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Steely Dan sells out Red Butte Garden, but try asking the duo a question

Published August 8, 2013 10:57 am

Interview • The band, which combines cult status with live magic, drops into Red Butte for a sold out gig.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Steely Dan brings its nonsensically named tour — "Mood Swings: 8 Miles to Pancake Day" — to Red Butte Garden Saturday for a sold-out show.

Though not known for funny novelty songs, the jazz-rock tandem of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen specialized in biting, sarcastic lyrics that often criticized the decadent culture. They also created complex, interesting songs, many of which became staples on classic-rock radio, such as "Rikki Don't Lose That Number," "Reelin' In the Years" and "Do It Again."

The band broke up in 1981, but regrouped in 1993. Since then, it has risen to superstar status on the touring circuit.

That's ironic, considering Becker and Fagen quit touring in the 1970s to focus on becoming obsessive studio perfectionists on many now-classic albums (such as 1975's "Katy Lied" and 1977's "Aja"). Fast forward to now, and Fagen and Becker have released only one new album since "Two Against Nature" — their first album since 1980 — won them a controversial 2001 Grammy for Album of the Year against landmark records such as Eminem's "The Marshall Mathers LP" and Radiohead's "Kid A."

In June, Fagen and Becker, who have typically been unwilling and difficult participants in media interviews, participated in a conference call with several reporters to talk about their music and current tour.

The interview was amusing, at times exasperating, and, in the end, not that interesting. Did we really expect more from a band that takes it name from a dildo?

On the name of the tour

Fagen • In truth, we put up "Mood Swings." That was the easy part and then we were reminiscing about the old television show which was called "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].

Becker • We may [do] exactly as Donald says there, but 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's sergeant says, "You will dig a ditch from here to dinner time."

Fagen • That says it all, really, I think.

On new material

Becker • It's in the air. It really is. We're just picking it up here and starting the tour, but I can almost — well, I can smell it. It's just a smell now. Next thing is then you taste it, then you start to feel it. You know how that goes.

Fagen • We think it's good stuff. It's like every time we get together, we end up just going fishing. Maybe it has to do with our age.

Becker • Remember that time that you chased … by those mullet?

Fagen • Or by those blue fish. Jesus, that was bad. The worst thing is I've only been fishing a few times, especially when I was a kid. The first time I went fishing I caught a box turtle instead of a fish, and the second time I caught a real ugly fish called a lamprey.

Becker • You caught a lamprey?

Fagen • Yes. They have these big suckers on the front.

Becker • You caught a lamprey in New Jersey?

Fagen • Yes, and after that I didn't go fishing for years because I thought like every time I went fishing I would catch these really ugly exotic [fish].

Becker • That's bad, man. Really bad. Luck of the Irish.

On touring in the 1970s, and why they had stopped

Becker • We had this stupid bet. Remember the bet?

Fagen • What was that?

Becker • 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 10 years for every show we did.

Fagen • That was a turn-off.

Becker • I'm not going to tell you who won the contest, but that was a mistake. I think that contributed to a lot.

Fagen • That is such a '70s story, isn't it?

On the future

Fagen • 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 pulling in, now I'm getting closer to the curb, OK, I think that's it." I think that's one good thing that my father handed down to me: he lived in the moment.

Becker • And parallel parking, which I'm assuming you knew how to do at one time.

Fagen • Actually, I never got the hang of the parallel parking.

Becker • It's tough.

Fagen • One thing he did teach me — that to get a really good shave you had to shave first in the normal way, and then against the grain.

Becker • That's why you had that rash when I met you.

On modern music they're enjoying after being asked what living musicians they enjoy

Becker • I like guys like Charlie Parker. He was only 35 years old when he died [in 1995], so most of his work was, almost, like, "Wow."

Interviewer • Is there anyone in 2013 you guys like?

Becker • I still like Charlie Parker. You're not going to talk me out of that.

dburger@sltrib.com

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Steely Dan's Mood Swings Tour

With Bobby Broom and The Deep Blue Organ Trio

When • Saturday, Aug. 10, at 7 p.m.

Where • Red Butte Garden, 300 Wakara Way, Salt Lake City

Tickets • Sold out