Steely Dan Sunday, “Kulee Baba” (1980, unreleased)

“Kulee Baba,” when Steely Dan goes global.

Ahhh, the CD. Those plastic discs of music we used before iTunes. With a noise reduction system Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were crying for when (mis)mastering Katy Lied. Seventy minutes worth and no static at all. CDs arrived commercially in the Fall of ’82, and quickly became the medium of audio-blaring choice.

Unfortunately, Gaucho’s long awaited release was in the Fall of 1980. At a time when a British power pop group called The Records scored Album of the Month in Stereo Review for a rather brilliant set: Crashes. Perhaps if they had been called “The CDs” they would have survived! Gaucho clocked in at seven recorded songs when released on LP, where album lengths much over 40 minutes squeezed the vinyl grooves tight.

But there was more. So much more, in the can. An erased magnum opus: “The Second Arrangement.” A demo of a brilliant, twisted love song: “Can’t Write Home About You.” Wall Street revisited in “The Bear.” A lively “Kind Spirit.” A leftover instrumental from Aja: “Stand by the Seawall.”

And perhaps the mightiest of them all: “Kulee Baba.” An entire album’s worth of potential masterpieces! Samples and full demo, partial, and occasionally full track versions of Kulee Baba have trickled out through the internet and social media as The Gaucho Outtakes over the past two decades. “Kulee Baba” captures an awakening of live reality TV and news reporting, prescient of decades of voyeurism of the great big world out there. There are at least three versions floating in the ether: a demo, semi full band, and a more flushed-out full band version.

The full band version may include the following lineup, or best I can gather and recognize by ear:

Drums – Rick Marotta
Rhodes – Don Grolnick
Piano – Rob Mounsey or Donald Fagen
Guitar – Steve Khan
Bass – Anthony Jackson

The chord progressions immediately stand out. From Katy Lied through The Nightfly, the chords underneath the melody and harmony were consistently sublime, but Fagen really seems to be peaking here…not long before “writer’s block” struck while completing The Nightfly. The title track of that album and “Glamour Profession” on Gaucho most resembling the type of chord slut dancing on this brilliant tune.

The protagonist is a reporter living large and broadcasting somewhere in the middle of nowhere Africa. See what you never have seen – Oh, look kids, satellite TV News Porn. Satellite feeds brought us live views of world events for the first time in the 70s and 80s. CNN was in its infancy, and the Earth was becoming much smaller at an alarming speed. “Kulee Baba”‘s lyrics are sharp, multi-layered, and poignant, while maintaining that detached sardonic worldview remains that key characteristic:

My nom d’voyage is McSween
I carry the proper papers
I seek the primal rhythms of the bush
I preserve great moments as they come
And sure this must be one

Reality TV as performance art.

Brightly painted dancers on the screen
Are no more than a prelude to the ritual unfolding
No white man’s eyes have ever seen
The frightening finale, the rite that you’re beholding

Our friendly correspondent reveling in Shock TV. A smarmy type with a detached cool.

Chorus:

Kulee Baba
Coming your way, every Sunday
Live from Nowhere

Global Reporting as a Circus Master…much like the Carl Denham character in King Kong. Voyeur paparrazi, indeed.

My suit is a bright Irish green
The color and cut are striking
I’m something of a standout in the crowd
Don’t chew on that power cable son
I guess I owe you one

The journalist as part of the story. We can’t all be a Hunter S. Thompson or 60 Minutes but we can sure get in the middle of it all.

Word with my chief engineer
We’ll mix with the mob for all the folks at home
I’m tasting the local beer
And half the crew is dancing in the foam

The entire gang becomes part of the “Kulee Baba.”

Chorus

Kulee Baba
Coming your way, every Sunday
Live from Nowhere
Satellite relay, hello Broadway

It’s Showtime!

Sweet holy Jesus, what a night
St. Augustine was right

St. Augustine of Hippo’s long road back to Catholic philosophy was richly colored by his party animal life in Africa, where local customs and thought steeped with cultural relativism flavored his perspective…

The cameraman began the Kulee Baba
The telecast was over, our featured friends were gone
I hear there’s a bash in Camaroon
So long for now, we must be moving on…

Off to the next shindig. Life as a reality TV serial. I don’t know about you, but I feel like having a Chesterfield King!

*** STEELY DAN SUNDAY INDEX ***

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 jml2621@gmail.com; contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.