Steely Dan's Walter Becker dies after battling illness

Glen Mclaughlin
September 6, 2017

Becker formed Steely Dan with Fagen after the pair moved to California in the early 1970s, with the band releasing their debut album "Can't Buy A Thrill" in 1972.

Becker was born in Queens, New York on February 20, 1950.

Walter Becker, co-founder and guitarist for the USA band Steely Dan, has died aged 67, an announcement on his website confirmed.

"Peg" and "Deacon Blues" popped up on WKRP in Cincinnati, "Rikki" rode onto Knight Rider, and Steely Dan were well-represented in movies from Mask and Say Anything to Air America, Me, Myself & Irene and Almost Famous.

Like most partnerships, it's hard to pin down the division of labor.

In that same 1976 interview, Becker - who always sounded amusingly disappointed by humanity, with a tone of aged and tired sagacity that he appeared to have had adopted around adolescence - lamented that kids today didn't share their literary values, their scholarship. "So whatever needs to be done, sometimes I've got something to start with, sometimes Donald's got something to start with", he said. "Reelin' in the Years", especially, is a wise and wistful accounting of how time goes by: "Your everlasting summer / You can see it fading fast / So you grab a piece of something / That you think is gonna last", Fagen chastises. I can only hope that losing the "magic" of music is not one of them. They are all on the top albums chart this morning, along with a greatest hits package "A Decade of Steely Dan". What a turnaround from the insufferable posturing of Pavement, Animal Collective's teenage heroes, who made a career out of shunning anything resembling an earnest emotion and instead chose to pose for all the other indie flamingos too scared to play an Echo & the Bunnymen cover or admit that they liked Aerosmith. Like too many musicians, Becker had become drawn to the darker side of the profession and fell into drug addiction. One story in particular he told me that stands out is about him seeing the original Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East for the first time and how much it blew his mind. He eventually stopped using.

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The only solo Becker song Steely Dan ever performed live in concert, "Book of Liars" is an understated slow-burner. This hint of dirtiness also underlined how the characters populating Steely Dan songs were often unsavory types; underneath that shiny surface, there was dirt.

However, they split up in 1981 after they released Gaucho. The calypso rhythms of "Everyone's Gone to the Movies" don't work quite as well in "Happy Feet" once you realize it's a song about a dude who shows the neighborhood kids dirty movies.

Steely Dan reached its pinnacle as a studio duo.

Steely Dan's sophomore set "Countdown to Ecstasy" (1973) included "My old school", a backhanded tribute to Fagen and Becker's alma mater Bard was perhaps too bitter for most listeners and failed to strike a chord with the listeners.

Becker's official site announced the death, but no cause of death has been provided. His decline was noticed.

Becker in July missed The Classic East and The Classic West - twin festivals in Los Angeles and NY featuring rock veterans including Steely Dan - with his bandmate Donald Fagen saying Becker was recovering from an unspecified ailment. In May, fans anxious about his bloated appearance at a Steely Dan show. When you add to that the unbelievable musicianship they brought and surrounded themselves with, what follows is a catalogue of music that raised the bar for anyone who was paying attention.

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