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Bodhisattva by Steely Dan

Album: Countdown To EcstasyReleased: 1973
  • Bodhisattva is a human who has reached enlightenment, as the Buddha did, and can leave physical existence behind, but chooses to remain in human form to help others achieve freedom.
  • Donald Fagen said this song was "sort of a parody on the way Western people look at Eastern religion - sort of oversimplify it. We thought it was rather amusing - most people didn't get it.
  • In typically cryptic fashion, the Countdown To Ecstasy liner notes for the 1998 reissue said this of the song: "Dias the Bebopper meets Baxter the skunk beneath the Bo Tree in this altered blues."

    "Dias" is Denny Dias, who played the first guitar solo on the track; "Baxter the skunk" is Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, who played the second solo.
  • Steely Dan used this song as the opener on their 1974 "SD slips into the UK" tour, which was their first tour of Britain.
  • This was the first time the word "Bodhisattva" showed up in a song by a popular artist, but it wasn't the last. In 1992, Beastie Boys released "Bodhisattva Vow" on their album Check Your Head. That song explored that spiritual side of the group, which had taken an interest in Tibetan Buddhism.
  • David Nichtern, who worked with Walter Becker on the 2005 Krishna Das album All One, is a senior teacher of Shambhala Buddhism as well as a guitarist/producer. When we spoke with Nichtern, he explained: "Bodhisattvas are a certain aspect of Buddhism, and they're a kind of compassionate beings. Their specialty is helping other beings. It'd be similar to the concept of a saint in Christian tradition. They really dedicate their lives towards the well being of others."
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Comments: 17

Dont forget the usual sexual reference..."shine" is slang for giving head.Warren Suggs - California
I' d tend to agree with Koze from India. I see the song as deriding the easy-to-digest recipes to self-enlightenment slickly marketed by the dispensers of allegedly Eastern wisdom that have been available on the market since the 70s. And who are still heavily best-selling in the US and Europe. The song holds even better today.Eric - Grenoble, France
I am an avid, long-time SD fan (so please don't flame me), but I'm clearly missing something here... this frenetic song has literally nothing about it that makes me ever want to hear it again. I understand and agree with the comments lauding the technical excellence of the musicians' performances, but I find nothing appealing or memorable about either the lyrics or the melody line. The appeal of SD for me has always been rooted in one (or all) of the following: the emotional pull of the melody; the cleverness and/or poignancy of the lyrics; or the spare and searing deftness of the instrumental passages.Terry - Rocky Mountains
I am not for mocking religion than I am mocking race or creed. However one must remember that this song was written and recorded at a time when the entire world seemed to be so consumed with materialism it was borderline ridiculous. There was an unpopular war going on in Vietnam, which had shifted some of our attention to the far east and the ways of the people there. And much of North America was still reeling from the turbulent sixties. What IS important is that Steely Dan has never been matched in there dedication to the music, regardless of what the deeper meaning of the lyrics may be. I would like to hear opinions about George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord", which I understand he was successfully sued for the music plagiarism. In the middle of that song the words change from Hallejuah to Hari Chrishna. Again, not here to mock. But we can't all be poets when we are just trying to make a song.Dean - Saskatoon, Sk
Best version can be found on Alive In America......imhoAngel - Canton, Oh
According to "Best of Steely Dan: An Inside Look at the Guitar Styles of Steely Dan" the solo in the middle of the song is Denny Dias and the outro solo (at the end) is Jeff "Skunk" Baxter. Both were members of the original band.Jeff - Sharon, Pa
Love the piano strings singing at the end! Heard that the producer wanted a giant crescendo at the end and Denny Dias was holding a chord and strummed the piano strings to make another layer. Can anyone confirm?Jorge - Sunrise, Fl
The guitar work by Jeff Baxter is some of his finest ever! I had a chance to ask him about the solo on "My Old School" as well and he had every note, bend, hammer-on and pull-off written before entering the studio. One of my favorite guitarist ever!Mike - Minneapolis, Mn
13 bar blues.
Bodhisattvas don't use psilocybin Chris...
G - Potomac, Md
I think this song was originally written for duane allman because it's basically a blues song, but the end is totally allman brothers-style. and duane was one, a boddhisatvaChris - Bisbee, Az
Koze has some interesting insights, accurate ones, I would say. You can almost see Fagen snarking out those lines, with a wry, all-knowing smirk. The trick is, he knows he doesn't know it all..... but has a splendid time lampooning those of us who think we do. Add snappy music to boot and you're prime time! Brilliant musicians, lyrically and melodically.Shannon - Nashville , Tn
It's hard for me to put into words exactly why I love this tune (and this band) as much as I do, but to start...If you want to hear blistering guitar riffs that are not just technique but rather are the embodiment of finesse and feel, this is a must-hear tune for you. There are other versions out there (the 'infamous' cassette
version from Santa Monica, played in an even faster meter) but the phrasing and call-and-answer guitar bits in this version are stunning
(as are the guitar 'fill' bits). Listen...and then listen again, and listen closely; the playing is truly transcendental. Of course, the
rest of the musicians have chops (as some would say) 'like you read about', which helps to keep the whole thing as seamless as it is. Also, the energy and tension just never quits in this tune - it just keeps building and building - until it ends in its beautiful crescendo. I remember being
turned on to Steely Dan in my teens by my brother, and upon hearing the solo in 'Reelin' In the Years' deciding that these cats had mad
skills, and I wanted to hear more. Seriously - these cats have few peers in terms of their lyrics, arrangements, melding of styles, and
outright musicianship. To quote Donald Fagen "What's not to like?" about these cats?
Mark - Ann Arbor, Mi
Great guiter riff, is that Becker?Andy - Rockaway , Ny
The lyrics revolve around two puns: "The Shine In Your Japan" (a type of furniture polish) and "The Sparkle In Your China" (Porcelain dishes and cups & saucers).Dan - Los Angeles, Ca
I had one of those sound-activated toys in my office in the 1980s. It was in the shape of a daisy. There were Christmas trees and santa clauses too. When a coworker wanted to see how it worked I'd put Steely Dan's Bodhisattva on. The drum beats coupled with the guitar and keyboard made the best daisy dance. It was mass made somewhere in the far east. Now, that's funny.Lalah - Wasilla, Ak
The song speeds up quite a bit; rather startling for a band that relied so heavily on studio musicians and had a reputation for perfectionism, but perhaps that came in later years.Van - Philadelphia, Pa
This song is about the fickle perception of Eastern Mysticism held by the West. "Can you show me the shine of your Japan, the sparkle of your China" represent the narrow, stereotypical views that many Americans and Europeans have of the far east. This also coupled with the view that enlightment or spiritual realisation is possible without much effort, or is something that can be easily bought, "I'm gonna sell my house in town".Koze - Chennai, India
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