David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 269: Steely Dan (Show Biz Kids)

July 22, 2023

Lo and behold, my FaceBook feed is telling me the Eagles are ready to go on tour again. They are calling it The Long Goodbye Tour, which, besides being the title I wish for a great Poco song (always confusing "The Last Goodbye," may seem a tad disingenous, since previous Eagles' tours implied finality: Hell Freezes Over tour, the Long Road Out Of Eden tour, and the Greedy Bastards Tour (oh, I'm sorry that was not the Eagles, but Eric Idle).

However, I think I am more disturbed that they are dragging along a Steely Dan (and not the sex toy mentioned by William Burroughs in Naked Lunch, although I could be wrong) for this "Final Tour." Steely Dan, which first swore off touring in 1974, and has dwindled down to a single person, Donald Fagen, already sold their soul to come back tours in 1993, even releasing a live album in the 1990s. I understand that musicians deserve the right to go back on their word, reform and tour again, especially in an age where there is not much money being made by releasing records. However, Steely Dan's image seemed built on being anti-music establishment.

That's why I am more accepting of this for the Eagles, who always walked a fine line between criticizing the high life and living it. But for Fagen, especially with Walter Becker, long dead, this seems a sad need to rehash being "Show Biz Kids."

"Show Biz Kids" was the first single released on Steely Dan's 1973 album Countdown To Ecstasy. It was mostly ignored by the buying public, which is too bad because it and "My Old School," also off the Countdown To Ecstasy album, are two of the band's best songs. Steely Dan performed "Show Biz Kids" on a Midnight Special in 1973, showing what an electrically live band they could be (the link below is to that live performance). Great backing vocals, not just aurally but also visually, by two ladies who went by "Porky" and "Bucky," dazzling lead guitar work by "Skunk," the nerdy stoic bass-playing of Walter Becker, and the weird stage presence of lead singer, Donald Fagen, both of whom went by no cool nicknames, make it hard to look away.

The song seemed to speak to everything about class/wealth differences, most of us the denizens of "lost wages" "sleeping with the shade on the light," while the "show business kids making movies of themselves" attract all the attention. And for the "coup de grace," they got "their Steely Dan t-shirts." I know, lyrically, the "coup de grace" is that these kids, who "don't give a f*ck about anybody else," are "outrageous." However, that earlier line about having "Steely Dan T-shirts" seems evidence of the band "not giving a f*ck" about the fans buying Steely Dan's music.

In this 1973 clip, it all seems to work, a visually arresting presentation of a band that didn't give a crap, even to the point of not replacing the "f*ck" or the "damn" in the song. However, maybe because Countdown To Ecstasy failed to be very successful (Fagen and Becker blaming the songs being written on tour as the reason they were not as good), Steely Dan decided not to tour after 1974. Band members left, joined other successful bands, leaving Fagen and Becker making really interesting albums up through Aja, the band now a mysterious entity that may or may not come out at night.

Once Becker died, Steely Dan really became just Fagen and whomever he could recruit as stand-ins for the original Steely Dan. To know he is going out on the road, sans Becker, let alone "Skunk" or other members, ready to hock the Steely Dan T-shirts to make a little money, well it's disappointing. If there is anybody I expect to be a show business kid, it was Don Henley, not Don Fagen. Alas, maybe it is all the Dons.

Steely Dan. "Show Biz Kids." Countdown To Ecstasy. ABC, 1973. Link here.

Day 268: Shout Out Louds "Impossible"

Day 270: Arrested Development "Tennessee"

See complete list here.