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Deacon Blues by Steely Dan

Album: AjaReleased: 1977Charted:
19
  • This song refers to The Wake Forest "Demon Deacons," whose football team struggled for much of the '70s, winning just 7 games from 1972-1975. At the same time, the University Of Alabama was a football powerhouse, winning the National Championship in 1973 and losing just one game in each of their next two seasons under the direction of their famous coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. Alabama is known as "The Crimson Tide":
    "They got a name for the winners in the world
    And I want a name when I lose
    They call Alabama the Crimson Tide
    Call me Deacon Blues"
    (thanks, Ben - Savannah, GA)
  • The Scottish rock group Deacon Blue, who enjoyed seven Top 20 UK hits between 1988 and 1994, took their name from this song.
  • When asked about the line, "They call Alabama the Crimson Tide, they call me Deacon Blues," Donald Fagen told Rolling Stone magazine: "Walter and I had been working on that song at a house in Malibu. I played him that line, and he said, 'You mean it's like, 'They call these cracker a--holes this grandiose name like the Crimson Tide, and I'm this loser, so they call me this other grandiose name, Deacon Blues?' and I said 'Yeah!' He said, 'Cool, let's finish it.'"
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Comments: 66

I think Russell, Olathe, KS is closest to the meaning of the song, but what no one here seems to know is that a famous musician in New Orleans by the name of Deacon John claims to have written this song and says that it was in fact stolen from him by Steely Dan. If that is in fact true, it would surely explain both the title of the song and the reference to Alabama Crimson Tide since Alabama is LSU's (our State College)'s biggest rival.Sasha - New Orleans, La
Bottom Line...Both Becker and Fagen have repeatedly said that this song, amongst other things, was about a loser wanting a name just like the winners in the world like Alabama's Crimson Tide. It's not a song about a Crimson Tide fan. I have been a Dan Fan for decades. I swear that Don and Walt must sit here when they are board and goof on all the people that come up with these ridiculous song meaning. If you know anything about the Dan, they are 2 of the most sarcastic Ball Busters alive, lmao. Try reading Brian Sweet's book on them and you'll know what I mean.Anthony - Cranston, Ri
Note: Everthing is "in my humble opinion." Deacon Blues is about playing in a band, pure and simple. I played in rock bands for 6 years, and can easily spot and identify with the many references to a musician's life. Sounds more like a copy band/lounge act, playing 9pm-2am, heading out for a meal, whatever, then crashing and getting up the next afternoon. Then, it's time for a little fun with the ladies, head by the music store, grab another meal, then home to get ready for another night of playing, and maybe packing up, after that, and maybe even driving back to your home town until 10a.m. the next morning, after which you're really wasted! A lot of work, a lot of fun, and next to no money. That's a copy band's life. The only reason I checked out the song was to see if there was anyone, on line, who actually was a student at the University of Alabama when Deacon Blues came out, because I can only guess that at least some of them were completely flabbergasted and amazed that their school and nickname were mentioned in a Steely Dan song. Still would like to hear from someone who was there.Russell - Olathe, Ks
Very easy, at first listen, to confuse this song with something inspirational ("This brother is free/I'll be what I want to be") because most people want to identify with a song and relate it positively to their lives. But dig deep, and this is a classic mid-life crisis lament for a past that never really was and a dream that never really had a chance.

We start with the cliched white-collar suburbanite, probably about 40-ish. He's daydreaming about being the "expanding man, " which has two layers of meaning here. First, there is the figurative "expanding," or broadening, of the man into something more than he has ever been, into what he once dreamed he would be: someone educated, hip, artistic, admired, whatever. But he's also "expanding" in the sense of getting older and fatter. Life is taking its toll. It's now or never. "The day of the expanding man" can be seen as HIS day, meaning his time, his time to shine. It can also mean a general sense of the social climate of the middle class American white guy, the "day" being the era, the age, the age of men taking control and doing what they want, not what corporate rules and family responsibilities dictate. The expanding (self-improving) man can control his own fate. His time is now!

"That shape is the shade where I used to stand" refers to him probably cruising his old neighborhood, looking at the spot where as a kid he stood so long in front of a music shop or barroom window that he left a permanent shadow on the outside wall. This line is followed immediately by his reminiscence of "only yesterday" when he stood there looking, seeing all the wild party-goers inside who seemed to have life by the balls, laughing it up. But standing and looking in windows is "all in the past." He's a grown-up adult, who chose responsibility for a life of carefree carousing. ("Shade" here can mean shading your eyes to see in a window. It can also be wordplay. Shade, as a shortened form of shadow. Shade = younger, thinner man, and shadow (longer "expanded" word) = the older man he is now, a shadow of his former self.)

The next three lines are his conversation with the wife he's leaving, and they are critical. "You call me a fool / You say it's a crazy scheme / This one's for real / I already bought the dream." The phrase "this one" juxtaposes what his wife calls a "scheme" -- running off to be a musician -- and "dream," as in the American dream: wife, kids, house, pension, etc. Saying "this one's for real" clues us into his classic, cynical, middle-aged thinking. The dream he "bought" -- literally with his hard work and figuratively with his faith in American ideals -- is a fraud. The "scheme" is what's "real," the selfish chasing of the singular fate of the free man. So what he is doing now is no "dream." Dreams are illusory. He's embarking on LIFE! (in his mind, anyway). He is leaving behind the one truly foolish dream, the American dream as it's taught to every elementary school student. He is trading it for the freedom that dream is supposed to spring from.

Now the gorgeous chorus. "Work" is a word meaning "play." It probably originated with real musicians. ("That cat was workin' that bass, boy!") But like all jargon, once it hits the street, it becomes hipster slang, loses all coolness, and the "cats" in the business drop it for something new. Alas, hipsters and wannabe hipsters can't resist. Every time they meet a musician, they compliment him on "working" his instrument, probably better than anyone has ever "worked" it before. So the guy in our song uses it, because it gives him a elf-assured feeling that he really is in-the-know, and just a step away from being where he dreams of, forgetting that those who try hard to look or sound the part usually aren't. And the classic pledge of the underachieving, compromising procrastinator: I will. "I'll learn to work the saxophone..." I will, you'll see.... one day I WILL! .... One day.... just haven't had time yet....

"Play just what I feel" .... The classic rebel's stance. No music company will tell ME what songs to play, Jack!

"Drink Scotch whiskey all night long/ Die behind the wheel" .... Scotch drinkers are COOL, man! (again, in the mind of our sad, song persona guy) And every cool musician who dies in a drunken car crash gets headlines, now and forever, as the guy who "did it his way," didn't play by "THE rules."

"They got a name for the winners of the world" -- yeah, it's WINNERS, that's the name.

"I want a name when I lose" .... Notice, he does not use the word we already have for people who lose: LOSERS. This is what a self-deluded mind does. It paint pictures and leaves out details it doesn't like, details that do not fit the script.

And notice the name he comes up with? A college football mascot. What do middle-aged white guys do? They sit around, with expanding asses on worn out sofas, watching college football, and other spectator sports. So when he has to come up with something original, he is stuck reaching for something in his Saturday TV toolkit: The Alabama Crimson Tide and the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest. To be sure, he adds "Blues" because it adds to his bluesy/jazzy image of who he "really is." But guys who wanted to be musicians can't be musicians if they sit around watching college football on TV. He might wish he HAD BEEN Deacon Blues, preaching all that wisdom with his lyrics and song, but he let it all pass him by, for a 12 p.m. kickoff.

I could go on, but you can do the rest. Go ahead, scroll down through the other verses. It's all there. Still a great song, and maybe that so many people feel "inspired" by it is part of the irony.... Who knows?
Wolf - Upside Town, Pa
I heard this song when it first came out and was instantly blown away by its brilliance. I lived through the 60s and 70s in ski resort areas and the song perfectly captures the darkish hedonism that prevailed in those places, which informs my approach to interpreting the piece. I don't see it as a view from the afterlife, unlike David from Taiwan, although he has some great insights, and he might even be right. I think there are several interpretations that work, which, to me, only enhances the power of the lyric. I also agree with Jo from South TX about the Buddhist reference to "expanding man," although I attach some importance to the first verse saying "day of the expanding man" while the last verse says "night." The reference to the college football teams is real, but pretty superficial, I think--just a clever, culturally relevant, metaphor. Ian from Paddock Lake and Wez from Oakland make a lot of great points, too, but, from where I stand, as a veteran of the above-referenced decades (seems like everything in pop culture can be interpreted in terms of decades), Sara from Meriden, CT and Kate from Marietta, GA get closest to what the song is really saying and I'll try not to repeat what they put so well.

As I see the first verse, "where (he) used to stand" is in the world of the 'establishment' (a little like Ben in "The Graduate") and he's looking through the metaphorical glass (veil of illusion?) that separates him from the world of ramblers and wild gamblers, wanting to be on the other side of it, and now he is. The rest of the song (until the last verse) is a veritable paean to rambling and wild gambling (leavened with a little cynical self-deprecation). Hence, its strong correlation to ski-resort life (for those who know). At its core, that life was always experiential in the extreme (no doubt accounting for the scarily-high percentage of us who didn't survive it), yet we thought we were philosophers, too. We were back-to-the-wall victims of laughing chance and loving every second of it.

All things must pass, though. The last verse is a perhaps slightly bitter (if still rebellious) reflection on that fact. If we live through all of the craziness, we just get old, and then we die. So now, it is the "night" of the expanding man and he is taking one "last" drag on whatever it is he is smoking before he approaches the stand. (Mic stand? Bar of judgement?) Doesn't matter--he's putting it out there one more time, taking that risk yet again. The final lines," This brother is free. I'll be what I want to be." is the writer's way of shaking his fist at an uncaring universe. Tom Petty had to have had this song in mind when he wrote "I Won't Back Down." There are others that borrow on the theme as well, of course.

Anyway, I could go on, but this was probably already way too long. No matter, the song is amazing and still puts me through the full emotional range whenever I hear it. Awesome, awesome work of art.

Steve
San Diego
Steve - San Diego, Ca
I Think David from Tapei has it the best overall explanation of the song.
But I think as opposed to "beyond the grave", you could also read it as:
after the car crash, during his last moments of life, right as he feels his soul departing -
THAT would be a more poignant perspective of the song, I think......
Howard - Ventnor, Nj
When you live in alabama and you have your whole life it makes you proud to hear songs that mention us because we are just a little southern state no glam or glits so its pretty cool to hear but there is much more to the song but i cant lie i love the song because of the alabama crimson tide Oh by the way we are alabama smartasses not cracker assholes but either one will do :)Crystal - Hartselle, Al
The MAIN song that I would like/want played at my funeral (many, many years from now of course). And I always will love those artistic Boston women.Noel - Boston, Ma
Great song. I'm not surprised either by Don Fagan's comments to Rolling Stone. Alabama had been a powerhouse football team in the 60s and especially in the 70s. Mal Moore (long time assistant coach under Bryant and now athletic director) told a story that I recently saw in a video about the way Coach Bryant changed the look of the Alabama football team from all white players (which was what the president of the university wanted), to letting some black players in. The 1969 season was a disaster, 6-5 after being a real force in national football the entire decade. Coach Bryant took Mal Moore on a trip, and Mal didn't know exactly where they were going. They landed in Los Angeles, and was met in the airport by John McKay, the coach of USC. They arranged for Alabama to play USC in 1970 during the regular season. Alabama was trounced, many by a running back named Sam Cunningham who wiped up the field. Now, it does sound bad, but Bear Bryant used the fact that our 'white boys' were so soundly defeated by a black running back to convince the president of the university, and several other athletic boosters that it was time to integrate blacks into the football team. Wilbur Montgomery went on to be a star in the early years of the 70s because Bryant took that trip to USC. So, were we considered 'white cracker a.....", yeah, and as someone pointed out, all the south was considered that by most of the rest of the nation. But, Bear Bryant was a sharp enough coach to know how to break down boundaries so Alabama could remain one of the 'winners in the world'.

That had nothing to do with the meaning of the song, but it does have to do with why, especially the Alabama team, was considered with contempt by many since it only recruited white players until 1971.

Interestingly also is the number of son's of the early black players for Alabama that have also played for Alabama.

As far as the song goes, it is about the life of musicians, and the 'sue me if I play too long' is a reference to the length of the song, which was not radio play length! Come on, a 7 1/2 minute song on the radio!! Even FM stations balked at 4 1/2 minute tunes back then.
Tuck - Montgomery, Al
Ya'll are all so over-analyzing. He's simply devastated by his woman (real or imaginary for song writing) leaving him, maybe due to past behavior - rambling, wild gambling - and he wants to give a contrast between He the big time loser and a traditional winner, Alabama. He's at the depth of remorse and is postulating how this will change his life and behavior, reactionary as it may be, forever burdened by his sadness. He "cried when I wrote this song." He will "play what I feel." He will perpetually have the blues over having lost her, therefore, the Master of being Blue and sad, "Deacon Blues."
(Gosh, I so love the tenor solo!)
Ken - Fort Worth, Tx
I think people tend to over-think this song. Suicide sums it up. For me, this is a total loser reflecting on his life just as he wraps his car around a power pole or tree.
The Crimson Tide is a trade-mark 'winner name', so he's just turning that name around into 'Deacon Blues'(a deacon is essentially a servant - a tool), and 'blue' is the color of depression. Voila' - Deacon Blues.
Simply put, this song is the last reflection of comic irony as he 'dies behind the wheel'. He's made his decision - drank all night long, and will now die behind the wheel. Evidenced by 'So useless to ask me why, Throw a kiss and say goodbye, I'll make it this time, I'm ready to cross that fine line'.
For anyone familiar with suicide, the 'fine line' is the line between planning it, and doing it.
Den - Sharpsburg, Ga
I think Ian from Paddock Lake, WI get's closest to what this song is actually about. It's a middle-class suburban white guy trying to be hip--he sees himself as some sort of cool bohemian jazzman who "works the saxophone," womanizes, and drinks scotch all night long. He has romanticized the hipster archetype to such an extent that he even fantasizes about dying tragically behind the wheel. Many people seem to think of this song in a more positive light, like it's about chasing one's dreams and following your heart regardless of society's rules. But knowing Steely Dan I guess I see the lyrics as being more cynical and sort of making fun of this type of person (who they probably came in contact with a lot in the music business--people drawn to the scene more for cool points than actual love of the music). I think the point is that Deacon Blues' protagonist is trying so hard to be himself and original and interesting, but in the end he is actually striving to become a caricature, a mythologized version of the tragic Charlie Parker sort of figure.Wez - Oakland, Albania
I get the football reference. But a "Deacon" is also a minister. Instead of preaching the good word, he's preaching the blues.Steve - Chino Hills, Ca
Winners refers to Univ. of Ala. Losers refers to Wake Forest. For those who need convincing, WF was 2-9 in 1972; 1-9-1 in 1973; 1-10 in 1974. It was widely considered the worst team in football and their overal record was one of the worst. Even Jim Caldwell, current coach of the Colts failed to win at WF in the 1990's. For those who like a happy ending, losers became winners with Coach Jim Grobe winning the 2006 conference championship and playing in the Orange Bowl. There is a low budget movie coming out about that season - The Fifth Quarter.Dolly - Wadesboro, Nc
Sincere condolences, Toni about your brother's death. So tragic if this song had such an affect on him.
Proving again how influential music can be.
Lisa - Milwaukee, Wi, Wi
Some of these comments are hilarious!!

This song is about a guy whose life is empty, miserable and meaningless, therefore, he creates an alternate reality, an escapist fantasy world in which he assumes a new identity. In his fantasy world, he is a nocturnal, super-cool, sax-playing, scotch-drinking, chick-banging Dude who is SO FREAKIN' AWESOME that he has his own nickname..."Deacon Blues".

"A world of my own
I'll make it my home sweet home."
Kandyman1028 - Palm Beach Gardens, Fl
I think all these auburn fans are jealous because the song that mentions them is their own fight song, and Alabama has a song (not their fight song) that mentions them and isn't a diss, more of a compliment.Robert - Birmingham, Al
This song is about the decision to focus one's life passions and energy to music. "It is the time of the expanding man" He was through with college and was through with rambling and gambling " that's all in the past" (or so he thought). He later wrote Boshivadtta which means enlightenment and compassionate in Hindu philosophy. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker studied philosophy and other subjects at Bard College.
The second verse is self explanatory "You call me a fool you say It's a crazy scheme....This one's for real I all ready bought the dream....foolish to ask me why.. throw a kiss and say goodbye"...there were some naysayers, but he believed in himself "I'll make it this time".. " I'm ready to cross that fine line"...There was no looking back.
The third verse or chorus is also pretty transparent. .I'll learn to play the saxophone. Drink Scotch Whiskey all night long and die behind the wheel ( making music and living the lifestyle is great fun ...Chicks, Booze, Drugs, Sex, Death...one of there mates died in a lat night auto accident) other than the death part who wouldn't be happy. You've made it....They call Alabama the Crimson Tide.... But now there is the name thing , you need a good one a cool one , a hip and catchy one after all your not Bernie the accountant, or Joe the Plumber, your in show bizzz, therefore "Deacon Blues. " A reference to the hip coolness of the " Steely Dan" moniker from William Burroughs "Naked Lunch" novel, whose title was miss transposed from Kerouak to Ginzberg to Burroughs from "Naked Lust"
Fourth verse "back to the wall... essence of true romance...sharing love w those we love ..& my kind...libations sensations...that stagger the mind" There were also hardships but when you are doing something you love with friends and partying and having a good time as well. The experiences are mind blowing.... Is there anything better?
Fifth verse, "I crawl like a viper...thru these suburban streets..make love to these women.. wake up when the sun goes down.. cover every game in town.(so much for focusing, partying and no gambling) a world of my own.." They moved from New York to LA, now successful players in the world stage ahh Music show Bizzz and all its fringe benefits.
The last verse he is getting ready to perform on stage again...last drag from cigarette....I cried when I wrote this song ....sue me if I play too long....." Unlike studio sessions performing live is a high in itself and inspired players improvise and jam.. "This brother is free I'll bee what I want to be....." Chorus.
Jo - So Tx, Tx
I don't quite get the obsession with college teams - it seems like a distraction from the fundamental gist of the song. As others have stated, I think the song is about reaching mid-life and realizing that you are not and your life is not anything like you thought it would be when you were younger. You've become fat, boring, risk adverse and a loser in life. Then the protagonist decides to take a chance and try to seize some part of his pubescent dreams, even if others in his boring suburban world think it is foolish. Ultimately, he might still be a loser in this world but he loses on his own terms and he is ok with this - and that's all most of us could ask for.Dawn - Arlington, Va
For me this is an anthem for any rebellious, bohemian, artistic, or non-conformist person. As someone else said, its a song about a person who will not let the "establishment" dictate what is good or bad, right or wrong, winning or losing. Sounds like this guy is really into sensual pleasures and adventures (libations, sensations that stagger the mind). A guy who is fond of sex, drugs, and rock and roll rather than working hard for that suburban house with the white picket fence.Sara - Meriden, Ct
i understand the mid life crisis comment ,what does deacon mean in this context ?Craig - Norwich, United Kingdom
It's obviously about a naive suburban (somewhat wealthy) young'un who wants to dive headfirst into the semi-bohemian jazz community without really knowing waht that entails. (THe lines like 'learn to work the saxophone' and 'already bought the dream' refer to this.)Ian - Paddock Lake, Wi
Not sure of the comment made abt the football season of '78 and '79... the song came out in '77Renee - Kansas City, Mo
I believe the song sums up a life well lived, after the person gets to the top becasue he poors his heart out into his art, he looks around and see's so many people love him like a butcher loves a fat ox."I learned to work the saxophone" he loved it to start with but learned how to make money on it."I cried when I wrote this song sue me if I play to long" This song meant something to him when he wrote it and now it caught like a wild bird in a cage.Every body around him in the business is just trying to squeeze a buck out of his work and could care about anything besides a dollar.Moses - Craig Nebraska, Ne
Reading the lyrics of Deacon Blues, you cannot help but think this song is a metaphor to the stage in life everyman either reaches or goes through...self internal reflection "is this it?" "is their anything else to live for?" "can I find new love?", "I need to change" The vivid thoughts of yearning for a dramatic change, be it lifestyle, surroundings, a new love, a break in the status quo and the imagining of what that might be like...the new self image that comes with it.
The inference of Deacon Blues as a "calling card" is the declaration of what the new day will mean...the past is past now I am somebody new....
The lyric "they call Alabama the Crimson Tide, call me Deacon Blues" is the exclamation of a new day, how the new man will be advertised to those around him who will listen and who will care.
A great commentary of any man in mid life crisis.
Mark - St. Louis, Mo
Great tune, recently saw there show at the Beacon in NYC, best live show ever.Andy - Rockaway , Ny
I was listening to this song on my MP3 player while cycling to work last February and was inspired to expand myself. So I went straight out and bought an Alto Sax. I definitely think the Sax solo in this song beats the one in Aja hands down and that's a stonking good listen it's self! This is the day I transcribe it while drinking scotch whiskey.Liam - Leeds, United Kingdom
"Deacon Blues" is clearly an ode to newspaper sports writers and the depressing late-night netherworld where they live. "This is the day of the expanding man" -- the constant battle of weight from eating bad food at all hours. "I crawl like a viper through these suburban streets" -- the writer on the high school sports beat. "I'll rise when the sun goes down, cover every game in town" -- self-explanatory, most sports writing work is done at night, when games happen. And, of course, references to the Alabama Crimson Tide, Wake Forest Demon Deacons and Duke Blue Devils. In the song, he longs for something else. "I'll learn to work the saxophone" is a metaphoric desire to try something new, more artistic, perhaps in another field. "I'll play just what I feel" -- again, wanting to shed the figurative shackles of deadline writing and reporting. At least that's one recovering sports writer's opinion....Jeff - Centennial, Co
I think this song is about a man who has decided to be what HE wants to be, not what the "establishment" wants him to be. By "establishment," I'm not sure if he is referring to the music industry, or society in general, but he is saying I'm taking one last look at the person I used to be, and now I'm taking the other path - the one less traveled - just being one's self, and not letting society dictate to him who's a "winner" and who's a "loser." He saying he will make it this time, like he's happy he decided to change his ways, and he will cross the fine line of what's acceptable and what's not. He also makes reference to sharing the things he knows and loves with those of his kind, and not with just any hanger-on or fake friend that comes along. He is being rebellious by saying "Drink scotch whiskey all night long... and die behind the wheel." You know, the whole drinking and driving thing - it's like "I'll drink and drive if I want to, this is my new attitude - that's my business." He knows it's dangerous, but he will do it anyway - don't ask him why. Yes, he is saying Alabama is a winner, and they have a fancy name for themselves, so he is creating a fancy name for himself - Deacon Blues. This song is by turns sarcastic, rebellious, and at times heart-rending, but at the core, he says it best with the line "I cried when I wrote this song, sue me if I play too long. This brother is free, I'll be what I want to be." AND the rest is legendary!Kate - Marietta, Ga
LOLOLOLOL! You guys are funny. Here I am thinking this song is about a depressed Don Fagen( allways about him) & here they are being thier old sarcastic, cynical selves.Erica - Barrington , Il
For me this great song is about a guy who has lost in a relationship and he feels he has lost in life in general. He has given up on his normal society life and his day job to live the night life fulltime. Before he only looked upon this life with envy - gazed through the glass. Now he sleeps all day, gambles, drinks the night away, drives drunk to different clubs, enjoys different types of woman -ladies of the night and booty calls to lonely woman in the suburbs.

I don't think he is dead already, he is mourning his former life and he knows this fast life of decadence may inevitably be fatal - but he doesn't care anymore, like many people he is searching for an identity, good or bad he only wants a crowd to belong to and a name for himself - Deacon Blues

ps: I heard Alabama's marching band uses part of this song in their routine. Enough said.

Joe in Fla
Joe - Somewhere In Fla, Fl
Dave in Birmingham, I am positive you're an Auburn fan - no doubt in my mind. I hate to tell you, but being from Alabama, you'd have been considered a "cracker a-hole" by Donald Fagen as well - no matter what team you pulled for. I've read the Rolling Stone article as well, and yes, he calls them "these cracker a**holes". Actually, his entire explanation made no sense, but that doesn't matter. It in no way takes away from the fact that the reference is to those who were considered "winners in the world". At the time, the Alabama Crimson Tide was synonymous with what the popular culture at the time considered "winners", and he was making a point about a winning football team, from the South, with this grandiose name like "The Crimson Tide". If they (this cracker a-hole winning football team - as he considered it) could have a grandiose name, then so could he - i.e. Deacon Blues. It's no secret that through the 60's and 70's, anyone from Alabama, or the South in general were considered "crackers" by the elitists in California and the Northeast. Donald Fagen is one of these - as much as I love his music, he is of that ilk. Most Bama fans I know understand that the underlying meaning of his lyric wasn't flattering - YET, it was truthful. Alabama, in those days, was a winner, regardless of his bigoted views of Southerners, and a southern school which was one of the winningest programs at the time. The lyrics say what they say - underlying reasons notwithstanding. Those cracker a-holes they called the Crimson Tide were considered "the winners in the world", just because they won at football. How silly is that? Truth be known, Fagen was probably not a fan of football, or that whole culture in general - but he knew pop culture enough to know who was at the top in those days. If Auburn had been the top football team at the time, they would have been mentioned in the song, and he would have meant it derogatory to you, idiot. In case you haven't forgotten, AU is in Alabama too, and you're not considered any better than anyone else in the South.Lisa - Louisville, Ky
I read all these comments and wonder if it really matters what the song is about. Just sitback and enjoy the GREAT music that this GREAT band has to offer. Ed, Pulaski,TnBig Ed - Pulaski, Tn
I lived in Winston-Salem, NC and knew a guy who went to Wake Forrest. One day, while driving north on Silas Creek Parkway, we past a big, old looking tree on a curve. He told me that that same tree was eluded to in this Steely Dan song in the lyrics "Drink scotch whisky all night long
And die behind the wheel". My friend said that one of Steely's college friends hit that tree after a night of drinking and died. The tree most definitely looked like it had been banged up before. Might be another urban legend but I have heard others at that school say the same thing.
Jason - Portsmouth, Va
I've never made any attempt to listen to or understand the lyrics -- the music is so great that I really don't care. My favourite of theirs.Reg - Kemptville, On
The narrator is talking from beyond the grave to his surviving friends.

This is the day of the expanding man (expanding beyond the living world) / That shape is my shade (?shade? as in ghost) / There where I used to stand (ain?t standin no more) / It seems like only yesterday / I gazed through the glass (as in whiskey glass) / At ramblers, wild gamblers / That's all in the past (cause I?m dead now, expanded)

You call me a fool (because you buy into this illusory existence) / You say it's a crazy scheme (this romantic notion of live-fast-die-young) / This one's for real / I already bought the dream (as in ?bought the big one?) / So useless to ask me why (not much use now, is it?) / Throw a kiss and say goodbye (that?s about all you can do at this point) / I'll make it this time (ain?t no losers here) / I'm ready to cross that fine line (that fine line between life and death)

My back to the wall (oh s--t, about to face another judgement) / A victim of laughing chance (not suicide, bu accidental death behind the wheel) / This is for me / The essence of true romance (live fast die young) / Sharing the things we know and love (the things you and I used to like to do) / With those of my kind (other ghosts) / Libations (don?t forget to pour some whine on my grave) / Sensations / That stagger the mind (you can?t even imagine)

This is the night of the expanding man / I take one last drag (gotta have that last smoke) / As I approach the stand (as in final judgement) I cried when I wrote this song (hard not to get a little nostalgic) / Sue me if I play too long / This brother is free free at last, baby / I'll be what I want to be
David - Taipei, Taiwan
I am laughing because the song is actually a put down to the Alabama Crimson Tide. Donald Fagen called the tide Cracker a-holes???? lolololololol. Here is the article below:

When asked about the line, "They call Alabama the Crimson Tide, they call me Deacon Blues, Donald Fagen told Rolling Stone magazine: "Walter and I had been working on that song at a house in Malibu. I played him that line, and he said, 'You mean it's like, 'They call these cracker a--holes this grandiose name like the Crimson Tide, and I'm this loser, so they call me this other grandiose name, Deacon Blues?' and I said 'Yeah!' He said, 'Cool, let's finish it.'"
Gigi - Sat Bch, Fl
Just the sound of this song is what got me hooked on the group, and intensified my interestes in both classic rock ( I was born in '78 ) and jazz ( I understand Charley Parker was Fagen and Becker's faviort influence growing up ) All while I was learning the art of drumming and percussion, despite the lyrics of the song, which are also good, just an instrumental verson would be just fine for me.Chuck - Houston, Tx
WAIT WAIT WAIT!! How does this song remind you of a mediocore band?!?!! Gosh. so ignorant of classic rock. :(Silvia - Silver Spring, Md
This is the greatest song EVER man!!!Silvia - Silver Spring, Md
Phil Collins played tympani during the intro to this song.Jay - Atlanta, Ga
This is the worst song ever. It reminds me of a medocore band signing while I am eating dinner on a cruise ship (finger in mouth)!Cpmusf - Tampa, Fl
Steely Dan has good taste in more ways than one. ROLL TIDE !Mike - Hueytown , Al
It seems obvious that the references to the Crimson Tide and the Demon Deacons is a poetic metaphoric way of talking about winners and losers. Its just a clever cultural reference that most at the time could understand and use to reflect on the obvious deeper meaning of the song. They are using it to put the focus on the looser.

I was drawn to this song because its theme seems to be about the warmth and depth of embracing/accepting the perceived role of a looser. Embracing music, alcohol, vices, and self-destruction - and being ok with it because you come to a point where it is home and its where you want to be. In a way its falling in love with failure - sort of. It reminds me of all of Wes Anderson's movies or of Boogie Nights: the theme in all of these is finding and embracing family despite failure. In Deacon Blues you get a sense of family in the world of the looser that he has embraced.

Another recent song that I hear this in is Josh Rouse's song "James" on his 1972 album (great song btw). It's about an alcoholic - and you get the sense that disappearing into a bar is what James wants to do. It's both tragic and beautiful at the same time.

I definitely don't think this song is about suicide. If anything its about celebrating a lifestyle that many would look down upon.: a lifestyle that you may know will lead to 'dying behind the wheel' (in all the ways to interpret that wonderfully multi-meaning line).

The last lines are maybe the best though:

I cried when I wrote this song
Sue me if I play too long
This brother is free
Ill be what I want to be

So what if its the life of the looser. So what if you know you'll die behind a wheel. He has struggled with society and himself and has finally become free by accepting himself and choosing his path - consequences be damned. He want a grandiose name for the looser - because he sees the grandness in this life he has chosen.

What an awesome song however you may interpret it.
Shane - San Francisco, Ca
This is the best song on possibly the best album ever recorded, Aja. What I've discovered is that as I've gotten older, the song takes on new meaning for me. I wouldn't have identified this as one of my Dan favorites fifteen or twenty years ago, but over the past decade, it's definitely moved up greatly in my estimation. For some reason, even though it was written by a couple of musicians in the late-70s, it reflects a lot of feelings I've gone through as I've gotten older.

For me, it's about a guy finally coming to terms with himself. He may have had big dreams, but now he realizes he'll never achieve them and that's okay. He's figured out who he is and that's all that matters.

I was intrigued by the notion that the lyric "die behind the wheel" is about gambling. I've heard it speculated that on Do it Again, when they sing "wheel turning round and round" they're referring to the wheel of fate. I've always linked dying behind the wheel to the reference to scotch whisky, but perhaps Dan had something else in mind.
Matt - Atlanta, Ga
This is my favorite Steely Dan song and one of my fav songs period. this one along with Bad SneakersMeg - Blahblahblah, La
The song has to do with life, change and judgement.
"This is the day of the expanding man" refers to someone going through a significant spiritual/life change. "That shape is my shame, there where I used to stand...only yesterday I stared through the glass..." represents this character's past. He's made some decision about his life (don't we all do that?) and will have to "approach the stand," as he will be judged by others. But he is "ready to cross that fine line," determined to "be what I want to be." And the sarcastic "sue me if I play too long," and "this brother is free, I'll be what I want to be" express this self-determination. It could be a person falling into an alcoholic or any other lifestyle that is looked down on, thus the allusion to "losing." The Alabama and Wake Forest football teams are definitely referred to here, but as symbolic references to any life that others judge as a "winning" or "losing"

What great writing, and I love the sax solo.

By the way, I've used Deacon Blues for the name of sports teams that I've captained/formed, as a tongue-in-cheek reference to being a "losing" team.
David - Traverse City, Mi
The Wake Forest reference is ridiculous. The song as I heard it described by Fagen was written during a certain period of time in his life and can best be described as a song about an aging hippie who's time is passing him by. The Alabama reference is only an ANALOGY to the winning football program AT THAT TIME. This song is much deeper than Alabama/Wake Forest.Kevin - Philadelphia, Pa
For all bama fans who have been so proud of this song for so long, I hate to burst your bubble but here is the truth....it wasn't a compliment at all. In fact it was a slap in the face. You want proof?

Here is an excerpt from a Rolling Stone magazine article/interview with Donald Fagen.


Walter and I had been working on that song at a house in Malibu. I played him that line, and he said, "You mean it's like, 'They call these cracker (deleted) this grandiose name like the Crimson Tide, and I'm this loser, so they call me this other grandiose name, Deacon Blues?' " And I said, "Yeah!" He said, "Cool! Let's finish it!">

source: http://www.rollingstone.com/news/qa/story/9519861/donald_fagen_gets_inspired
Dave - Birmingham, Al
The date from my previous comment is correct,as Alabama won multiple polls in NCAA football 6 times in the 1970s - http://www.cfbdatawarehouse.com/data/div_ia/sec/alabama/all_national_champs.phpRob - Nashville, Tn
Dying behind the wheel has to do with gambling (roulette wheel)/Many references to Vegas etc. in Dan tunes. In fact this is likely more of a gambling song than anything else.Dell - Atlanta, Ga
With all due respect to the Beatles, I don't think I have ever heard music so beautifully put together and presented as that of Fagen and Becker. 'Deacon Blues' is a great example. Pure magic... any major dude will tell you.Chris - Melbourne, Australia
For me the song's overarching theme is the struggle to be who you truly want to be (as opposed to what others "expect" you to be). In the music industry there are very few "winners" and many many "losers" - based on 'society's' definition of success. Musicians though don't see the world through society's collective eye and therefore don't see themselves as "losers". I don't believe the song is autobiographical since Steely Dan is an icon in musical circles and is successful by anyone's definition of success. The reference to the crimson tide and "die behind the wheel" are just hooks I don't think they are meant to be taken literally. Anyone who has seen VH1's behind the music knows that some band member always dies or looses a limb or some similar tragedy (it's almost a defining characteristic of greatness). So in the last verse he's saying getting up and playing is all that really matters b/c it's what he truly wants to do - regardless if his family, friends or society thinks he's throwing his life away.Blake - Scottsdale, Az
This song is not about Wake Forest. At all. I heard Fagen in an interview explain that the overall theme of the song is about a "society of losers." He went onto explain that winners have their own fraternities and he felt that losers should have one too-thus Deacon Blues.John - Wilmington, Nc
this songs awesome. haha...my hardrive is named deacon because this is my brother's computer...Jeanette - Irvine, Ca
I'm not sure what the meaning of this song is, which is how I stumbled on this website. My darling brother had vanity plates made for his car last year that said "Deacon Blues." I truly, wish I had known what he was up to and what this song meant to him, because unfortunately he shot himself a month ago. So, I guess I'd have to go with the suicide theory on this one.Toni - Larned, Ks
I think someone is reading too much into the Wake Forest/Alabama connection. The Crimson Tide reference is just a cool play on what was considered a dynasty or winner at the time. I think the song is about a musician, probably a blues musician, talking about his hard life playing in sleazy dive bars. He drinks, smokes, fools around with working girls and thinks he'll probably end up doing something stupid like killing himself while driving drunk. It's a fantastic song, Fagan and Becker's best IMHO, perfectly capturing the 70's L.A. lounge lizard's nightlife.Brian - Providence, Ri
Couple of thoughts.. Aja (the album containing Deacon Blues) was released in the US in September of 1977, thus making the connection to the Wake Forest losing streak (assuming these dates are correct) unlikely.

I've never heard this refered to as a "suicide song" but it contains the lyrics, "..drink Scotch whiskey all night long and die behind the wheel" -- to indicate the depth of dispair being experienced.

Finally, while Steely Dan didn't tour much in the late 70's or 80's, they have been pretty active since. Many Steely Dan classics were performed by Becker/Fagan and others in the New York Rock and Soul Review which toured in the early 90's. Steely Dan did a tour (with an awesome band) in 1993. I know for sure there was a 1996 and I believe a 1998 tour as well. They've toured each of their last two releases pretty extensively. If you haven't seen them live, you really are missing something. They are as careful about selecting their touring musicians as they are about producing their records.

If you are a BitTorrent fan, you can find many great shows at a torrent site of your chosing.
Tony - Cleveland, Oh
"Suicide song" would be suited more for "Suicide Solution" (Ozzy Ozborne), but even then it's a misnomer. I doubt any writer sets out to induce suicide intentionally and if they did... it would be in a fashion so elusive it would be the last song on trial for such. People dig out of music sometimes, by how the melody makes them feel combined with a small piece of the lyric.

This song asks a bit much of your intelligence and sympathy for a couple of aged guys ("this is the day, of the expanding man, that shape is my shame... there where I used to stand") So I assume it can be interpreted in a negative way.

The truth, though... most likely lies in their Nostalgia and pain for the past...
Scott - Columbus, Oh
This song to me is a symbol of the nostagia that Donald F. and Walter B. felt towards their lives in college.
It moves along side the theme of most of their music....it almost always seems to surge in the direction of past experience. What a beautiful song by one of my favorite bands, Ever to make music.
Steely dan (Who's name was derived from a William Burroughs book) is IMO, the greatest jazz/rock fusion band to ever live...it pains me that they were a studio band and that it's so damn hard to see them live...Entirely too much magic to not spread around. But isn't that part of being the modest genius? Rock on Guys!!

I love your work, Entirely!!!!!
Scott - Columbus, Oh
Donald Fagen and Walter Becker went to Bard College in Annandale on the Hudson.Eli - Birmingham, Al
Rob from Nashvilles dates are incorrect. Alabama shared or owned the National Title in NCAA football 6 times from 1961-1979
Other dominant teams in the 70's were Nebraska,Penn State,OK,USC,NotreDame.

Now somebody correct me....I just assumed that Becker and Fagan must have gone to Wake Forest. In ArtistFacts..it says they attended a school in NY. Anybody????
Jamie - Bethesda, Md
The University of Alabama was the top team all throughout the 1970s to beat in football,and was crowned as national champions 6 times from 1973 to 1979.Rob - Nashville, Tn
This is one of the most beautifully written songs EVER, and everyone should really listen to it and know the lyrics. "I cried when I wrote this song, Sue me if I play too long, This brother is free, I'll be what I want to be" Wow... SD is one of if not the most deep meaning or at least they are some of the most advanced as far as song writingDoug - San Diego, Ca
Why is the song refered to as the "Suicide song"?Ramon Escobar - Los Angeles, Ca
The song refers to the University of Alabama's athletic nickname "The Crimson Tide". Their mascot is an elephant. Perhaps it was the inspiration for King Crimson's "Elephant Talk".Kent Lyle - Palo Alto, Ca