Steely Dan Sunday, “Mary Shut The Garden Door” (2006)

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Stress. Fear. Their tentacles grip us around the neck and chest, slender ribbons slithering into the brain. Tentacles seeping toxins into the mind that elicit some kind of brain cloud, per Joe Versus the Volcano, on the victim… causing our fearless leaders to e-wiretap most of the U.S. households or invade the wrong country… stirring formerly sarcastic and subversive song masters to imagine narcoleptic feline specters hovering over NYC, or shadowy figures in mid-priced luxury cars numbing and incapacitating the citizenry. A paranoid stupor.

Death and the fallout of 9/11 cast a thin, veiled pall upon Morph the Cat. In “Mary Shut the Garden Door,” a deep, almost impenetrable fog descends. Mary sounds considerably more layered than the remainder of the Morph the Cat, with the NYC musical elite strolling in one at a time for overdubs in this graveyard.

Freddie Washington jumpstarts the tune with a bass line hinting of a dreaded knock on the door. Rhythm guitar and solo accents are laid down tastefully…yet the licks seem submerged, as do the vocals. Wayne Krantz scratches under the belly while Jon Herington trades muted rhythmic fills with Keith Carlock’s drums and Gordon Gottlieb’s percussion. Tangentially remindful of Paul Griffin’s catchy organ vamp on “The Fez,” a cartoon-spooky synth flute/organ theme, programmed by Illinois Elohainu (another Fagen bogus persona), wafts in and out of the chorus and outro. It’s punctuated by that plastic marimba heard on “Brite Nitegown”…again, that knock on the door.

The verse features a pleasant enough lite jazz melody hiding sinister ongoings out of sight. The elegant bridge rescues the tune with a soaring melody and membrane-tight harmonies. And piercing the rolling mist, what do we spy in the headlights? Yes, the return of Fagen melodica/synth blues harp thingy solo after the bridge and in the outro! Sure, it made a brief appearance on “Godwhacker,” but its swag was overpowered by Walter’s affected guitar whacks. Here, Donald seems to unchain the beast…yet the lyrical melodica runs are consigned to wrestle with that gooey plasma laid down by Morpheus. Played loudly I swore I felt a pulse.

Do the dancing vibes via Phonus Quaver (yep, Donald) and melodica in the outro portend a rebirth of good things to come? Meanwhile, the rhythm section percolates with just a hint of salsa. Or is this all that there is? Could something have been done to revive the corpse? Have Donald and Walter ridden off into the nookyular sunset?

So we are left to ponder: “Does the apocalypse in the rear view mirror appear larger than it is?”

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John Lawler

John Lawler

J.M. Lawler is researcher living somewhere left of the Rio Grande, Texas, where he practices science - until he gets it right. He was first exposed to Steely Dan by a neighbor and the static of AM radio at a young age. Reach John at; contact Something Else! at
John Lawler
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