Show Me Where You Are: The Geography of Steely Dan

In my remembrance of the brilliant Walter Becker (RIP) yesterday, I posted a long list of commands and guidance used in the “What Would Don and Walt Do?” (WWDWD) project that I developed online with the also brilliant Wilson Smith (RIP), many years ago. All of those WWDWD directives were culled directly from the Steely Dan lyrical lexicon.

One of the key things that made this project work was the fact that Becker and his songwriting partner, Donald Fagen, used imperative or directive forms in their lyrics, regularly and aggressively. A sample is playing here now, literally as I type this paragraph: “I think you better tell me everything you did, baby” from Royal Scam‘s “Everything You Did.” Not “would you tell me?” or “could you tell me?” or “won’t someone tell me?” They used straight up command forms, directed your way, no doubts about it: “You better tell me.”

Donald and Walter didn’t ask you for your advice or ideas or thoughts or suggestions; if they wanted them, they gave them to you, as orders, or commands, or statements that this was the way it was going to be. You there: “turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening,” over and over and over again. It’s a key part part of their menacing lyrical charm, I think. Check that list I posted yesterday for over 100 other examples.

At some point, Wilson Smith and I also observed another very distinctive facet that we felt was integral to Steely Dan’s lyrical approach: the world(s) that Becker and Fagen created are deeply rooted in very precise places, a huge number of which are specifically named over the course of their nine studio albums.

Steely Dan’s realities aren’t generic ones, but are rather set in their own places, precisely, which always makes them seem more real, more lived in, and more meaningful than less observational fare might have been. They are universal in their precision, and precise in the universality of their messages because of that.

And, of course, because Wilson and I were/are list-making music nerds, we culled the full Steely Dan lyrical catalog at some point in the early 2000s and created an index of all of the place names that Walter Becker and Donald Fagen wanted us to know about, so we could more fully ponder and appreciate their sardonic story-telling.

I present that list we developed below, with the songs featuring the places cited identified in parentheses, once again in honor and memory of the great Walter Becker.

Won’t you sign in, stranger?

  • Alabama (Deacon Blues)
  • Altamira (Caves of Altamira)
  • Amsterdam (Slang of Ages)
  • Annandale (My Old School)
  • Anthony’s Bar and Grill (My Rival)
  • Avenue by Radio City, The (Bad Sneakers)
  • Avenue D (Daddy Don’t Live in That New York City No More)
  • Babylon (Babylon Sisters)
  • Barbados (Glamour Profession)
  • Barrio, The (Throw Back the Little Ones)
  • Barrytown (Barrytown)
  • Bayside (Boston Rag)
  • Binky’s Place (Janie Runaway)
  • Biscayne Bay (Doctor Wu)
  • Bleecker Street (Almost Gothic)
  • Blues Beach (Blues Beach)
  • Bogota (Glamour Profession)
  • Boston (The Boston Rag, Hey Nineteen)
  • Broadway (I Got the News)
  • Brooklyn (Brooklyn)
  • Burbank (Pixeleen)
  • Cafe D’Escargot, The (Sign In Stranger)
  • California (My Old School)
  • Camarillo (Parker’s Band)
  • Central Station (Blues Beach)
  • Chicago (Your Gold Teeth)
  • China (Bodhisattva, Aja)
  • City of Saint John, The (Royal Scam)
  • Colombia [University] (Hey Nineteen)
  • Columbia (Pixeleen)
  • Cuba (Doctor Wu)
  • Culver City (West of Hollywood)
  • Custerdome, The (Gaucho)
  • Dallas (Dallas)
  • Dean and DeLuca (Janie Runaway)
  • Detroit (Rose Darling)
  • East St. Louis (East St. Louis Toodle-oo)
  • Eden Rock (Brooklyn)
  • Eurasia (Glamour Profession)
  • Fifty-Second Street (Parker’s Band)
  • Fordham Road (Negative Girl)
  • Ghana (Third World Man)
  • Gramercy Park (Janie Runaway)
  • Grand Hotel, The (Dallas)
  • Greece (Green Earrings)
  • Greene Street (Black Cow)
  • Groovetime (Slang of Ages)
  • Grotto, The (Haitian Divorce)
  • Guadalajara (My Old School)
  • Guernsey Fair, The (Showbiz Kids)
  • Gulf Coast, The (Things I Miss The Most)
  • Hackensack (Daddy Don’t Live in That New York City No More)
  • Haiti (Haitian Divorce)
  • Harlem (Midnight Cruiser)
  • Hollywood (What a Shame About Me, West of Hollywood, Reelin’ in the Years, Caves of Altamira, Glamour Profession)
  • Jane Street (What a Shame About Me)
  • Japan (Bodhisattva)
  • Jersey, The Bogs of (Pixeleen)
  • Joey’s, The Bar At (Green Book)
  • Kansas City (Parker’s Band)
  • L.A. [Los Angeles] (Kid Charlemagne, Glamour Profession)
  • Last Mall, The (The Last Mall)
  • Lhasa (Time Out of Mind)
  • Lost Wages/[Las] Vegas (Do It Again, Showbiz Kids)
  • Lower Broadway (What a Shame About Me)
  • Magnolia Boulevard (Bad Sneakers)
  • Manatee Bar (Blues Beach)
  • Medicine Park (Blues Beach)
  • Mexico (My Old School)
  • Mizar Five (Sign In Stranger)
  • Muswellbrook (Black Friday)
  • Netherlands, The (Slang of Ages)
  • Netherworld (Slang of Ages)
  • New Orleans (Pearl of the Quarter)
  • Nino’s (Lunch With Gina)
  • NYC/New York City (Janie Runaway, Daddy Don’t Live in That New York City No More, Royal Scam)
  • NYU [New York University] (What a Shame About Me)
  • Oregon (Don’t Take Me Alive)
  • Palace, The (Dallas)
  • Palisades, The (Pixeleen)
  • Paraguay (Turn That Heartbeart Over Again)
  • Peking (Your Gold Teeth)
  • Pennsylvania (Janie Runaway)
  • Port Blanc (West of Hollywood)
  • Quarter, The (Pearl of the Quarter)
  • Rio (Gaucho)
  • Rio Grande, The (King of the World)
  • Rome (Josie)
  • Roppongi (Pixeleen)
  • Rudy’s (Black Cow)
  • San Francisco (Kid Charlemagne, Babylon Sisters)
  • Santa Ana (Babylon Sisters)
  • Santa Fe (King of the World)
  • Scarsdale (Hey Nineteen)
  • Scotland (Deacon Blues)
  • Seventh Avenue (Boston Rag)
  • Sheridan Square (Pixeleen)
  • Slow Hand Row (Rikki Don’t Lose That Number)
  • Southland, The (Pretzel Logic)
  • Spain (Janie Runaway, Night by Night)
  • Strand, The (What A Shame About Me)
  • Sunset [Boulevard] (Babylon Sisters)
  • Szechuan [Province] (Glamour Profession)
  • Tampa (Janie Runaway)
  • T.J [Tijuana] (Babylon Sisters)
  • Third World, The (Third World Man)
  • Turkey (Sign In Stranger)
  • USA [United States of America], The (Haitian Divorce)
  • Utah (Pixeleen)
  • Vineyard, The (Things I Miss The Most)
  • Washington Zoo, The (Showbiz Kids)
  • Waterway, The (Sail the Waterway)
  • West of Hollywood (West of Hollywood)
  • William and Mary [University] (My Old School)
  • Willows, The (Slang of Ages)

2 thoughts on “Show Me Where You Are: The Geography of Steely Dan

  1. Pingback: 7 and 7 on Saturday: September 9, 2017 – Chuck The Writer

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