Pride Lands Online


A Review of Pretzel Logic by Steely Dan

In memoriam Gabor Antos

Nick, Renfield, and I were playing Uno when Buddy burst into the room suddenly.

"She's gone! She's gone!" he shouted, frantically waving his paws in the air. "She just up and scooted out the door about half a sec' ago! What am I gonna do?"

I put down my cards and glanced quizzically at Renfield, who shrugged his shoulders. Nick furrowed his brow and said in a very deliberate voice, "Hmmm. What seems to be the trouble, my little friend?"

"It''s Holly," he stammered. "She busted a gut yelling at me, telling me she'd had it. She said she was leaving pronto and never coming back. Then she slammed the door in my kisser and skedaddled down the hall. Man, I really musta teed her golf ball off aces this time."

"What got her so mad, Buddy?" said Renfield.

"Well, heck--I dunno. Maybe it was the primo tabasco dump I did in her macaroni and cheese just an hour ago. You shoulda seen the steam coming out her ears--like a freaking train whistle, man!" he said. "Or maybe it was the jumpin'-jolt buzzer I stuck in her pillow just before she sat down a few minutes ago. Or maybe--naah! I can't imagine she'd 'a gotten too wigged over the rubber spider I squirreled into the tissue box this afternoon."

I looked at Nick and shook my head. Those foolish practical jokes of Buddy's! I knew one of these days he'd go too far. Most of us had been the recipient of some kind of prank from him in the past--they were silly, but usually harmless. Holly was his favorite target, though, and her fuse could be notably short at times. I'm surprised this hadn't happened before, quite honestly.

Renfield tried to sound reassuring. "Oh, I'm certain she'll be back," he offered hopefully. "She doesn't stay mad long. You know that."

"But she's never been this riled before," moaned Buddy. "She snapped at me like a wounded 'gator, lemme tell ya. I don't think she's gonna be back, guys. I...I...I think think she's hit the road for keeps."

"Well, I'll tell you what," said Nick as he patted Buddy's shoulder. "You stay here and the rest of us will go look for her. She can't have strayed very far. I'm sure we'll find her easily enough. Come my sweet--and you too, Renfield. Let's get Holly back in time for the late news and the M*A*S*H* reruns. She hasn't missed one of those shows yet, you know."

Despite all this, Buddy seemed utterly inconsolable. "What am I gonna do?" he wailed. "I...I can't lose her. I just...I just can't. What am I ever gonna do without her?"

I don't know. Maybe it was the nervous quaver in Buddy's voice, or the trembling twitch of his lower lip, or the desperately frightened look in his eyes that made me stop before heading out the door with Nick and Renfield. Exactly what it was, I guess I'll never be sure. But something told me deep in my heart that somebody should stay behind and comfort our sad friend, to make sure no harm of any kind befell him. I sent the others off with earnest wishes to find Holly soon and then closed the door.

"Now then," I said as I hugged Buddy and wiped away his tears, "let's head to the kitchen. I'll fix you a nice cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows, and then we'll talk a bit. Join me?"

Buddy shook his head yes. We padded off to the kitchen.

Ah! There's nothing to match the soothing, civilizing experience of hot cocoa on a cold evening. The heavy, full aroma filling your nostrils. The radiant warmth of the mug between your paws. The soothing sight of little marshmallow icebergs slowly transforming their puffy stiffness into sweet, syrupy puddles. The heaven of that initial sip, first froth, then thick, rich, sweet nectar slowly filling first your mouth and then your stomach. I began to savor my cup--but then I noticed that Buddy hadn't even started on his. He was still terribly distracted and upset. He fidgeted in his seat and said, "Nora, did you ever feel like, y'know, giving up? Like chucking it all? Life's a real bomb sometimes, know what I'm saying?"

"Yes, it is, Buddy," I said after swallowing another steaming mouthful of chocolate. "But you know as well as I do that giving up is never the right answer to that question. Did I ever tell you about how I came to live here? I've probably kept that to myself, come to think of it. I may not have even told Nick that story."

Buddy was clearly interested now. "Nope, never heard that yarn," he said. "Spill it, Nora. I'm all ears."

I took another drink and cleared my throat. "I remember it well, just as if it happened yesterday. I was sitting in the store at Boston's Faneuil Hall in a huge display bin, surrounded by Pumbaas, Meekos, Goofys, and Abus. Most of the other plushies of my type had been bought already, but no one had taken me home yet. The rest had been grabbed by eager boys, girls, mothers, and fathers. But I was different."

"The assemblers at the factory where I was made ran a little short of material when they put me together, so they stuck a patch of tan fuzzy cloth to the back of my head so the stuffing wouldn't fall out. In other words, I was--and still am--a factory irregular. At the store, people would pick me up and smile--until they saw the big patch behind my ear. Then, their smiles would disappear and they would dump me back into the case and take another plushie instead. How I yearned to be cuddled by a little girl or scratched on my tummy by a little boy! But no one wanted me, and I became very sad and depressed."

"Then one day, a sweet man with a leaping lion silhouette on his watch and the kindest eyes I'd ever seen wandered into the store. He made a beeline for the plushie bin. Oh--how I wanted him to take me home! I liked the feel of his big, caring hands when he picked me up to look at me. And then, my heart sank. I knew he had seen the patch on my head. He put me down and walked over to the ceramics display. I began to cry, harder than I had ever cried in my life. He had been the right one, too. I knew it in every bit of stuffing in my body. And he was gone! What was the point now? I was going to get tossed into a dumpster with the banana peels and coffee grounds and would disappear into the bowels of a garbage truck, never to be seen again. No one would ever take me home and hug me. No one would ever love me, or know how special I was. I just wanted to give up right then and there."

"And then...and then he came back to the plushie bin one more time. He picked me up, looked intently at my face, and stroked me behind the ears. 'I can't pass you up, little one,' he said at last. 'You have the warmest face I've ever seen. I can't leave here without you. I think you'll enjoy it home with me. Nicky's a great guy, and I'm sure he'll like you, too.'"

"I learned then that you can't give up, no matter what happens. You never know what will occur in the future--and it may be wonderful. You just can't throw it all away."

Buddy had calmed noticeably and, for the first time, had picked up his mug of cocoa. He began to sip, and I smiled warmly.

After we had drunk our fill, I warmly tousled Buddy's topknot. "Ready for bed?" I asked.

He grinned sleepily. "Yeah, forty winks will do this old fuzzball some good." I walked him over to Dave's bed and nestled him among the pillows. He quickly fell asleep and began to snore contentedly.

As for me, I was drained and needed a little music to take my mind off things. I went to the record cabinet and took out Pretzel Logic by Steely Dan.

As I listened, I was again reminded how unique this album was in the group's canon. Steely Dan, in a nutshell, was primarily a pop band with heavy jazz leanings (as opposed to a group like Weather Report, which was generally a pop-slanted jazz combo). They nearly always wrote rock-derived tunes, but generally dressed them up in thick, jazzy seventh and suspended chords, filled them with lengthy solo instrumental breaks, and festooned them with hip, stylish lyrics and attitude. Comparing the group to a well-tuned Ferrari is not at all out of place--sleek and professional, smooth and cool, but a bit distant. Countdown to Ecstasy, their immediately preceding album, is the epitome of this approach, containing glib put-downs of such things as bad women in the song "Your Gold Teeth:"

Even Cathy Berberian knows
There's one roulade she can't sing.

and commercial narcissism in the selection "Show Biz Kids:"

They got the shapely bodies
They got the Steely Dan t-shirts
And for the coup de grace
They're outrageous
Honey let me tell you.

To be sure, the band's first album, Can't Buy a Thrill, has its touching moments. The song "Turn That Heartbeat Over Again" adds an unexpected twist to its hard-as-nails main section:

Oh Michael, Oh Jesus
You know I'm not to blame.
You know my reputation
For playing a good clean game.
Oh Michael, Oh Jesus
I'll keep my promise when
You turn that heartbeat over again.

Pretzel Logic, however, consistently reveals the humanity, the vulnerable underside of Steely Dan in a way that none of their other albums do. The music here has a directness and clarity unrivalled in their oeuvre. Songs are sharp and concise, with solo breaks that often show a disarming tightness and lack of flash.

Even more indicative of this sensibility are the song lyrics, which exhibit a naked cleanliness and deep sincerity only occasionally hinted at previously. Desperation and injustice haunt many of these verses. "Night by Night" tells the story of a poor man who feels he has nothing to lose and accordingly lives his life in a numbingly hedonistic manner:

Well, I don't really care
If it's wrong or if it's right
But until my ship comes in
I live night by night.

The speaker in "Through with Buzz" stews in impotent rage at his callous friend; the best he can do is resort to calling Buzz a "fairy." The country-tinged number "With a Gun" concerns itself with people like Buzz's friend who get pushed too far and wrongly assert themselves by killing their perceived persecutors. Injustice of a more global kind is encountered in "Barrytown," a selection with scathingly unvarnished lyrics that show the ugly face of prejudice in full force. Most gripping of all is "Charlie Freak," the tale of a desperate street person who sells his last valuable possession, a gold ring, for something to temporarily make his life more tolerable--and dies from the indulgence.

But not every song here is so highly charged or critical. The blues-based title number wistfully laments the passing of unexperienced old-time phenomena such as Napoleon and traveling minstrel shows; the speaker's embrace of these outdated concepts (shown by his wearing of hopelessly unstylish shoes) proves to be the perfectly ironic contrast to the band's previous hipness. The funk-tinged "Monkey in Your Soul" is a grouchy put-down of a bad relationship humanized by lines such as:

Won't you turn that bebop down
I can't hear my heart beat.

"Rikki Don't Lose That Number" (the album's big chart hit) is an understated plea full of wishful thinking in which the song's speaker tries to talk the object of his quickie fling into something more substantial. A cover of Duke Ellington's "East St. Louis Toodle-oo" is almost cartoonish in its quaintness and charm. "Parker's Band" is an energetically high-spirited song (one of their most celebratory) which forthrightly extols the visceral pleasures of hearing and playing jazz. And utterly unique in the band's song catalog is "Any Major Dude Will Tell You," a compelling selection with an almost singer-songwriter sound and sensibility to it; here, the speaker attempts to comfort his emotionally distraught friend:

I never seen you looking so bad, my funky one.
You tell me that your super-fine mind has come undone.
Any major dude with half a heart surely will tell you, my friend;
Any minor world that breaks apart falls together again.
When the demon is at your door
In the mornin' it won't be there no more.
Any major dude will tell you.
Any major dude will tell you.

Have you ever seen a squonk's tears? Well, look at mine.
The people on the street have all seen better times.
Any major dude with half a heart surely will tell you, my friend;
Any minor world that breaks apart falls together again.
When the demon is at your door
In the mornin' it won't be there no more.
Any major dude will tell you.
Any major dude will tell you.

I can tell you all I know: the where to go, the what to do.
You can try to run, but you can't hide from what's inside of you.

Any major dude with half a heart surely will tell you, my friend.
Any minor world that breaks apart falls together again.
When the demon is at your door
In the mornin' it won't be there no more.
Any major dude will tell you.
Any major dude will tell you.
Any major dude will tell you.

This is perhaps the most lyric and moving of all Steely Dan's songs.

The band proved either unable or unwilling to expose themselves so completely again. Katy Lied, their next album, came closest to these heights, but for all its excellence a certain detachment began to creep back into the lyrics in places. Later albums, such as The Royal Scam and Aja retreated back more fully to the lengthy solos and gleaming detachment of Countdown to Ecstasy. Pretzel Logic thus proved to be a solitary--and therefore cherished--glimpse into the heart and soul of this great band.

Our story had a happy ending. Holly apparently remained angry a bit longer than expected, spending a few spite-filled days sleeping on park benches and catching pigeons for dinner. But, as Renfield rightly suggested, she didn't stay mad forever. Three days later, our wayward friend knocked on the door, demanded an apology from Buddy (which he eagerly offered), and after much fanfare, forgave him completely.

And, as is so amply illustrated here in story and song--never, ever, ever give up hope. Nothing is permanant in life, and best of all, that includes our sorrows and hard times. Any major dude will tell you that.


(transcribed by David Cleary)

Text Version
{Submitted by Dave C.}
{HTML by Thumper}

The Pride Lands Online Multi-Media Archive


Originally released on ABC Records (catalog number ABCD-808).
Re-released by MCA Records (catalog number MCA-1593).

List of songs

Rikki Don't Lose That NumberParker's Band
Night by NightThrough with Buzz
Any Major Dude Will Tell YouPretzel Logic
BarrytownWith a Gun
East St. Louis Toodle-ooCharlie Freak
Monkey in Your Soul

All songs by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, copyright 1974 by American Broadcasting Company Music, Inc. and/or Red Giant Music, Inc. except "East St. Louis Toodle-oo" by Duke Ellington and Bubber Miley, copyright Mills Music.