From The Vault: Steely Dan – Can’t Buy A Thrill (1972)

November 15, 2016

From The Vault: Steely Dan – Can’t Buy A Thrill (1972)

The year? 1972 …
The place? Quang Tri, Vietnam, just off Route 9 …
The sun doesn’t so much rise in Vietnam as it’s just there, in all of it’s splendid heat and yellow glory, commanding the temperature to rise to around 98 degrees at six in the morning. Cargo choppers were already straining under the weight of their sling loads, the noise could be deafening … I ran both hands across the top of my head, through my newly short cropped hair, and sat on the edge of my rack staring at nothing … till my boots came into view. I’d gotten one on, then found the other had a knot in the lace … I fooled with the knot for about five minutes before throwing it against the wall, only to have the boot bounce right back in front of me.
I pulled my knife from under my pillow and sliced the lace … as I was putting in another, a new sound was pouring across the base from someone’s stereo … I listened, not knowing it was Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work,” and “Kings” followed, with its blistering guitar solo as I pulled on my OD green tee shirt, half hearing, half feeling, but acutely aware of a new groove by the time “Midnite Cruiser” worked its way into my morning brain.
I slipped my 38 into my pocket and headed off in the direction of one the Quonset Hut’s that served as operating rooms and recovery centers, looking over my shoulder in the direction of this sweet new sound as I waked across dusty baked red clay. I pushed through the double doors like a gunslinger from a cowboy movie … signed in, and asked the PFC on duty if he knew anything about the new album Steveo was playing. “Yeah,” he said! “It’s Steely Dan, aren’t they great?” “What do you think the chances are of getting him to make us a copy,” I asked. “O Man … Captain, you know the guys ‘Id do anything for you.” “Well, go see him and get yourself some breakfast on the way,” I smiled looking over the roster. “What are you staring at,” I asked? “Your hair cut. Has the Colonel seen that yet?” “No, but he doesn’t have to wear it either,” said I.
Can’t By A Thrill became my album, every song sounded as if it had been written just for me, just for this place on the other side of the world … it was like nothing I had ever heard before … there was an intelligence to it, a magnificent specter of colour and images. There were chord changes equal to anything those high class jazz snobs could hope for … there was a sense of desperation, a sense of confusion and despair … but it was all presented in a manner that left one with the notion that this insanity, both expressed in the music, and where I was, were only momentary … that I would one day rise above all of this, and that this record was going to be part of my musical landscape for the rest of my life.
Seldom in our lives are there such personal works of music, that speak so intimately into our ears … music that lays out lyrics with such openness and truth. I had left the States with the Psychedelic 60’s burning in my head, and here in Vietnam in 1972 … I knew the world I’d be returning to, would be a much different place.
*** This is one of those albums where if you ain’t listen’ to in on vinyl, you ain’t really listen’ to it at all. And the album title? It’s a direct lift from the Dylan song, “It Takes A Lot to Laugh …”
– Jenell Kesler
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One Comment
  1. Anonymous

    Loved your story from Nam. Not to mention remembering a great album. Tell us some more.

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