Steely Dan Were Mean Boys


In college I had three of their albums and Steely Dan were getting quite a few spins on WFAL, our campus radio station. I especially wore the grooves off of 'Don't Take Me Alive" for the searing guitar intro and vexing lyrics. True it was college and sometimes partying enhanced the enjoyment of music you might not ordinarily gravitate to. To their credit, they still have a cult following, but I like them less now, after reading an article in 'Far Out Magazine' about what dicks they were. Described by Jay Black, their former musical colleague and frontman of Jay and the Americans as, "..the Manson and Starkweather of Rock n Roll". I'm not sure that would be counted as an insult these days, but it explained a lot when it comes to a story told by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits.
Dire Straits may not have had the pop appeal of Steely Dan, but when it comes to chops, nobody's guitar and voice were as mellifluous and ragged depending on which of their deep cuts you listen to as Mark Knopfler. I saw Knopfler at the Palace years ago, mezmerized by his guitar which is like whisky, pouring over you and warming as it seeps into every cell in your body. I adopted DireStraits song "Skateaway" from "Making Movies" as one of my top inline skating playlist tunes. It was like he was singing to me.

Knopfler was enlisted by Steely Dan's Fagan and Becker to play a solo on the track "Time Out of Mind" on their album "Gaucho". The Dan had a 'process' that chewed up time on an epic scale for Mark, who recalls it taking 10 hours to cut 15 seconds of the guitar solo with the boys henpecking and scolding him that it wasn't right the entire time. Knopfler said, "..it was like getting in a swimming pool with lead weights tied to your boots". Later, Becker confirmed they were being dicks because he'd play a lick and they criticized it, then ended up liking it after he was gone.

I listened to that fifteen second solo, it's typical Mark Knopfler, beautiful and effortless for all that it cost him. I also noticed that they seemed to bring the horns up higher than his piece in the song to it's detriment. It's tough to love both bands, feel joy listening to their music but realize that you probably wouldn't like them at all if you'd seen the arrogance that went into making it.