Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Morph the Cat
I remember my sister in high school fancying herself some Fagen. Donald! she would cry before succumbing to a soul-sucking daze that would usually last until the following Spring.
‘Hey Nineteen,’ sang Donald in Steely Dan and Heidi, who was nineteen at the time, sang ‘hey’ right back. Hillsboro High School’s Most Photogenic Senior Afflicted With Scoliosis kept a vinyl talisman next to her bed at all times: Steely Dan’s Aja. She even went with a guy who years later named his daughter that. Peculiar.
When I was nineteen and armed with fake I.D., Heidi and I performed a brutal rendition of Aja’s 'Deacon Blues' that got us permanently ejected from Pudgy’s, a karaoke bar on the Oregon Coast specialising in triple-shot green cocktails. Heidi adored that tune more than any major girl ever had any right to but after that night the song was damaged goods — she would never be able to hear it the same way ever again. Meanwhile I went from strength to strength. Age 21 the essence of my insufferable style was encapsulated by two T-shirts: Jack Kerouac and Steely Dan. And my best friend was Jimbo, but I called him Deacon.
The Dan were an AM band championed by the FM dial (they still record, but it’s no scratch on their 70s heyday). They flawlessly fused rock, pop and soul music using big-time jazz chops and ‘fine Columbian’ beats. They liked their comedy the same way they liked their coffee (black) and they were whipsmart NY intellectuals. Now the Don puts out a solo record every decade or so, 'Morph the Cat' is his third and in a curious way it neatly obsesses over death, dying and such biz.
It’s a good record with a genius hook. Imagine a charismatic cat floating over NY City; a rather sophisticated feline who occasionally imbibes a latte or twelve, excreting an opiate mist upon the metropolis, prompting its inhabitants to burst into a fit of giggles. Young racketeers, teenage models and the old ladies can all feel it. Morph the Cat.
The production is smoother than a woman’s leg after a clean shave and slicker than an ice rink. Fagen often requires five guitars, a triumvirate of saxophone and (crucially) vibes to make these epic tunes rip in a hip, albeit geriatric fashion. 'What I Do', a chat with Ray Charles, is almost as smooth and sexy as the Dave Graney sound. Elsewhere, Parliament’s Mothership abducts The Dan’s Josie ('Brite Nightgown'). Two trippy cuts make my head bob: 'The Night Belongs to Mona' (a funk number about a NY babe in a funk) and 'Mary Shut the Garden Door', container of delicious, vicious vibes. The melodica solo from the Don is as textured as lacy lingerie. Heidi wouldn’t wear it if she could (not that she can’t, who am I to say, but she won’t), but she will dig it, oh yes she will.