In “Don’t Take Me Alive”—another ’70s tune that was way ahead of its time lyrically and musically—we get the idea that the boys had more than a passing acquaintance with the militia movement:
Agents of the law and luckless pedestrians,
I know you’re out there with rage in your eyes and a megaphone.
Saying, “All is forgiven. Mad dog, surrender!”
How can I answer? A man of my mind can do anything.
I’m a bookkeeper’s son, I don’t want to hurt no one,
but I shot my old man back in Oregon—don’t take me alive.
Got a case of dynamite, I could hold out here all night.
Well, I shot my old man back in Oregon—don’t take me alive.
There are scores of great songs and many, many individualistic and anti-statist lyrics in the Steely Dan discography. If you have some of their albums, you know that; in fact, I haven’t run across many serious musical folks who have only one. Once you start, and like it, you will end up with all of them. Like I did.
First of all, know this: The best musicians in the biz are on these dates. Everyone in the music business has a very, very high regard for Steely Dan; the stock answer among the cognoscenti when someone asks, “How do I learn how to produce records?” is, “Listen to Steely Dan.”
From the political standpoint, I couldn’t recommend any of their records over any other. However, my personal opinion is that Katy Lied is the ultimate early-to-mid-years session, while Aja and Gaucho are the later-date blockbusters. Steely Dan’s first album of the 21st-century, Two Against Nature, got them the Grammy that Aja should have won in 1978 over Rumors, Fleetwood Mac-flavored chewing gum for the ears. It would be a great first Dan album for the uninitiated. All of their records, new or old, feature first-rate musicianship, original compositions, wry and intelligent lyrics.
This is popular music the way the term was understood in George Gershwin’s day: the highest level of art and craft, arranged and packaged and delivered to an eager, informed, quality-conscious niche group. Most pop music is eminently disposable nowadays; Steely Dan records are keepers, and you will be astonished to hear material from, say, 1978 (“Peg”) that could be released today and still sound ahead of its time!
Anyway, yes, Virginia, there is music whose lyrics are individualistic, pro-freedom, pro-market, anti-war, and everything else that warms most libertarians’ hearts. You just have to look for it these days.
Full circle now: I was writing those new lyrics for the album closer, remember? And the tune that they accompany has a funky, upbeat, infectious Steely Dan-ish vibe to it, so I wrote identifiably libertarian lyrics, rather than another diluted sermon. That was the beginning of my exit from supernaturalism, but that’s another tale. As for that first liberty anthem, I’ll give you the intro verse and chorus:
I’m not Superman, but I sure would like to play him on TV.
Souped-up circumstances, rodomontade reality.
Buffed-up, bullet-proof, never falls to sinister conspiracy.
Launchpad on the roof, supersonic sandwich-board for liberty.
Don’t you tell me how to live my life,
and I won’t tell you what you gotta do.
You know that no one here is qualified
to rule the other members of the zoo.
And you don’t need no politicians
telling you that one size fits all.
You are an individual,
and you have to answer your own call.
I’m not Superman, I’m not going
to fly down to your rescue.
All right! Jamming with liberty! I hope you hear the music that your worldview deserves, friends, and to that end I do recommend Steely Dan for progressives, libertarians, independents, even non-Establishment conservatives, and anyone else who eschews the official news and views. Are there other liberty-leaning lyrics? Plenty, and you might know of some that I don’t. What good are they? Well, depending upon your audience, sometimes it’s easier to spread the word when it’s set to a good tune. If you know of any, please share!