Saturday, June 21, 2008

Steely Dan's Japan

There were a few unexpected guests on stage with our band last week when we played in Ebisu. I'm not talking about the cockroaches, but flautist Shin and sax player Michiko, two extraordinarily gifted musicians. I was not surprised to learn that Michiko likes Steely Dan, one of my favorite bands, and began thinking about them in the context of Japan.

Turns out there are quite a few links between SD and Japan. Jazz-rock geniuses and all-around hip cats Walter Becker and Donald Fagen named their addictive brand of alchemy after a fictional sex device called Steely Dan III from Yokohama in William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch. Ironically, said "marital appliance" (as Becker once described it) is made of rubber, not steel. Steely Dan I and II were destroyed in unmentionable circumstances.

SD tunes like "Bodhisattva" reference Japan, and the group's 1977 masterpiece album Aja features the late Japanese supermodel Sayako Yamaguchi on its minimalist cover; the title track contains some jaw-dropping drumming by the great Steve Gadd and a superb Wayne Shorter solo. Fagen's 1993 solo album Kamakiriad mentions Tokyo in the otherworldly "Snowbound." SD has a huge following in Japan, with rare CDs issued only for the domestic market and the 2007 Heavy Rollers dates in Tokyo selling out easily.

I, for one, would love to do an Ali-Mo version of Dan's great ode to outlaw LSD chemist Owsley Stanley III, "Kid Charlemagne." Long may it reign.

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