came up with wasn't typical of the schmaltzy chart pop of the time; indeed, most of their songs boasted strange structures and even stranger lyrics.

They performed with a variety of rock 'n' roll and jazz groups at Bard but none was suitable for pursuing their long-term ambition of securing a recording contract. Some of Becker and Fagen's early lyrics demonstrated their desire to seek mental and physical liberation through similar methods as the Beats: drugs, sex and jazz.

...Within months of the late 1972 release of their debut album _Can't Buy A Thrill_ which spawned a couple of hit singles, Steely Dan had became one of the most talked about bands in America. Their live shows were pacy, energetic and raucous, but Becker and Fagen absolutely hated life on the road.

In the recording studio, where they felt comfortable and safe, Becker and Fagen pored over every bar of every composition with increasing fastidiousness. The studio became their home. Steely Dan were relatively prolific in their early days, releasing three fine albums in just sixteen months. Each one was quickly certified gold.

It made no difference because in July 1974 Becker and Fagen called a halt to the madness of touring; they were no longer prepared to tolerate dingy hotel rooms and constant travelling.

Then, even more surprisingly, they jettisoned all but one of the band and built Steely Dan exclusively around their songs and the cream of L.A. and New York's session players.

Despite all Becker and Fagen's anti-career moves, Steely Dan's album-sales increased with each new release until the last three -- including a Greatest Hits compilation -- achieved platinum status.

As Fagen once said, "It seems the more invisible we were, the more albums we'd sell." They spent more time, more money and hired increasingly more musicians on each album, culminating in 1980 with _Gaucho_ which took two years and almost a million dollars to make.

The subject matter of Becker/Fagen songs wasn't your usual pop song fare. They parodied Eastern Religion ('Bodhisattva'), they celebrated outlaws on the run from the law ('Kid Charlemagne' and 'Don't Take Me Alive'), they covered a Duke Ellington jazz instrumental ('East St Louis Toodle-Oo'), they illustrated a stock market crash ('Black Friday') and even succeeded in condensing the story of two guys attending a Fascist rally into a three-minute pop song ('Chain Lightning').

No Steely Dan album ever featured a photo of Becker and Fagen on the cover. When they _were_ photographed, they were invariably wearing sunglasses. They were the absolute antithesis of the prevailing rock 'n' roll attitudes of high profile celebrity and personal self-promotion.

They wanted to preserve their anonymity at all costs. Becker and Fagen even encouraged stories about their hostility toward interviewers. At the height of their popularity in 1981, Becker and Fagen had just about bled their creative well dry, and after seven studio albums and fourteen years writing and recording together, they dissolved their partnership.

...Terence Boylan maintains that Becker and Fagen's personalities were already well developed at Bard. While most students were at emotional sixes and sevens, Becker and Fagen were already in the process of cultivating the acute sense of irony that would become the basis of Steely Dan. They seemed to know exactly what they wanted in any given situation.

On one occasion, they sat Boylan down to explain to him their version of the history of the world. First came the formation of the planet; the cooling of the earth; the discovery of fire; the invention of the wheel; then Charlie Parker -- and "it's been downhill ever since."

Becker and Fagen firmly believed that all musical innovation ceased after "Bird"; all who followed had merely found ways to blow his riffs in slower or slightly different forms.

...Bard had been subjected to regular drug busts throughout the Sixties and on May 8, 1969 at 4:45 a.m., at least two dozen cars belonging to state troopers descended on the college. At the same time, Sachs Annexe was ransacked by the Dutchess County Sheriff (Lawrence Quinlan's) men.

Quinlan, in tandem with the state troopers and a number of informants, searched two dormitories, several off-campus houses, and arrested 44 people -- among them, Donald Fagen, Walter Becker, and Fagen's girlfriend, Dorothy White. Walter had already officially left Bard by this time, but liked hanging out there and was sleeping on another student's floor. Consequently, the sheriff had warrants for everyone except him.

Ironically, Gordon Liddy, of subsequent Watergate fame, was the assistant district attorney that year, and they typed one up for Walter anyway -- for fourth degree possession of marijuana. Walter called him "The Wild Bill Hickok of the Judiciary."

Fagen was dragged off to Poughkeepsie jail with the others, and the most traumatic part of the ordeal was having his treasured long hair shorn. Sitting in the cell in his standard issue prisoner's uniform with cropped hair, Fagen looked very sorry for himself.

Bob Dylan had earlier made his comment on the predictability of the Bard drug raid ("Must bust in early May/Orders from the DA") in his song "Subterranean Homesick Blues". In the same song, the couplet "The pump don't work/Cause the vandals stole the handles" also purportedly refers to an incident at Bard.

The college freed the thirty-six students (eight were non-students) arrested by providing bail bonds totalling $141,000. Their legal fees alone came to some $1,800, but the bail bonds and legal fees would eventually be billed to students.

At a hastily convened meeting of those arrested, lawyers advised everyone to keep their experiences confidential. They pointed out that an officer is supposed to announce his purpose and state that he has a warrant for whatever purpose; if the suspect requests to see the warrant, the officer must show it.

But even if the suspect doesn't request to see the warrant, it does not vitiate the lawfulness of the arrest. Also, physical force could be used to enter a room if there is the possibility that evidence could be destroyed between the time of knock and the answer.

The President of the college, Reamer Kline, assured the students that the college would stand behind them.

Force had indeed been used on several of the doors in Ward Manor and students were ordered to do different things; some to stay in bed, others to get out of bed so that it could be searched, while others were body-searched. The officers' biggest mistake proved to be in not identifying themselves to the students.

According to the students, officers were hooting and laughing as they searched rooms and they even played a Beatles' album in one room. Posters were ripped down, beds were torn apart, curtains were pulled down and fireplaces inspected. Almost all their rooms were left in total chaos, and as quickly as the police had descended, a crowd of studetns gathered and began chanting "Pigs!." One wag began playing "Gee, Officer Krupke" from _West Side Story_ very loudly on his record deck.

"Every spring they used to have a bust on campus," Becker said some years later. "You know, just to raise a little hell in town, and a little revenue for the local lawyers." But after all the fuss, all charges were later dropped.

One month later, in June, Donald graduated and moved back to New York with his girlfriend.

Having graduated, Donald Fagen could now devote all his concentration to what had by now become his obsession -- writing songs with Walter Becker. They had even settled on a suitable adjective to describe their material: "Cheesy."

Who's Who