Donald Fagen said Steely Dan might have looked more like the Grateful Dead if their own approach to music hadn’t worked.
He and his late collaborator Walter Becker struggled to find a place in their early days, and in a new interview with Rolling stone he recalled that they were originally inspired by Frank Zappa after seeing him rehearse and perform in the Village neighborhood of New York. “We loved what he was doing on stage and the humor, like a combination of Lenny Bruce and hippie humor and counterculture,” Fagen said.
“And then the dead, we both appreciated them for various reasons, also the counter-culture. But… we were sort of halfway between the counter-culture and all that came after. We didn’t. never took it seriously. There was something good about it, but on the other hand, we could see how it had to fail. “
He continued, “But we loved the Dead; we especially liked some of their songs and the way they played together. He acknowledged that some of the Dead shows they attended were a “mess… but overall they had a really good groove, and the way they interacted musically was very appealing to us. At one point I think if we hadn’t gone our way, maybe we would have tried to do something more improvised like The Dead. He noted that they had also been influenced by the Velvet Underground, “perhaps to a lesser degree” and that all of their artists of interest dated back to Bob Dylan, “because there would be none of that. without Bob “.
One element that likely would have persisted in whatever direction Steely Dan took was humor, said Fagen, who accepted that writing songs with Becker was about “trying to make yourself laugh” to a large extent. “Yeah, pretty much, until the last song we ever wrote. It was one of my favorite things – getting together with him and trying to crack him. And vice versa.”
This humor was also present in their music. “From the start, due to our jazz background, we thought it was hilarious to play those 13th chords on a loud, distorted electric guitar,” he said. “There was just a kind of irony involved in the whole project, and that continued with the lyrics we were writing.
When asked to select the songs he finds the most entertaining, he replied, “’Gaucho’ is pretty funny. To me they are all funny. Some of the older, younger songs like “Hey Nineteen” and “Janie Runaway” always make us laugh. “
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