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Gristmill: Late Adopter

Wed, 12/20/2023 - 16:48
Steely Dan’s “My Old School,” the 1973 single.
ABC Records

One of the innumerable digital news headlines whiz­zing upward and out of view on my screen not long ago proclaimed the YouTube rabbit hole no longer in vogue. The practice of getting lost in it for hours on end, that is, not the culturally invaluable site itself, “the world’s second most popular,” as is said.

Which is funny because I only recently began seriously plunging into its bottomless reserves of music — as background while working late into the evening, as I’m doing right now, for which I recommend the English Beat’s “Save It for Later,” with its hypnotically thrumming guitar, among the catchiest pop tunes ever recorded, effortlessly urging your fingers to their keyboarding.

Of course with YouTube you also get the time warp of the ridiculously happy 1982 video, showing the young and the cool in some rathskeller across the pond, and a smiling Dave Wakeling as a kind of pied piper upending the games of chess and cutting short the contemplations of “Das Kapital” among the eggheads as the dance floor is gradually filled.

But of deeper consequence is the way the site can resurrect a long-dead alter ego, say, the you who used to live in Boston and go to bars and see bands — because that was the last time you were truly up on things. What’s that? You remember seeing a fine O Positive show, and the band’s ringing, alt-rock-before-they-called-it-that “Talk About Love,” from 1987, has never quite left your head? Obscure as it may be, stick it in your search box and there it is.

This is all top of mind lately as a new correspondence with an old college prof has been struck up out of the blue. Recently retired, he had gobs of time to send me a YouTube link to Steely Dan onstage in 1973. I guess his last days at the college didn’t go so well: “And I’m never going back / to my old school.”

Never mind that homely, cavern-mouthed Donald Fagen is oddly mesmerizing at the piano, weren’t he and Walter Becker persnickety, perfectionist studio rats? Who knew they were any good live? This is one emphatic jam, with swaying backup singers and Jeff (Skunk) Baxter mercilessly shredding it on lead guitar. 

A link my friend from academia sent accompanying it is even more eye-opening, leading as it does to a cover of “My Old School” by Leonid & Friends, featuring Alex and Nikita Pozdnyakov, the Rox Brothers — in all, a band of, it’s hard to say, 14 pieces? Whatever, the five-horn section cannot be missed.

The point is, these are Russians and Ukrainians together in a seamless, remarkably joyful performance, brought about by what you might call America’s most successful export. As Casey Stengel said, “You could look it up.”

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