One of my most prized possessions is my iTunes library. I recently lost my IPod with its multi-gigabyte memory but not long after I found my wife’s missing little baby “Shuffle” and took it for myself, since I had surprised her with a new one, thinking that she had lost it for good.
Even with my old IPod I would often cycle in new tunes; you can only listen to some songs, no matter how loved, for only so long and I have so many albums that I can easily replace the ‘tired’ music with something more fresh. I also buy albums on a regular basis from ITunes and don’t mind at all paying $9.99 for an album that would cost much more at a store on Saint-Catherine Street.
There is one artist, and one song in particular, I will never take off my IPod. “Never” is a long time and still, if I were to live forever, I think that I would still never tire of Donald Fagen (of Steely Dan fame) and the song “The Great Pagoda of Funn” (http://www.metrolyrics.com/the-great-pagoda-of-funn-lyrics-fagen-donald.html & http://www.theplayethic.com/2009/04/donaldfagen.html).
Stacey and I were approaching the Champlain Bridge the other day. A Friday at 3:30 pm. Was there a lot of traffic? Ha!
There we were crawling along hooked up to my IPod in the car and along came “The Great Pagoda of Funn”. Suddenly I was transported elsewhere. When it was over, I clicked an arrow on the little device and it played again.
“Stacey,” I said. “I’m not here. I don’t see thousands of cars in front of me.”
“Really,” she said.
“Nope,” I said. “I’m not here. I’m on a road in rural Vermont. It’s a narrow road and we’re winding our way around beautiful fields and forests. The sun is setting.” I inched my car forward. Clutch, first gear. Release clutch, brake.
“There’s a bottle of wine in the car and we’re sharing it.” The song did that to me, I guess.
“Hey,” Stacey said, “You’re getting us drunk! That’s dangerous!”
“Hmm, you’re right,” I said. “This fantasy is becoming risky…”
We were still moving inexorably towards the bridge along with thousands of others eager to get to the South Shore and beyond.
“The Great Pagoda of Funn” is a long song. I had time to work on my fantasy.
“Hey, I know,” I said, leaning forward. “We’re in California. There’s a surfboard on the roof. I have long blond hair.”
“Cool,” said Stacey. “And me?”
“You have long, shapely legs and long blond hair, too,” I said.
“Ooh,” cooed Stacey.
The fantasy experience was becoming more real than the dull one we were sharing with our fellow Montrealers.
“We’re driving along the Pacific Ocean highway, two lanes, but we’re alone.”
“Of course,” said Stacey.
“There’s a hookah in the front seat,” I couldn’t get getting intoxicated out of my head. “There’s a giant pebble of hash in it and we’re feeling rather mellow.”
“OK,” said Stacey.
The jazz guitar riff of the song was going on and on.
“We’re not here,” I said.
“You’re repeating yourself,” said Stacey, who, I could sense wasn’t as ‘not here’ as I was.
I’ll listen to a song I love twice but not thrice. “The Great Pagoda of Funn” was replaced by another song. I was being jerked back to reality! Thousands of cars crawling towards the bridge suddenly appeared before my weary eyes. The funny thing about the Champlain Bridge and the dense traffic approaching it is that the congestion vaporizes once you’ve crossed it. Where all these cars disappear to is anyone’s guess.
Although my fantasy was over, the taste of it continued to float in my head as we sped toward the Eastern Township. I have no idea what “The Great Pagoda of Funn” is all about. I’ll leave you with a couple of paragraphs taken from one of the links listed above:
Oh, it’s a weary, weary song. It starts up with a compendium of Fagen’s favourite musical moves – a boom-chick four-on-the-floor beat, with his usual Ellingtonian layerings of horns and chords – but the mood is very sombre, funereal. Over this stately procession comes Fagen’s usual ironic squeak, but carried by a melody that’s very close to the kind of elaborate construction you’d get from a Billy Strayhorn or Shirley Horn. We’re deep in the shades of historic Manhattan here: Fagen’s channelling the more elegant aspects of this city, as they sail through that apartment window.
But even though “summer’s over, there’s a strange new music in the street”. And Fagen isn’t alone in this room: he’s secreted there with a loved one. They’re trying to do the John Donne thing, make that “one little roome/an everywhere” – because outside, in the world after the fall of the Twin Towers, all is disordered and alienated in their beloved city. The citizens of Gotham are going through the motions of normality, staring and grinning “to help maintain the state we’re in”. In Fagen and his lover’s eyrie, they “make up their own storyline” – but it’s a precarious project. The effort required to keep this “house of light” illuminated is enormous: one careless word can unravel their Decameron against the darkness.
And what happens when that happens? It’s at this point you know you’re listening to a master songwriter/arranger. The song soars into a pristine modulated doo-wop: they’ve failed, the flame’s gone out, and they’re now in the world of
and severed heads
and pain and lies…
and dying stars
and dirty bombs…
Heavy lyrics, indeed, but “The Great Pagoda of Funn” is a beautiful song. It took me somewhere that I hope to one day visit in reality and if I never get to either rural Vermont on that perfect fall day or to California by the ocean (I’ll never have long blonde hair or surf most probably and taking drugs is, sadly, a thing of the past I can assure you), I can always let this song take me somewhere new. Beats highway traffic any day.