Almanac Music: A Letter to Walter Becker

Dear Walter,


It saddened me to hear the news you have passed through the pearly gates of Rock and Roll Heaven. I am comforted in the knowledge that you now get to jam with all of those other greats up there. I know you have a reputation for being a pedant in the studio but I assume the sessions there are a bit more freewheeling and hope you can adapt accordingly.


When news broke of the passing of Bowie or of Prince last year or of Lou Reed further back, for instance, I almost knew instinctively how I would come to terms with those events. In your case, it has been a starkly different response. To be honest I can’t remember the last time I played a Steely Dan record so your music lacked the immediacy of those others I mentioned.


Last night I YouTubed some of your songs and remembered the beautiful melodies and funky riffs you and Donald gave us. I played Do It Again a few times over, taking the song title to be a directive to which I gladly submitted. Today in the car, however, was my epiphany. RRR played a medley and I found myself absorbed in the musical cornucopia that can be found in so many of your tracks. The playfulness yet haunting beauty of My Old School is a case in point.


The mid to late 70s was the era of my musical awakening. It was a hotly contested space for a kid who couldn’t figure out whether he liked prog rock more than the Beatles, or Bowie more than hard rock or any of the other countless permutations. Steely Dan was in the background and I remember I had a fleeting moment in the sun when I was comparing Aja to Gaucho and marvelling at the sounds coming off my record player. I tended to categorise you alongside the ‘West Coasters’. As the years have passed I have come to dismiss the bands of that era like the Eagles and the Doobie Bros but grown fonder of the singer-songwriters, especially Warren Zevon and Jackson Browne. I am now struck by the way I look at you and Donald through the latter prism. Steely Dan seems less a band than two songwriters who crafted a sound so special and mercurial that I feel myself longing for more each time one of your tracks tapers off. Great music conjures longing more so than just about any art form I feel.


So here I sit reflecting on your death and I realise just how grateful I am to have had these bookends. The kid listening to Steely Dan records has spent decades trying to uncover the mysteries of music. Thankfully, and joyfully, I know it will be a life long journey but at this juncture I can put my hand on my heart and state I love Walter Becker’s music and I am indebted to the genius from Queens.





Grew up playing the rugby codes in suburban Sydney. Moved to Melbourne during the Carey era so becoming a Shinboner was the natural call. Still love the game they play in heaven. Took an interest in MLB a few years back and have become infatuated with America's pastime.


  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Thanks Brian, Steely Dan are in my guilty pleasure basket (along with Yes) – please don’t tell anybody.

  2. Brian The Ruminator says

    The beauty about reflecting on Walter’s life and Steel Dan is that they are not a ‘guilty pleasure’ – they were a fucking great band!!!!! (Yes were OK but not in the same league)

  3. Joe De Petro says

    Best band named after a marital aid ever!

    I was lucky enough to catch them live at RLA a few years ago. Steve Winwood was on the same ticket and performed for about an hour before Steely Dan stood up and gave a flawless 1 and 1/2 hour performance. Great value for money, Their music was always very cool, very laid-back and very tight. I dragged along quite a few people who had very little appreciation of their music beyond maybe “Ricky don’t lose that number,” including the missus, and they were all blown away at how good they were.

    Donald Fagan made lame jokes about how unusual it was to be up so late at their age. Walter just played.

  4. A favourite here too. Impossibly cool. Always loved the urgency of Kid Charlemagne’s

    Is there gas in the car?
    Yes, there’s gas in the car
    I think the people down the hall know who you are

    Thanks BTR.

  5. Very sad, the album gaucho helped me through high school and relaxes me me still today.Brilliant band rip walter

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