SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (9)
July 29, 2021
One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite unfinished masterworks, legendary obscurities and cherished almost-weres.
STEELY DAN’S SECOND ARRANGEMENT
When news of a possible surviving copy of Steely Dan’s legendary lost song “The Second Arrangement” surfaced in August 2020, Steely Dan’s tight-knit online fandom erupted in a rare collective expression of joy during what was shaping up to be a world-historic horrible year. The story behind the loss of the Gaucho-era track is firmly fixed in the minds and hearts of all ’Dan-heads: an engineer accidentally erased the tape containing the song and notorious perfectionists Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were never able to recapture the track to their satisfaction on tape. It’s since become a holy grail for Steely Fans.
I of course joined in with the rest of Steely Dan Twitter in the gleeful memes and joyful jokes (even though I must confess I’m relatively lukewarm on the fragmentary takes of “The Second Arrangement” I’ve heard over the years: I find fellow lost Gaucho track “The Bear” much more compelling). But ever since last August I’ve been wondering: why does “The Second Arrangement” have such an aura about it? And what is it about Steely Dan that inspires obsessive fan fixation on rarities and lost songs? Well, part of it’s surely Steely Dan’s well-attested studio perfectionism; the impact of Don and Walt losing a track like this — a loss that irrevocably changed Gaucho’s track listing and may have even contributed to the band’s breakup until the ’90s — is incalculable and invites a kind of quasi-mythic narrative framing.
But it goes deeper than just that. The aura of mystery around “The Second Arrangement” is a function of the lyrical and musical universe that Steely Dan created over its meteoric 8-year career in the 1970s. For those of us who grew up with the sound of Steely Dan on pop and classic rock radio in our parents’ station wagons, Steely Dan hinted at urbane mystery, at a sophisticated, cryptic, and, yes, occult form of adulthood. And for those of us who kept the fire alive, rediscovering Steely Dan in our own middle-age, we found a universe overflowing with parallel timelines, weeping cryptids, louche narco-alchemists, trips to the Bermuda Triangle, and characters who wouldn’t be out of place in the paranoid gardens of authors such as Philip K. Dick or Thomas Pynchon. In my mind, Steely Dan are the soundtrack for the Weird Seventies.
Steely Dan themselves navigate alternate universes in their songs, so naturally their fans are going to spend their time wondering “what if” while listening to the band’s activities apart in the ’80s. “What if that engineer hadn’t erased ‘The Second Arrangement’? What if the drugs and the disappointment and the music industry’s rejection of Yacht Rock in the 1980s hadn’t scuttled the ’Dan and they became pop culture fixtures in more than just one decade?” Steely Dan’s output and the band’s very mythology invites this kind of science fiction thinking, of lost worlds and hoped-for endings that don’t terminate in ironic disappointment. Let’s hope when they finally decode that cassette that we get to hear a haunted missive from a better world than the one I come from.
SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: SERIES INTRODUCTION by Adam McGovern | Luc Sante on WARHOL’S WALT WHITMAN | Peggy Nelson on THE CURSE OF QUIXOTE | Adrienne Crew on POOR DEVIL | Bishakh Som on KATE BUSH BOOTLEGS | Douglas Wolk on BIG NUMBERS #3 | Devin McKinney on THE ORIGINAL OF LAURA | Mandy Keifetz on BACKFIRE | Heather Quinlan on TRANSITIONAL DISNEY | Michael Grasso on STEELY DAN’S 2nd ARRANGEMENT | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons on THE GREAT MOVIE RIDE | Josh Glenn on LE HIBOU PHILOSOPHE | Lynn Peril on 70, GIRLS, 70 | Ron Wimberly on SHIRATO SANPEI | Holly Interlandi on LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT |Stan Chou on TYRAEL’S MIGHT | Nikhil Singh on JOURNEY TO IXTLAN | Brian Lozano on BLOWN BANNER | Adam McGovern on THE LEON SUITES | Sajan Saini on BRISCO COUNTY | Heather Kapplow on LORD OF LIGHT | Greg Rowland on SOLARNAUTS | Christopher-Rashee Stevenson on FLEDGLING | Crystal Durant on TURN-ON | Ran Xia on BYRON’S FRAGMENT | Carolyn Raship on BURNT BRONTË.
NERD YOUR ENTHUSIASM (4Q2021): RAIN | ARDUIN | SEINFELD | MAP INSERTS | TIME | & 20 other nerdy passions. SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (3Q2021): WARHOL’S WALT WHITMAN | 70, GIRLS, 70 | TYRAEL’S MIGHT | SHIRATO SANPEI | THE LEON SUITES | & 20 other never-realized cultural productions. FIVE-O YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2Q2021): DARK SHADOWS | MANNIX | GET SMART | THE ADDAMS FAMILY | I DREAM OF JEANNIE | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) TV shows. FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2021): STEVEN UNIVERSE | TOP CAT | REN & STIMPY | SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESSES OF POWER | DRAGON BALL Z | & 20 other animated series. CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): “Sex Bomb” | “Going Underground” | “Soft South Africans” | “Typical Girls” | “Human Fly” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) punk singles. KLAATU YOU (2020 weekly): ZARDOZ | METROPOLIS | DARK STAR | SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | SOLARIS | & dozens of other pre-STAR WARS sci-fi movies. CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2019): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | ROLLERBALL | BLACK SUNDAY | SORCERER | STRAIGHT TIME | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) action movies. SERIOCOMIC (2019 weekly): LITTLE LULU | VIZ | MARSUPILAMI | ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | HELLBOY | & dozens of other comics. TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2018): LOONEY TUNES | THREE STOOGES | THE AVENGERS | ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | THE TWILIGHT ZONE | & 20 other Fifties (1954–1963) TV shows. WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) new wave singles. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other Thirties (1934–1943) fantasy novels. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.