There are songs I listen to because of the way they sound, their rhythms, their musicality, there is something about them that is satisfying on a sonic level. Then there are the songs I listen to because of the lyrics, a compelling story, turns of phrase that make you stop and think.
This Steely Dan song is both. Even without background knowledge of the song, the words themselves weave a tale that is timeless and grand. You get a sense of danger, from the music and the recalled panic in lyrics.
The opening lines about “those San Francisco nights” made this a must listen when I was in San Francisco for work. I listened to it on an endless loop as I entered links into a website. It made me feel like I was apart of the bay city’s seedy underbelly. . .and not sitting in front of a computer in the basement of a Marriot.
The man who inspired this song is just as incredible as the song itself. Augustus Owsley Stanley III, described in his New York Times obituary as “the prodigiously gifted applied chemist to the stars” manufactured an estimated one to five million doses of high-quality LSD in his lifetime.
He was the champion (you might recognize this song as one of the samples in Kanye West’s “Champion“) of not just drug manufacture, but also of sound engineering. Stanley is credited with creating the “Wall of Sound” used by the Grateful Dead on tour.