NEW YORK—While having drinks with friends at a local bar Monday, Donald Fagen, 60, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and cofounder of the multiplatinum-selling American rock band Steely Dan, was once again forced to defend his appreciation for the multiplatinum-selling American rock band Steely Dan.
"Look, I understand. It's an acquired taste," Fagen said after putting his group's 1978 hit "Deacon Blues" on the bar's jukebox. "I wasn't that into it at first, either. But when you really listen to the unbelievable production values and the wry, perfectly crafted lyrics—it's just great art, okay? You should definitely give 'the Dan' a shot."
Fagen went on to cite additional evidence in defense of his admiration for the music, including the disparate jazz, R&B;, and blues influences that pervade the band's music, and the ultraclean sound that became the group's hallmark.
"No one attained that level of perfection in the studio," Fagen said. "Do you know how many guitar players tried and failed to nail the solo on the song 'Peg'? Six. Six professional session guitar players. That's commitment to a vision, if you ask me."
"Not to mention almost ruining Michael McDonald's voice just to get the background vocals on that track," Fagen added.
Though Fagen remained effusive about Steely Dan throughout the debate, he did eventually concede that the song "True Companion" from the Heavy Metal soundtrack was "really gay." He was quick to point out, however, that the track was not technically a Steely Dan composition, but rather a Donald Fagen solo project.
"No way you'd be saying this crap if you'd seen Steely Dan play live as many times as I have," Fagen reportedly told his companions after purchasing them a second round of drinks. "Plus [Steely Dan cofounder] Walter Becker is a super nice guy."
In an attempt to enlighten his friends and possibly pique their curiosity to the point where they would accept his standing offer to burn them copies of Steely Dan's 1974 album Pretzel Logic, Fagen went so far as to bring up some of the more esoteric trivia pertaining to the group.
"Everybody knows that Steely Dan is named after a dildo, but were you aware that Chevy Chase played drums when the band was called the Leather Canary?" said Fagen, referring to his formative musical years at Bard College in upstate New York. "Of course, that was way before he went on to Saturday Night Live fame."
Even after his acquaintances roundly dismissed Steely Dan as "pussy music," Fagen vehemently maintained that the band has contributed significantly to the rock and roll genre, and described his and Becker's unorthodox instrumentation choices and song arrangements as "bold."
"God forbid someone take a chance by having more than three chord changes in a song," Fagen said. "You can't just write it all off as 'shitty jazz fusion' because there are a few horns in the band. And what about 'Bodhisattva' and 'Show Biz Kids' on Countdown To Ecstasy? Don't sit there and tell me that those tunes don't rock."
Though Fagen remains loyal to Steely Dan and more or less has reverence for the band's entire catalog, he said that he is the first to admit the shortcomings of the music.
"No one knows better than I do that this stuff can get extremely self-indulgent," Fagen said. "And, yes, I realize that all the preciousness and apparent awe at its own cleverness can be a little too much to stomach sometimes. Hell, some of Gaucho is even too goddamned smooth for me."
"It's no Dire Straits, I'll give you that," Fagen added.