For those who might be wondering, there’s no sure-fire way to end up on Good Steely Dan Takes. Alex, the 35-year-old Brooklyn resident in charge of the improbably entertaining and increasingly popular Twitter account, which aggregates and celebrates niche riffs, memes, and one-liners related to the arch jazz-pop kingpins, says he simply knows a funny Steely Dan-related tweet when he sees one. We’d be inclined to agree.
Some prime examples: the one where the band’s funky 1976 fan favorite “The Caves of Altamira” perfectly complements an unhinged scene from Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo; the one where @blauer_geist says they’re “listening to ‘Do It Again’ by Steely Dan and daydreaming that I’m a quaaludes dealer in 1979 facing a crisis of faith after my houseboat sinks off the docks of Sausalito” (which Alex, who prefers to keep his last name confidential, calls a “hilarious short story in a tweet”); or the one where @suckerjawn reveals that “my sexuality is Donald Fagen singing the word ‘red’ in ‘Haitian Divorce.’“
These tweets and others tap into a strange current of Steely Dan–oriented humor that’s been building steadily during the past five years or so. Constant namechecks from John Mulaney, reaching their apex during a hilarious segment of Oh, Hello on Broadway that even features a spot-on Steely Dan parody song; absurdly specific memes from the Wolf Eyes related Instagram account Inzane Johnny; and a gently mocking yet affectionate Times editorial from music writer Lindsay Zoladz on her Steely Dan conversion — all these and more have contributed to the cresting wave. What’s clear is that, even for fans of the band, something about their image, and the stereotypes that surround them — the prevalent idea that they’re the soundtrack to every disgruntled suburban dad’s regressive hipster fantasies, for example, or maybe music for soulless high-class coke parties — makes it very possible to both love Steely Dan and find the idea of them hilarious.
“It’s very particular with Steely Dan, because if you ever bring them up in conversation, even with people who aren’t huge music heads, people kind of start smirking,” Alex says. “There’s something just inherently funny. I don’t know if it’s the name Steely Dan or the place they occupy in people’s imagination. There are other bands that are funny. Like, the Spin Doctors; people will make Spin Doctors jokes, right? … But you’re not going to do a Good Spin Doctors Takes. There’s just nothing there. But Steely Dan is such a great band; they have such an incredible discography to draw from. It’s not only funny; they’re actually great.”
So consider Good Steely Dan Takes, which now boasts an impressive 11,000 followers, to be a virtual meeting spot for a fan base that loves to poke fun at itself but is also fiercely protective of the music and its makers, Donald Fagen and the late Walter Becker. (See a recent stir created by an anti-Dan tweet thread from New York art critic Jerry Saltz.) Alex took some time recently to delve into the recent Dan-issance in the culture, his own path to Dan obsession, and how he felt when he learned that Steely Dan superfan David Crosby was following him.
How did you get the idea to launch this account?
If you notice, the handle is not Good Dan Takes but @baddantakes. That’s not an ironic joke; I actually started it as Bad Steely Dan Takes, because I was just on the internet one night and I saw the stupidest tweet about Steely Dan that I’ve ever seen and there were other Bad Takes — there’s a Bad Econ Takes and a Bad Film Takes — and I kind of just wanted to spoof that by doing something as arbitrary as Bad Steely Dan Takes. And I’m also a huge fan of the band. So I took a screenshot of the tweet and I made a little account and I set it up and then I honestly didn’t do much with it. This was in November or December — I would only check it like once a week. I don’t think I even had, like, 100 followers when I was doing it that. It wasn’t enjoyable to read bad things about Steely Dan — I don’t know what I was really going for, and the spoofing thing didn’t really come through.
So it was really when Covid started, and I was basically working from home and things were kind of stopped and I was feeling kind of despondent, I was just listening to Steely Dan and I changed the name to Good Steely Dan Takes and I found some funny and fun Steely Dan stuff, and yeah, it just went from there. I honestly did not plan this. It just kind of took off.
Is there a specific method you have for finding these tweets?
A lot of times I’ll just see tweets as I’m scrolling through Twitter. That’s a decent number of them. Others, somebody else will see a funny Steely Dan tweet and they’ll tag me. I don’t use most of those but some of them are pretty good and I’ll throw those out. Other times, I would just throw into the search “Steely Dan” and a funny word. … That’s how I found that tweet about, like, “I’m having a crisis of conscience because my houseboat sunk off the docks of Sausalito.” I just punched in “Steely Dan,” “quaaludes” into the search. There’s only so many tweets that are going to come up that literally have the words “Steely Dan” and “quaaludes” in them and that just happens to be one of them [laughs].
The Fitzcarraldo one, I’m proud to say is the one that I did myself and didn’t just take from somebody else’s account. I literally was watching Fitzcarraldo one day, and that scene, there’s just something about his posture. I mean, the whole scene is incredible and then I was already so deep into the Steely Dan stuff, I ran to my computer and started putting it together, so that one I’m proud of.
— Good Steely Dan Takes (@baddantakes) September 15, 2020
I’ve sent that around to a lot of my friends. That’s gotten a lot of laughs.
I can’t take too much credit for what I’ve done, but if that’s my contribution, then that’s fine with me. The other one that I remember — I think it’s still the one that has the most likes — is the one that was just, “Listening to Steely Dan sing about a sad guy who wasted his life,” and then the actual quote is, “Wow, this production is incredible.” Which just describes every single Steely Dan fan. I personally related to it and there was just something about the simplicity of it that was so perfect.
Tell me about your personal Steely Dan journey.
Growing up, I wasn’t a huge music guy, honestly. I bought CDs like any teenager. My parents had a lot of records and CDs in the house but no Steely Dan; they had a lot of the other touchstones like Fleetwood Mac, James Taylor, but the only Steely Dan I ever remember hearing was on classic-rock radio. I grew up in New Jersey, so I just feel like classic rock was just kind of everywhere. It was in the delis; they would play it over the loudspeaker in the cafeteria. I don’t know if it’s like a Bruce, Bon Jovi thing; I just feel like it was a big part of my childhood.
And classic-rock radio [in terms of Steely Dan songs], I feel like it was like, “Reelin’ in the Years,” “Do It Again,” and “Rikki [Don’t Lose That Number].” And I liked those songs but divorced from the rest of the Steely Dan discography, it didn’t really stand out to me. It kind of blended in with the rest of classic rock. A lot of other bands have three songs that are in the rotation, but if you listen to the rest of their albums, they’re not that great; those are their three best songs. Where with Steely Dan, there’s so many good songs that aren’t part of the classic rock rotation.
— Good Steely Dan Takes (@baddantakes) June 30, 2020
So then in college, I met a lot of people who were really into music. I got really involved in college radio, and I started discovering krautrock and ambient music and all the sort of indie stuff that was going on. And I had a friend who had really hip music taste and I remember he, one day — this would have been in 2006 or 2007 so it was kind of before there was any kind of Steely Dan revival or comeback — and I just remember him saying, “Steely Dan is so great.” And I was like, “Steely Dan?!” I remember just being shocked, like, “What?!”
And I didn’t think about it for a couple of years. And I was at a bar with the same guy two years later, after having graduated college, and it was empty that night and he had put a bunch of songs on the jukebox, and I actually remember literally the moment because I was coming out of the bathroom. … He had put on “Babylon Sisters.” And the music was really loud even though there was nobody there, so it was kind of echoing all over the bar, and it was just, like, this incredible futuristic neo-soul space funk. I had never really heard anything like it and I remember just being like, “What is this?” And I asked him and he was like, “This is Steely Dan.” And I was like, “This is Steely Dan … really?” And that was that. I basically listened to nothing else for like a year.
Yeah, Gaucho has that futuristic sheen that’s not on any of the hits.
Yeah. Like, I was already a Parliament fan and I was already listening to a decent amount of Zappa and it had a little bit of that. Like the part where [Fagen] sings, “So fine, so young,” it had a little bit of a Zappa quality. But I didn’t know Steely Dan was, like, good at that point [laughs]. I had never really thought about it, to be honest. So that was an exciting moment for me. And, yeah, I’ll go back to them very consistently, and that’s been going on for like 10 years now.
So the period you’re describing, when you really came around to Steely Dan, is the heyday of their Beacon Theatre residencies in New York. Did you go see them there?
No, I couldn’t afford to see them for a while. The first time I saw them was 2015. I just thought the tickets were too expensive. And I never really thought of them. I knew they toured but I didn’t have a deep desire to see them for some reason. But finally, they were playing a summer show in Jersey one night and we just had plans to all go see them together, and it was amazing. They were so good live. So I went to that and I went to two shows at the Beacon, the last two years. Now I’m pretty much, if they’re playing Beacon shows, I’m going to try to go to one every year.
So the absence of Walter doesn’t really deter you?
No. It’s a huge bummer but that wouldn’t deter me because Donald’s there and the band sounds great. It’s not quite the same to a degree and I’m glad I did get to see them at least once with Walter, but I’m not like, “Oh, I’m not seeing Steely Dan …” There are other bands that I probably do feel that way, where I wouldn’t see them if a core member was not there. But I feel like with Donald, it’s good enough for me.
One thing that’s always fascinated me about Steely Dan humor is that you have this stereotype of a Steely Dan fan, obviously evident in a lot of these tweets, which is like the Eighties dad who thinks he’s got a super sophisticated stereo system and he’s got a nice scotch and he’s kind of over the hill — in some ways, the character who’s being made fun of in “Hey Nineteen” …
Or “Deacon Blues.”
Right, exactly. That’s a theme in Steely Dan, and it’s become a stereotype that those kinds of people listen to them, but that reading seems to gloss over the fact that the songs themselves are making fun of that character.
[Laughs] Totally, I know, it’s true.
But because the music sounds so luxurious, and because they spent a lot of money recording it, they came to embody that anyway. As a connoisseur of Dan-related humor, what do you make of all this?
Part of the humor, what’s funny, is how insanely perfectionist those records are, especially Aja and Gaucho. There’s something funny about the whole studio aesthetic. Because it doesn’t really exist the same way [today]. Would you say that that exists, what they did with those two albums? Like no band would exist as a band to release albums now. I feel like they would have to tour to make it.
Oh, yeah, whatever happened with them is unrepeatable.
But there’s something about that — it’s also why they stand the test of time. Those records sound so great. Like people always make the joke of “I test my speakers with [Steely Dan].” And that’s part of that whole [Steely Dan stereotype] of being 30 years old — like OK, maybe you’ve had a steady job for a while and now you have a little bit of money; you’re kind of getting into Steely Dan, you go through that process. You hit your thirties, you buy the speakers, maybe you have a nicer car. That archetype will somehow be forever connected to Steely Dan.
Exactly. And I think that while Steely Dan fandom become more accepted in recent years, at one time, for people whose aesthetics were more or less punk aesthetics, Steely Dan were the antichrist.
That’s what I’m saying. When I was growing up in the Nineties, no one was talking about Steely Dan. They were the antithesis of all that was cool about rock music. You had like Nirvana, grunge — In Utero, that’s like the absolute antithesis of a Gaucho. Those two albums are on the opposite ends of the spectrum. The fact that they used saxophones or a horn section was again the antithesis of what was cool about alternative rock. But they’ve made a circle back. Aja was a popular album when it came out; it’s not like this cult thing that no one ever heard. Like, Aja sold millions of albums. But they kind of made a full circle, where they were really big, or reasonably popular, and then they were completely out of the picture and now they’ve made this comeback.
So in terms of this Steely Dan renaissance, and also your account specifically, David Crosby looms large …
[Laughs] Speaking of uncanny reproductions of Steely Dan, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard his “She’s Got to Be Somewhere.” [Crosby] released an album maybe five years ago called Sky Trails, and the first song on it is an uncanny Gaucho imitation. Definitely listen to it as soon as you can. I like it. It’s his homage to Steely Dan and I think he did a pretty good job.
also, some personal news pic.twitter.com/gEv9RvdWkI
— Good Steely Dan Takes (@baddantakes) September 11, 2020
Tell me how he figures into this whole Steely Dan revival. I know you said he followed the account. How did that come about?
So all these Steely Dan memes that have been appearing — like Oh, Hello is a perfect example, and Inzane Johnny — I feel like a piece of that puzzle is David Crosby’s love of Steely Dan. It’s so pure and he talks about it so frequently. That was another thing: My friends text me like anytime someone would be like, “What’s your favorite band, David?” [on Twitter] and he would just be, like, “Steely Dan.” And somebody would send me that and it made me smile.
I love Steely Dan but also there’s just something particular about imagining David Crosby in, like, 2019 still just being like, “I love Steely Dan.” But he still does these tweets like “I love Gaucho,” or whatever, and in the replies, people would tag my account, thinking that I would screenshot it and post it, and maybe they just did it enough times, but one day I went and saw that he was following me. But I do think that there’s a meme of David Crosby loving Steely Dan. There’s no joke to it really, just the fact the he likes it. … When he tweets about Steely Dan, people read it and think it’s hilarious.
Yeah, as we were discussing, a younger Steely Dan fan could see the humor in their Dan fandom, but he comes from a pre-irony era.
That’s why I use the word “pure.” He generally thinks they’re some of the greatest music that’s been made; he’s a fan. And I am too, honestly. I saw some tweet where someone was like, “Steely Dan sounds like they’re doing ironic covers of their own songs.” I don’t exactly feel that way about them. I think that on its own it’s incredible music. … Obviously it’s hard to undo the layers of irony in being a Steely Dan fan now, but I would hope that I also love them in sort of a genuine way.
Another significant Steely Dan happening online recently was that now-infamous Jerry Saltz tweet. He brought up this idea that women don’t listen to Steely Dan, which people rightly disputed. You’ve featured a lot of women making hilarious and informed statements on the band. How do you respond to this whole stereotype?
Yeah, I mean to me, just the whole white-man myth — it’s sort of evolved into this stereotype that Steely Dan is the band of old white men. I’ve never personally, anecdotally I’ve never found that to be the case. I know women who like Steely Dan; I went to a Steely Dan and women attended and wanted to see them too. They’re at the shows. And as I was building the account … There’s probably more men overall for sure but the ratio isn’t [that imbalanced].
And it’s obviously not older men either. Every once in a while I’ll get a real-estate lawyer from Waterbury, Connecticut — a guy who probably genuinely drives a BMW and turns on Aja. But if you were going by the stereotype, almost everyone that followed me would be that guy and that’s so far from the truth. The followers have been incredibly diverse, across gender, race. And again, I don’t know if that’s a generational thing. I just think the old-white-man thing is a myth.
— Good Steely Dan Takes (@baddantakes) September 30, 2020
Is there a reason that you screenshot the tweets and don’t retweet?
I just don’t think it would work if you just retweeted it, because part of the joke is that there’s an account that literally just says above the tweet “Good Steely Dan Takes.” If you remove that from the equation … And honestly it just started because of that bad Steely Dan take. The screenshot method, where you don’t want a person to know that you took their tweet. [Those were it], really, those two reasons.
But it seems like in many cases, people do find out that you’ve featured them, and they’re happy about it.
I try to do people that already follow me now, because I know that they like it. One of the craziest things is that even maybe a month into it or two months, people were like, “Holy shit, I made it!” And that was just like, [incredulously] “What? What did you make it to? I’m no one. What are you talking about?” [Laughs.]
Have you had any other direct contact with celebrities or anyone from the Steely Dan world?
Not really from the Steely Dan world. I’ve noticed a lot of decently well-known music writers … like Rob Sheffield. Literally writers whose books I’ve gone to the bookstore specifically to buy follow the account and that’s really flattering. And some musicians too. Like people whose albums I think are amazing. I wouldn’t necessarily call them celebrities. I think Mark Ronson follows me. He’s probably the most famous person besides David Crosby.
Do you have any sort of more ambitious game plan for the whole thing?
[Laughs] Like I said, [I was just] screwing around on the internet. I didn’t plan for this to happen. I don’t even know what I’d really do — a podcast? I don’t want to say I’m definitely not going to do something with it, but it’s honestly just fun. The tweets are funny, people seem to get a kick out of it, I love spreading the Dan love. I’m not seeking any monetary compensation for it. I don’t even know what it would be. I didn’t start the account thinking, “I could parlay this into a job at this thing …,” I was just doing it for kicks.
Of all the Dan takes you’ve come across, do you have a single favorite?
I honestly think my favorite one is the “This production is incredible” one. It’s so succinct. It’s so witty. … The other one was the moon-landing one. I remember when I saw that, I was like, “This is so funny.” There’s some people that just seem to know how to tap into that wavelength of whatever this Steely Dan humor is. Another one that just seems to understand was like, “I’m driving down the highway in Tampa and I’m blasting ‘Caves of Altamira’ in a car that I bought with 10.2 APR financing, and I’m a gambling addict.” That’s just an inherent understanding of what I’m going for. That’s another trend I’ve noticed is that now people are trying to write tweets to get on my thing.
— Good Steely Dan Takes (@baddantakes) August 6, 2020
That means you’ve made it.
I don’t know about that, but it’s harder to do that way. I think when you’re consciously trying to capture that humor … It’s so funny, whatever this humor is that exists about Steely Dan. I think it’s hilarious. So it’s fun to be able to send that out into the world.