by Jeff Niesel
We recently participated in a teleconference call with Donald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan, who took the opportunity to have a bit of fun with the questions that a group of journalists asked about their upcoming tour, which they've called Mood Swings: 8 Miles to Pancake Day Tour. Here are our favorite 10 questions and answers from the truly bizarre interview. The band is in town tonight and plays a sold out show at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica at 7:30.
1. Have you and the bipolar all-stars considered Paxil?
Donald: Considered Paxil?
Walter: No, I’m not in the mood anymore.
2. How did the name Mood Swings: 8 miles to Pancake Day come about?
Walter: How did it come about? We made it up.
Donald: In truth, we put up Mood Swings,that was the easy part. Then we were reminiscing about the old television show Route 66 and we remembered how in those days they used to name TV episodes using very eccentric titles like Who’s Afraid of the Muffin Man, things like that. So, we decided we were going to have a subtitle for our Mood Swings tour. In fact, we’re thinking we might change the subtitle every few weeks.
Walter: In a way, you may have wasted your question in that we may do exactly as Donald says there. The other thing is 8 Miles to Pancake Day is—this is a reconciliation of the classic space time dilemma, in other words, time versus distance. In other words, like the Russian army sergeant says, “You will dig me a ditch from here to dinner time.”
3. What changed in the touring landscape to turn Steely Band into a touring act over the last 20 years?
Walter: Also, we had this stupid bet. Remember the bet?
Donald: What was that?
Walter: The bet about the—you don’t even remember. This is how bad it was. We had a bet that was based on picking a winner of a sporting contest and the loser of the bet had to wear this really powerful little office clamp that they would use to hold a big stack of papers together throughout the show for the next ten years for every show we did.
Donald: That was a turnoff.
Walter: I’m not going to tell you who won the contest, but that was a mistake. I think that contributed to a lot.
Donald: That’s such a ’70s story too, isn’t it?
4. This reunion of yours has lasted 20 years now. When you guys got it back together again, did you have any sense that you thought 20 years down the line this would still be something you wanted to do?
Donald: I don’t think either of us plans that far ahead actually. So, I would give that a qualified “No” as John Daly used to say on What’s My Line.
Walter: That’s one of those questions although it presupposes its own one-word answer, but in the process, the question is all about the question, not the answer I guess. So, isn’t it ironic?
Donald: It calls for kind of a hypothetical situation.
Walter: Yes, you have to go along. Once you’ve gone along with the formulation of the question, then—
Donald: It’s kind of like if you were born a girl, how do you think life would be different?
5. When you started if the reward that you were after as it was talked about, was it more just the experience again, the journey of it or were you—
Donald: I guess like a lot of musicians, and this isn’t—I’m not making a value judgment or boasting or anything, it’s just that I think a lot of musicians, jazz people, we kind of just don’t project that much into the future. It’s more about what you’re doing right now. For instance, when my father used to parallel park, he used to say, while he was doing it, he’d say, “All right, I’m backing up now, all right, I’m pulling in, now I’m getting closer to the curb, okay, I think that’s it.” I think that’s one good thing that my father handed down to me is he lived in the moment.
Walter: And plus parallel parking, which I’m assuming you knew how to do that at one time although that must—
Donald: Actually, I never quite got the hang of the parallel parking.
6. Are there songs around that you’re showing to each other?
Donald: We do have some songs that I’m just remembering now. We have some songs that are really good ones that we only half finished back in like 1984.
Walter: That’s true.
Donald: We keep threatening to work on.
Walter: We actually did finish a couple of those and—
Donald: We have a bunch of things. Put it this way—any other band in the world would have long ago finished or mixed or whatever these old things that were lying around [and release them with a] great ta-da fanfare, but we just don’t play it like that.
Walter: That’s not the way we roll.
Donald: It’s not the way we roll.
7. Don was quoted as saying that Everything Must Go was underrated. I was wondering if you could talk about that a little bit and how much material you’re playing from that album.
Donald: We don’t play any of that piece of shit. Are you kidding me?
8. I read that Kanye West wrote a letter to you guys to get permission for your song.
Donald: From time to time we get requests for license for hip hoppers to use part of an old song or something. So, we got a clip of something from Kanye West wanting to use a piece of “Kid Charlemagne” and we thought it was—we usually say yes, but we didn’t like the general curve of the way that one sounded so we said—
Walter: Also, he was using a line of the vocal over and over again of Donald’s vocal, which….
Donald: We thought it was just too repetitive.
Walter: Usually, you don’t give them samples with your voice on them.
Donald: But then he sent us a handwritten letter which it was so heartfelt that we finally gave in and acceded to his request.
Walter: He basically said that this was a song that meant a lot to him. It was written about his father and his feelings for his father and—
Donald: I didn’t get that at all from the music, but—
Walter: No, I’ve had occasion to wonder since then whether that’s the same Kanye West.
Donald: Maybe it was a prank.
Walter: It could have been. I think somebody took over the Kanye West personality paradigm and has been operating it randomly.
9. Given your long working relationship, how easy or difficult it is for the two of you to surprise each other at this point whether it is writing or performing and how important it is for you to surprise each other?
Walter: I think we do that all the time actually and incredible as it may seem, it’s probably a tribute to either our short-term memory loss or to our low threshold of surprise.
Donald: When you can’t remember what happened this morning, you’re always surprised.
Walter: That’s right. I make new friends every day. I can hide my own Easter eggs.
Donald: Also, because you find when you get older that there are not many people who understand your references anymore so that we’re the only audience we have pretty much for our cultural references and so on. Like no one remembers the TV themes we remember anymore because they’re just too old.
Walter: If you say Fondly Fahrenheit to somebody, they’re not going to know what you’re talking about.
Donald: Or if you hum the theme song for Hawaiian Eye, you’re not going to get a good house on that.
10. Are you guys a fan of any of the high-res formats like SACD or Blu-Ray audio?
Donald: It’s too bad they don’t have any good music anymore to play on all those new formats. Maybe they should have a moratorium on inventing new formats until someone has done some good music.
Walter: No, we think that many of those formats are not substantially different than the previous formats and you couldn’t possibly—
Donald: When they invent a format that sounds as good as a nice clean piece of vinyl played on a good turntable then someone should let us know.