The Gate

There are times I wish I lived on Björk’s planet.

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Walter Becker died. You probably don’t know him, but you know Steely Dan.

There are a ton of musicians who’ve played with Steely Dan (Michael McDonald, Skunk Baxter), but the two who made it Steely Dan were Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. Becker played guitar, sometimes sang, but not often, and wrote the songs and produced the albums with Fagen.

I don’t mean this to sound like an insult, but Steely Dan was the original smooth jazz band. Its sound was distinctive, in that hipster cool, Southern Califonia via New Jersey and Queens vibe. I spent many hours mellowing out to “Aja,” “Can’t Buy a Thrill,” “Pretzel Logic,” “Countdown to Ecstasy,” “Katy Lied” and “Gaucho” back in the ’70s and ’80s. I’ve heard the albums from the 2000s were good, but I’m content with the classics.

Here’s a live performance in Charlotte:

Becker’s the older, bearded guy in glasses on guitar. Fagen had some nice things to say about him:

Walter Becker was my friend, my writing partner and my bandmate since we met as students at Bard College in 1967. We started writing nutty little tunes on an upright piano in a small sitting room in the lobby of Ward Manor, a mouldering old mansion on the Hudson River that the college used as a dorm.

We liked a lot of the same things: jazz (from the twenties through the mid-sixties), W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, science fiction, Nabokov, Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Berger, and Robert Altman films come to mind. Also soul music and Chicago blues.

Walter had a very rough childhood – I’ll spare you the details. Luckily, he was smart as a whip, an excellent guitarist and a great songwriter. He was cynical about human nature, including his own, and hysterically funny. Like a lot of kids from fractured families, he had the knack of creative mimicry, reading people’s hidden psychology and transforming what he saw into bubbly, incisive art. He used to write letters (never meant to be sent) in my wife Libby’s singular voice that made the three of us collapse with laughter.

His habits got the best of him by the end of the seventies, and we lost touch for a while. In the eighties, when I was putting together the NY Rock and Soul Review with Libby, we hooked up again, revived the Steely Dan concept and developed another terrific band.

I intend to keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band.

But the thing about Steely Dan is the sound. And the Nerdwriter explains what that’s all about:

Walter Becker died yesterday at age 67.

A cable guy goes to a lonely woman’s home, and I have a revelation

I watched this and remembered that 40 years ago, when I was in the South doing the journalism thing, I interviewed the Starland Vocal Band. “Afternoon Delight” was a big hit, and the band had yet to get their short-lived TV variety show.

I interviewed Bill and Taffy Danoff (whose names I just had to look up) but the two other members were off getting food between shows and didn’t seem very interested in being interviewed, anyway.

So I wrote a nice little feature, and a few weeks later, Taffy sent me a thank you letter and all of the albums they had released. I still have the albums somewhere in my pile of vinyl. I might have the letter somewhere, too. But that was literally 40 years ago.

How is that possible?

Here’s something I should have known when I wrote my story. Bill and Taffy already had a super-mega hit record. They wrote “Country Roads” with John Denver in 1971. I didn’t know that until just now. That’s why you’re supposed to do research before you write a story.

And through the weirdness of the cosmos, we all lived in D.C. at the same time.

Here comes the Sun, so walk on by

NASA put together a 4K experience with the Sun about a year ago:

And 20 years ago, this song was released:

Even if you had a space suit that could withstand a few million degrees and incredible pressure to keep you alive, you can’t walk on the Sun. There’s no surface. It’s just a big ball of gas and plasma, mostly hydrogen.

Meanwhile, I can’t believe this song is 20 years old. That seems like a long time. But then, the sun is 4.6 billion years old, so from that perspective, the song just happened less than a fraction of a millisecond ago.

Singing in the rain (on giant planets)

From the Guardian:

Diamond rain might sound like the stuff of poetry, but deep within the ice giants of our solar system it is thought to be reality – and now scientists say they have recreated the phenomenon.

The furthest flung true planets of our solar system, the ice giants Neptune and Uranus, are about 17 and 15 times the mass of Earth respectively.

While both have solid cores and atmospheres rich in gases including hydrogen and helium, the planets are largely made up a huge, slushy ocean of water, ammonia and substances known as hydrocarbons – molecules, such as methane, that are composed of hydrogen and carbon.

But researchers have long theorised that deep within these vast, blue planets something astonishing occurs: high temperatures and pressures act on the hydrocarbons deep in the oceans to produce diamonds that rain down, falling towards the planets’ interiors.

Of course, this is the best song for our progeny who get to Neptune in the distant future.