Compilation books always seem like cheating. Publish a bunch of reviews and articles that other journalists and critics wrote and throw your name on the cover as editor, then reap the profits from sales.
On the other hand, Barney Hoskyns of Rock’s Backpages has made it easy for me and every other Dan fan to worship at the altar of Fagen and Becker, again, with Major Dudes: A Steely Dan Companion. Usually I do it through song, but this time it’s strictly through words. And it’s an interesting timeline of words, from the band’s beginnings up until it became a party of one, so to speak.
There IS a lot of repetition – how many times did I read the backstory of these gentlemen – which is one problem with compilations. But if you ignore or just skip those parts, and get to the meat of the book, the words that matter, the words of Donald and Walter, well, it’s so, so worth it. Their repartee is wildly amusing, especially for the extra literate.
Which brings me to the parts of the book that are wildly amusing in a different way – the reviewers who absolutely do not understand the Dan’s interplay of tempo and lyrics. Take "Chained Lightning" for instance. It’s a song about Nazis with a jazzy rhythm. Oh, the irony. Irony that was lost on some of these writers.
It also seems to have been lost on Kanye, who sampled "Kid Charlemagne" for his song "Champion," which is clearly NOT about the same thing. In fact, using just that sample takes it out of context and . . . well I guess that’s for a legit music reviewer to deal with, not me.
Back to the book: There’s some really great writing here, some gems of conversations that are to be treasured now that Becker has passed. You get the whole history of these two, from start to untimely finish. Yes, I know Steely Dan is still out there performing without Walter. But for me, it’s over. Because seeing them without him would feel like . . . cheating.