Every so often, I develop a raging desire to go off the grid. Not the buy-fifty-acres-and-a-yurt kind of off the grid. And certainly not the Scott and Helen Nearing self-sufficiency off the grid. Heck, my off the grid requires electricity!
What I’m getting at is a kind of escape from society. From the pressures, the expectations. From the dread of Monday mornings. Most folks “get away” by traveling abroad, taking cruises, visiting remote sites, getting “back to nature”.
I want an apartment on the 2nd floor of an old building in the middle of the arts district of a small East Coast city. Hardwood floors. High ceilings. No furniture…except for a single overstuffed chair facing the stereo that’s set up a few feet from the window seat. It’s an old tube amp, a turntable, and speakers. Nothing fancy.
Now…you think that I’m going to put Donald Fagen’s Morph the Cat on that platter. No, I need music that filters the outside world without demanding too much of my overtaxed brain. Eno’s Ambient: Music for Airports, Mickey Hart’s Music to be Born By, maybe even some of Keith Jarrett’s improvised piano. Just enough internal support to be therapeutic. The contours of the music, coupled with the smart hustle of the community (easily glimpsed from my window), will wrap me in a reassuring cocoon of art.
Except, of course, that I won’t be able to sit there forever. In a more clear-headed state, my curiosity at the comings and goings at the coffee shop across the way will get the better of me. That group of scruffy, panhandling neo-hippies…what’s up with them? Why was that woman holding her head in her hands in that swanky restaurant? Hmmm…maybe opening my curtains was a mistake. The idea of this serene and erudite neighborhood is turning out to have a dark side. So much for comfort.
Now this is where Donald Fagen comes in. He’s a master at wrapping stories weird and sinister in layers of sound that can fool the listener into thinking that all is well.
Morph the Cat is no different. A casual first listen brings the signature funk, soul, jazz, rock, pop, blues thing that Fagen is known for. Ever wonder how (or why) Donald Fagen is able to come up with music that manages to be creative and somewhat homogeneous? In an mp3.com interview, Fagen was asked if he listened to “any contemporary music…”
Not that often. I mean, there’s a few things I like if someone brings it to my attention. But I only listen to the same 40 jazz records I had in high school pretty much.
Here, the melodies wind back on themselves, the guitars skank and chop, the vibes plink, the horns spark up some aural shine, Fagen’s voice is as good as ever, and the backing vocals are as sultry as all get out.
Comforting? Yes, but things are not what they at first seem. While the protogonist, Morph the Cat, spreads a kind of bliss throughout post-9/11 Manhattan, there are confrontations with death, musings on governments gone wrong, lives gone wrong, intrigue at the airport, and even a conversation with the ghost of Ray Charles.
So Donald Fagen, at 58, turns his creative impulse toward his own mortality. Death. It’s been a long way from The Nightfly through Kamakiriad to here. Not comforting. Stuff that I wanted to avoid in my version of the monastic retreat. But, hey, I know that refuge was only temporary. Sooner or later, real life intrudes.Powered by Sidelines