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Steely Dan - Aja

I've been thinking about this for a month and still nothing coming out of the ends of my fingers. And time is running out.

Nothing on e-paper. Until now. Because I have mixed feelings about this beguiling, perfect pop record. And nothing in Brian Sweet's book, or the liner notes, or the websites out there, or the great reviews that have been in the digest over the last 30 days quite capture the effect this record had on me.

Strange, complex feelings that I dare not name, but they're there. Feelings that come not from the music but from the relationship. The relationship between my ears and Steely Dan. Between my memories and the music of those (true) companions. My life and thoughts and something that I cherished not just for its musical and lyrical brilliance, but also because that secret knowledge was shared by so few.

Sure, plenty of people knew the singles that launched them, "Do It Again", "Dirty Work", "Reelin' in the Years"... but that was radio.

When a Steely Dan song came on the radio it was an oasis in a desert of calculated fairy floss. It lengthened the moment and stretched those few minutes into an almost eternity. Like crystal stream water in a hot wind. Then ... segue into "Hotel California".

It wasn't the radio that created the relationship. It was something you shared with the handful of people across the world who had the albums. Half a million people and you could almost guarantee that every one of them, if they had two or more of those LPs would be funny, sardonic, compassionate and world weary in a strange way that made it into an enthusiasm.

They had great taste in music and knew the names of sax players.

Then AJA. Five million people bought the record. It was everywhere. It was there in the collections of people who had it between "Tubular Bells", "Dark Side of the Moon", David Bowie, Kiss and Peter Frampton.

AJA. The world had fallen in love with Steely Dan.

It wasn't betrayal. If anything AJA was more true to their vision of fusing beat sensibility and New York roots with post-psychedelic 70s, cool jazz, and tight, intricately-structured pop songs.

It wasn't their fault. They had earned their shining moment. It was me. I didn't want to share Steely Dan with the world. I liked the label "musician's musicians".

Other artists moved you with heartfelt cries or perceptive thoughts about the human condition to solid R&B backbeats and pop ballads, but only Steely Dan could tell you about kirchwasser.

How could the masses understand kirchwasser?

It was loss. It was jealousy. It was having to share something deep with others who just skimmed the top five per cent of smooth glitter as the perpetual dinner party soundtrack.

I got over it.

When Gaucho arrived, "Hey Nineteen" came from every speaker in every taxi in Sydney, but I rejoiced anyway. "Babylon Sister" floats through all the malls in the world even now, but it's indestructible. Gaucho lubricated the lives of people who had never seen a poncho, let alone worn one.

Steely Dan floated into the consciousness of the musically well-intentioned but illiterate. Steeleye Span? they'd say.

I can take heart in their lapse back into obscurity. I can climb back onto that horse of Steely Dan cultism. Through the net. Reading Walt's html. They're out of the limelight now. Who but the true fan would hear a snippet, just the ending, of "Tomorrow's Girls" -- no back announcement -- and go apopleptic with shock at the thought of another Steely Dan album. That sound! It was a Fagan album, but you know what I mean.

I remember hearing it from the kitchen, stripping wallpaper off the fibro walls in a Brisbane summer, trees growing in the windows and having to ring friends demanding to know if they'd heard of a new Steely Dan album. Singing the chorus over the phone.

Home at last. That was always my favourite song on AJA. The imagery of some blind old greek poet, rescusitated by a thin Irish intellectual who could speak 17 languages, then tortured with incredible grace into a pop masterpiece.

Of course I still twinge to think a band named themselves "Deacon Blue". But I'm over it now. Really I am.

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