I’ve loved Steely Dan for about 20 years. When I heard they would be playing Coachella last year, I felt so perturbed, I just had to respond. That gave me the excuse to really explore my love for The Dan, to unpack my thoughts on their music (and on Coachella), and to consider how all of that means, at least in part, meditating on the self and the passage of time. This resulted in a labor of love essay, titled “Reelin’ in the Years/Close Your Eyes, and You’ll be There,” which we have here broken into seven, discrete but also connected pieces, ones we will be publishing as installments over the coming weeks. This is the fifth installment of the series. To start from the beginning, click here.
“Babylon Sisters,” “Hey Nineteen,” and “Kid Charlemagne” formed a cornerstone of bonding between me and a boyfriend. We fell madly in love and saw eye-to-eye and ear-to-ear about Steely Dan in a way that I found important. I remember going to a Christmas party at his friend’s house, and softly, I heard the strains of “Hey Nineteen” and felt that whatever all our differences, we all at least coincided on Steely Dan.
I associate so much of working as a reporter with long drives on many freeways — the 405 to the 101 to the 134 or the 10 to the 110 to the 5 or Mulholland Drive or PCH — those songs along with “Peg,” “Deacon Blues,” “Midnite Cruiser,” “Only a Fool Would Say That,” and “Going Back to My Old School,” accompanied me through that.
Sometimes long drives through the concrete jungle make you feel existentially lonely, and because the music spoke, if not in lyrics then in tone and allusion, to existential loneliness, it made me feel, somehow, less alone, accompanied by an empathetic friend who knew what it felt like.
I was leaving LA to take a job in another city, and while I needed the job and thought it best to leave the city at that point, I felt reluctant to go and spent a summer clinging to the city and all of what I felt were its hallmarks, Steely Dan playing all along that way.
That whole summer, I drove around, saying goodbye to LA, nursing my heartbreak at having broken things off with the guy, listening to “Babylon Sisters” or “Hey Nineteen” each time. When I heard them sing, “it will come back to you” in “Peg,” it gave me hope, and when I heard, “they have a name for the winners of the world; I want a name when I lose” in “Deacon Blues,” I thought of loss, of course, and flight and how I needed to begin again.
I passed the Vineland exit on the 101 and thought of Pynchon (even though that’s not where he got the name) and the ’70s and what it would mean to leave my home town again, this time for an open period of time, not knowing when I would return. It scared me.