Do the Grateful Dead and Steely Dan occupy opposite poles of some optimist/skeptic spectrum? I’ll allow that they just might. The two bands definitely have little in common aesthetically, what with the Dead’s trademark move being the lengthy improvised guitar jam and the Dan opting for a much tighter method that might just involve importing several seasoned sessionists in order to nail down a difficult solo, as famously happened with “Peg.”
If you picked lyrics from the two bands at random and presented them in the form of a quiz, most knowledgeable music fans would have little trouble telling the two apart.
Which brings us to the official Steely Dan website, which has an unusual status among such entities for two reasons: its existence runs back very nearly to the very dawn of the World Wide Web, and Becker and Fagen clearly perceived it as a potential venue for their own personal expression.
According to the Internet Archive, Steely Dan’s website first surfaced no later than April 11, 1997, which is two years after the accepted inception of the WWW but remarkably early for an act as established as Steely Dan. The site is so old that it was was and running several years in advance of Steely Dan’s return to presenting new studio material to its audience, namely Two Against Nature, released in 2000, and Everything Must Go, released in 2003, both of which events it duly documented and promoted, as well as the many tours the Dan has undertaken over the years (remember when Steely Dan didn’t tour?).
The website has an unmistakably personal touch. As stated, whoever is running the website is expansive and expressive, with all sorts of pages dedicated not only to their albums and tours but also to such matters as the Dan’s tongue-in-cheek letter campaign to get set the terms of the band’s inevitable induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which didn’t last long because it happened in 2001 (the Dead beat them by seven years).
Amusingly, much of the website is in straight HTML, enough so to make one positively nostalgic for an Internet without any way to spread the word to LinkedIn or whatever. One such page is an amazing guide for music lovers who aren’t yet sure if they can handle Steely Dan, with detailed instructions on how to make the leap from Grateful Dead fandom to Dan fan status.
The “Deadhead/Danfan Conversion Chart” offers detailed illustrations of how to shed the “rectangular granny glasses” favored by Deadheads in favor of the “LA Eyeworks clipons” that are more typical of the pussyhound/drugrunner characters one might encounter in Steely Dan songs. In each case there is a transitional item named, occupying the creepy and simultaneous “Deadfan/Danhead” category—in the aforementioned example of eyewear, “rayban knockoffs” occupies that slot.
There are 20 such triads (Deadhead—Deadfan/Danhead—Danfan) and nary a weak one on the list. As a kicker, the final entry offers the Grateful Dead and Steely Dan themselves as start and end points, but I won’t name which artist they picked to be the transitional figure. But it’s kind of genius.