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“Deacon Blues,” Scotch, Steely Dan, and other intergenerational appreciations

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, we asked, “What song reminds you of your dad?”

There was always music in my house while I was growing up, which was almost always was played by my father. A multitalented woodwind player who helped offset his college expenses playing Top 40 covers at weddings and parties, some of my earliest memories involve the sound of dad’s saxophone or flute drifting up from the basement, the melody unrecognizable without additional accompaniment, but played with feeling nonetheless. Whenever Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues” rolls around to its centerpiece sax solo—a wailing thing played by jazz saxophonist Pete Christlieb—I think back to the honks and trills from downstairs. Christlieb’s solo represents the last musical gasps of a tragic jazzbo, the sort of beat-down Beat caricature that only exists in Donald Fagen and Walter Becker’s mind. The guy who asks to be called Deacon Blues doesn’t share much with my dad beyond a desire to “work the saxophone” and an appreciation of affordable Scotch, but put an instrument in their hands and they’ll both play their guts out. That’s more than I can say for my own seven-year run in the alto saxophone sections of middle- and high-school bands. I didn’t have the chops of Deacon Blues, Christlieb, or dad, but I did have a blue, incorrectly sequenced cassette copy of Aja, an extension of my father’s musical side that was able to pass from one generation to the next. The Scotch thing’s catching on, too.

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