Steely Dan Sunday, “Junkie Girl” (1994)

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The co-architect of Aja comes out with a song fit for Tonight’s The Night. Well, OK, so maybe Neil Young didn’t use a drum machine or production that shimmered quite so much, but there’s that same desolation, the ragged, harrowing tale of drug addiction dimming out the light of another life. In Young’s case, such tales were directly inspired the loss of his roadie Bruce Berry and former Crazy Horse bandmate Danny Whitten, both to heroin. Becker’s subject is a hooker addicted to the hard stuff, too, a total mess to whom the narrator is oddly attracted. But by the end of the song, the junkie girl is a lost cause even to him, and where she’s headed he “don’t dare to follow.”

I wonder sometimes if Becker, like Young, is applying the anguish of an actual loss to song: recall that during the Gaucho sessions, he lost his girlfriend to a drug overdose. In any case, Becker made a direct, gut wrenching folk-rock tune, sung it actually rather well, and for good measure tossed in a bent blues guitar solo over twisted chord changes that Neil never would have — or could have — attempted. And nary a keyboard sound to be found on this guitar-driven song, perhaps a Steely Dan-related first.

More than anywhere else, Walter Becker separates himself from Steely Dan on “Junkie Girl,” a song of human failing but without the irony. From tragedy, whether real, fictional, or a combination of both, is a small artistic triumph from the often forgotten half of an acclaimed songwriting duo.

No fooling, it’s a f**ked up world.

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