Sunday, August 10, 2008

1973: Bodhisattva

Steely Dan: Bodhisattva


A jamming, loose, eminently danceable tune, paced out as a 1950s jitterbug and famous for its guitarwork, this classic hit from the masters of otherwise-smooth, high-arrangement jazzrock has frenzied ecstasy all over it. But mind the sparse yet direct anti-heroic lyrics, and pay close attention to the tension of the instruments -- both the slight acceleration of drumpace in the first few measures as the rest of the band piles on for the ride, and the way the guitars seem to teeter on the verge of losing control whenever they leave the basic riff behind for their solos. The mood here is quite carefully constructed to reflect a general tone of hysterical, almost desperate upheaval and unpredictability just on the other side of the suburban picket fence.

In fact, this sense of the modern ego as tempted by affluence and spiritualism, and of the world as under siege from prophets and power, pervades Countdown to Ecstasy, Steely Dan's 1973 classic, from the alt-countrified Razor Boy to the more typically seventies "classic rock" of the anti-nostalgic, anti-ivory-tower My Old School. But though other cuts are equally catchy in their own way, Bodhisattva has always struck me as among the greatest, rawest demonstrations of the carefully crafted genius that is Steely Dan at its best, the perfect song for the as-yet-unconverted. Just try not to grin, even in the face of such dubious fortune. And make sure you've got your air guitar handy.

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