If you've never heard of Steely Dan, here's a short (and hopefully brief) bio: Steely Dan was a major 70's era staple of AOR (album-oriented rock) radio. They hung up their microphones after their 1980 release, "Gaucho," burned out on drugs, late nights in studios, paranoia, self-insulation and the backdoor dealings of payola and the music business in general. The two primary members of the band, Donald Fagen (vocals and keyboards) and Walter Becker (guitar, vocals), had been making hipster, ironic, well-crafted smart jazz-rock-pop for nearly a decade and they'd, for lack of a better term, shot their load.
However, while Fagen released a well-received solo album ("The Nightfly") in 1982, "The Dan" remained virtually silent. After a reunion of sorts for a Steely Dan box set and another Donald Fagen solo album ("Kamakiriad") in 1993, then a solo album by Walter Becker in 1995 entitled "11 Tracks of Whack," the duo opted to tour. They did two or three legs and reemerged as a talented, updated version of the old original.
Soon after -- in 2000 -- they released another album which featured, as per usual, a bevy of curious, intellectually mysterious tunes. One of these was "Cousin Dupree," a tune about a shiftless aging loser with no motivation who winds up crashing on his Aunt's couch...until he can get back on his feet.
Normally I don't veer off into spontaneous band bios, especially herein, but the whole story deserves mention.
Enter 2006 and Owen Wilson's newest film, "Me, You and Dupree," a film about a newlywed couple who take in a friend on the day of their wedding who has no real motivation but they decide to let him stay on their couch for a while...until he can get back on his feet.
See where this is going?
Apparently, the similarity between the song from Steely's album "Two Against Nature" and Owen's latest movie was a bit too significant to ignore. Back to my visit to the Steely Dan site...I came across an open letter to Luke Wilson, brother of Owen. The letter, which is written in a rambling, casual but acerbically sarcastic, over-the-top manner (much like everything written by Steely Dan), was presented on fake stationary: "The Residential Suites at Longworth" (sounds more like a prison than a hotel) featuring the slogan beneath, 'Where Value is King -- and So Are you!!!' -- is even more Dan-esque. The letter, signed by Fagen and Becker, basically charges Luke with reigning in his brother Owen to get the latter's career back on track and, more importantly, to apologize for ripping off their "Dupree" idea. Further, they demand Owen come to their concert in Irvine to apologize to the band and to their fans.
If nothing else, Steely Dan has made a habit of using their wit for ironic, wry gags. The name of the band was lifted directly from a William Burroughs novel ("steely dan" refers to a vibrator). Everything they do is the antithesis of serious; for example, one of their early songs, "Everyone's Gone To The Movies" is a bouncy, hook-laden song -- about a child molestor. Another, "The Fez," is a song about condom use. Yet another, "Haitian Divorce," describes the breakdown of marriage: "Soon everybody knew the thing was dead; He shouts, she bites, they wrangle through the night." Their goal, which they semi-readily admit, is to present irony musically the way David Letterman presents it nightly through comedy. The point is: the letter to Luke was a joke.
It gets better, however.
Sometime after reading the letter on their site but prior to Mel Gibson melting down, I visited CNN.com and noticed a piece on Owen Wilson and Steely Dan, right below a story about midget farmers in Iowa. Apparently, some clever reporter at CNN.com noticed the letter posted on the Steely Dan site and mentioned it; the next day, Owen Wilson, through a representative, released a statement in response:
"I have never heard the song 'Cousin Dupree' and I don't even know who this gentleman, Mr. Steely Dan, is. I hope this helps to clear things up and I can get back to concentrating on my new movie, 'HEY 19.'"CNN missed the gag when Owen referred to "Mr. Steely Dan," he was goofing on CNN. Steely Dan, like the band names for Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull, isn't the name of a band member, just the band name. What is even more disconcerting is that CNN, in describing the band, mentioned "Hey Nineteen"as one of their hits, yet they didn't catch Owen's reference to that song as the name of his new movie. Essentially, whoever followed this story on CNN's behalf completely and totally missed the point, and the joke.
I don't know if Donald, Walter and Owen expected people would or wouldn't understand the letter was a joke; I presume they knew 99% of the people visiting the site would "get" it. But having CNN cover the whole thing -- and Owen firing off a statement in response that actually got picked up by CNN -- had to be the icing on the cake.
The punchline, of course, is if Owen Wilson had done The Dan "one petite solid" and showed up in Irvine on July 19th (the band kept asking between tunes if anyone had seen Owen, to their endless amusement); perhaps his appearance could be rescheduled to the Jones Beach or Atlantic City gigs. This way, I could record it and forward a copy to CNN -- just to be sure this exercise in journalistic integrity doesn't go for naught :)
After all, this thing we all do -- writing, creating, creating -- it's a glamour profession ;)
My apologies for the reworking. The original version was an older draft and belonged, and landed, in the recycle bin. - Ed.