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He Flies By Night

In 1982 keyb and co-songwriter (not to mention singer) for Steely Dan broke up the band and recorded an album as good as Steely Dan’s very best. The Nightfly is the story of a college kid at the turn of the 50s who falls in love, leaves to Cuba where he outruns the revolution, loses the gitl (tp death?) and moves to Miami.

That simple description doesn’t begin to express the joy of a song like “New Frontier” where there doesn’t seem to be an ounce of sarcasm (let alone cynicism) in the lyric of seduction “I hear you’re mad about Brubeck,” Fagen says seductively, “I like your eyes, I like him to” before climbing into a fall out shelter “We’ve got provisions and lots of beer”. It’s a great sweet swing of a song -it’s as good as “My Old School” though without the rancour.

Just as good is… no wait, everything is just as good, but I want to write about “The Goodbye Look” as Fagen tries to outrun Castros new regime. “They’re arranging a reception just for me behind the casino by the sea” Fagen warns, “I know what happens, I read the book”. “New frontier” rides the harmonica (on a jazz song), “Goodbye Look” a bass and a keyb motif but that doesn’t do the song justice. It is just so thrilling -the story is a blast and the end of the story, “Walking Between The Raindrops” might not give us the happy ending we wanted but it swings so sweet we can forgive.

The difference between The Nightfly and Can’t Buy A Thrill is not just distance, it’s a type of wisdom. It’s one thing to sneer at an Ivy League School for jumping you for dealing drugs, another thing entirely to imagine yourself discussing jazz with the girl of your dreams. The future on “I.G.Y” might end up lonely raindrops in Miami but in between Fagen seems to find the distance he needs to view himself and those around him in the early sixties without the sustained anger of his Steely Dan performance.

Fagen has another two albums and neither of them are as good as The Nightfly and both could double as a Steely Dan album. The Nightfly couldn’t: it is a self portrait, maybe an accurate one.

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