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Words I Might Have Ate: Aging Like Steely Dan

My last, first column of my college career is not being written how I imagined when I started writing Words I Might Have Ate three years ago.

I had no idea that my senior year would end up being only a semester long — I planned on staying in Athens for four consecutive years. Nor did I know that I wouldn’t be allowed back on OU’s campus for my final semester, a consequence of a pandemic I’m sure you’ve heard a little bit about.

But in that time, I’ve found a silver lining in spending my final semester across the country in Northern California. My boyfriend and I spent nine days on the road, camping with our dog in isolated spots and driving through national parks along the way. And the whole time, we were listening to one band more than any other: Steely Dan. 

The week I began college, I had Aja on repeat. These days, I listen more to Katy Lied and Pretzel Logic. Throughout my three years, though, Steely Dan has been my go-to, classic band. 

Walter Becker and Donald Fagan’s songs don’t flatter their subjects. Their depictions of life are honest — “Kid Charlemagne” is about a large-scale drug manufacturer who has to flee, “Don’t Take Me Alive” actually inspired a real-life hostage situation and “Everyone’s Gone to the Movies” is about a man who shows pornography to children. But those songs are set to jazzy tunes that don’t necessarily reflect their subject matter. 

Perhaps that is why, throughout college, the band has resonated with me. Steely Dan transforms the ugly parts of life into majestic, intricate pieces of music. The music, its production and lyrics all indicate a high understanding of writing both music and stories. 

Despite the band’s high musical intelligence, much of their music is criminally underrated. The previously mentioned Katy Lied has songs that deserve to be classics among the likes of “Hotel California” or “Stairway to Heaven.” Even with catchy piano riffs, emotional choruses and powerful, well-placed guitar solos, songs like “Bad Sneakers,” “Chain Lightning” and “Your Gold Teeth II” from that album don’t receive the attention from music bloggers and Steely Dan fans alike. 

Hits like “Reelin’ in the Years” or “Peg” are, of course, songs that should be appreciated and listened to. But they’re also only the tip of the Steely Dan iceberg. There’s a wealth of music the pair created together, and it deserves to be explored by a new generation of music listeners.

As I’m heading into my final school year, displaced and without reliable wifi, there’s not much I can say with absolute certainty. I know through my hardest times, though, that I will be able to turn on a Steely Dan song to remind me at least I’m not Kid Charlemagne. 

Shelby Campbell, longform editor of The Post, is a senior studying Journalism at Ohio University. My opinions don’t represent the post’s apparently. But we should take a stand on Steely Dan.

Shelby Campbell is a senior studying strategic communication at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Shelby know by tweeting her @bloodbuzzohioan. 

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