‘Check With Owen Wilson’: Steely Dan’s Open Letter To Wes Anderson

steely dan wes anderson

 

In 2006, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, aka Steely Dan, wrote an open letter to Wes Anderson from the Chicorydee hotel, Atlanta, Georgia. In a 2007 interview, Anderson said that he “appreciated their advice”, adding: “I can’t say that Steely Dan made me feel like a million bucks actually; but, I think it was kind of funny.”

From: W. Becker and D. Fagen [AKA Steely Dan© ]

To: Wes Anderson

Maestro:

As you may know, we are the founders of the celebrated rock band “Steely Dan”©.  If for some reason you don’t know our work, check with Owen and Luke Wilson  – they’re both big fans.  Here’s something you may not know about us: when not distracted by our “day job” – composing, recording, touring and so forth – we like to head downstairs into the paneled basement of our minds and assume the roles we were born to play – you may have already guessed it by now – the roles of Obsessive Fans of World Cinema.

That’s right. Eisenstein, Renoir, Rene Clair, Bunuel, Kurosawa, Fellini, Godard, Tarkovsky, Ophuls the Elder, Blake Edwards, Ophuls the Younger, you name it. Sat there, dug it.

Maestro, we give to you this Message: there was a time when Giants walked among us. And, damn, if you, Wes Anderson, might not be the one to restore their racial dominance on this, our planet, this Terra, this… Earth.

You may have heard that we have recently made it our personal project and goal to deliver a certain actor of no small importance to your past and present work from a downward spiral of moral turpitude from which it seemed there might be no escape. We are delighted to report that, with the news of Mr. ________’s participation in your new film (which we understand to be entitled, indeed, charmingly,  “Darjeeling Limited”), our efforts have been repaid, and How.

This unqualified victory has inspired us to address a more serious matter. Let’s put our cards on the table –  surely, we are not the first to tell you that your career is suffering from a malaise. Fortunately, inasmuch as it is a malaise distinctly different than that of Mr.______ , and to the extent that you have not become so completely alienated from the intellectual and moral wellsprings of your own creativity, we are hoping that we – yours truly, Donald and Walter – may successfully “intervene” at this point in time and be of some use to you in your latest, and, potentially, greatest, endeavor.

Again, an artist of your stripe could never be guilty of the same sort of willing harlotry that befalls so many bright young men who take their aspirations to Hollywood and their talent for granted. You have failed or threatened to fail in a far more interesting and morally uncompromised way (assuming for a moment that self-imitation and a modality dangerously close to mawkishness are not moral failings, but rather symptoms of a profound sickness of the soul.)

Let’s begin with a quick review of your career so far, as it is known to us and your fans and wellwishers in general.

You began, spectacularly enough, with the excellent “Bottle Rocket”, a film we consider to be your finest work to date. No doubt others would agree that the striking originality of your premise and vision was most effective in this seminal work. Subsequent films – “Rushmore”, “The Royal Tenenbaums”, “The Life Aquatic” – have been good fun but somewhat disappointing – perhaps increasingly so.  These follow-ups have all concerned themselves with the theme we like to call “the enervated family of origin”©, from which springs diverse subplots also largely concerned with the failure to fulfill early promise. Again, each film increasingly relies on eccentric visual detail, period wardrobe, idiosyncratic and overwrought set design, and music supervision that leans heavily on somewhat obscure 60’s “British Invasion” tracks a-jangle with twelve-string guitars, harpsichords and mandolins. The company of players, while excellent, retains pretty much the same tone and function from film to film. Indeed, you must be aware that your career as an auteur is mirrored in the lives of your beloved characters as they struggle in vain to duplicate early glories.

But, look, Mr. Anderson, we’re not trying to be critical – dammit – we just want to help.

Enter the Faboriginals©, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan©. The muse is a fickle mistress at best, and to leave her high and dry, with just a “lick and a promise” of the greatness of which one is capable – well, sir, it’s just plain wrong.  It is an Art Crime© of the first magnitude and a great sin against your talent and your Self.  We just don’t want to see it go down that way.

So the question, Mr. Anderson, remains: what is to be done?  As we have done with previous clients, we have taken the liberty of creating two alternative strategies that we believe will insure success –  in this case, success for you and your little company of players.  Each of us – Donald and Walter – has composed a TITLE SONG which could serve as a powerful organizing element and a rallying cry for you and Owen and Jason and the others, lest you lose your way and fall into the same old traps.

STRATEGY 1:

Donald believes that you are at a crossroads and that you must do what none of your characters has been able to do – namely, let go of the past: leave it as it lies with no concern for the wreckage, and move boldly forward towards new challenges and goals. To this end he has composed a fresh, exciting title song for your new film, “Darjeeling Limited”. It’s rousing, it’s hip, by turns, funny and sad, and then funny again. Although the music is not entirely out of line with the chic “retro” pop you seem to favor, it’s been fire-mopped© clean of every last trace of irony and then re-ironized at a whole new level – “post-post-post-modern” if you will. The lyrics are as follows:

[CHORUS ]
Darjeeling Limited©
That’s the train I wanna get kissed on
Darjeeling Limited©
But I’ll be lucky if I don’t get pissed on

This is a country of starving millions
We’ve got to get ‘em their tea on time
I know romance should be on the back burner
But girl I just can’t get you off my mind
Cause baby every single time I’m with you
I’d like to have as many arms as Vishnu
(Arms as Vishnu)

[CHORUS ]
Darjeeling Limited©
That’s the train I wanna get kissed on
Darjeeling Limited©
But I’ll be lucky if I don’t get pissed on

You told me you’d be mine forever
That we’d get married in the Taj Mahal
The minute I’m done baggin’ this tea, babe
Then I’ll be makin’ you my Bollywood doll
Forget the Super Chief, the China Star now
Give me the choo-choo with the Chutney Bar now
(Chutney Bar now)

[CHORUS ]
Darjeeling Limited©
That’s the train I wanna get kissed on
Darjeeling Limited©
But I’ll be lucky if I don’t get pissed on

STRATEGY 2:

Walter believes that the best strategy for you now would be to return to the point in your career when it was all good, when all was working as it should, when there was magic in every song you sung, so to speak.  Youthful idealism, jouissance©, original spirit – these will be your watchwords.  “Birth is residual if it is not symbolically revisited through initiation” – it’s an old French proverb.  In other words, your new film will be called “Bottle Rocket Two©” and will be the logical continuation of the first film which was so well loved. (“Bottle Rocket” was our fave among your movies, did we mention that?) You pick up where you left off and find a new continuation that takes you elsewhere than to ruin.  The eponymous title song would reframe the important existential questions which are at the core of your artistic vision and would go something like this:

Bottlerocket Two©

Any resemblance
Real or imagined
People or places
Living or dead

Any resemblance
As-if or actual
Characters or circumstance
It’s all in your head

Flying out to India
Trying to get into you
Old Bombay
It’s a very long way
To chase a “bottlerocket” to©

Precise simulations
Possible parallels
Never intended
Co-incidentals

Persons and places
Present or otherwise
Comrades in comedy
Brothers in crime

Hiding out in India
Babycakes they’re watching you
This is our latest –
It may be our greatest –
It’s called “bottlerocket” too©!

Who pitched the story?
Who built the scenery?
Who raised the money?
Whose movie is it,
Anyway?

[Guitar Solo ]

Come to think about it, these songs are both so fucking strong that you may wish to consider a hybrid approach that uses both of them – after all, they’re both set in India, which is where your company is setting up shop now.  You could go with some kind of “film within a film” or even a “film within a film within a film” or some such pomo horseshit, just like Godard’s “King Lear” or whatever.  That’s your call, you’re the director.

Please note that all these lyrics and titles have been heavily copywritten, trademarked, registered, patented, etc., etc., so anybody using them will have to negotiate the rights from the legitimate Faboriginal© owners, which is us.  We are currently represented by Michael “Mickey” Shaheen, Esq., of Howard Beach, Queens County, New York NY.

The other change that we would have to make would concern Mark Mothersbaugh.  Everyone in Hollywood knows that he is a first class professional musical supervisor.  Obviously you and he have a lot of great history together and we can imagine there is a certain rapport both professional and personal.  But we certainly can’t work with him, anymore than he would consent to work with us.  Same thing for the mandolins and the twelve-string stuff and the harpsichord, they’re out.  You yourself may be partial to those particular instruments. We’re not. Remember, we saw “Tom Jones” in its original theatrical release when we were still in high school, we had to listen to “Walk Away Renee” all through college and we fucking opened for Roger McGuinn in the seventies, so all that “jingle-jangle morning” shit is no big thrill for us, OK?

Argh!…goddammit…sorry, guy! We kinda lost it for a minute there.  Look – Mark is probably a swell guy.  But you, Wes Anderson, must remember that Mark and his music are part of the old way of doing things, the old way of being, the old way that has brought you to the precipice. Mr. Anderson, you must be fearless in defense of your creations and your genius, absolutely fearless, and not give in to sentimental considerations.

So – let’s get going, shall we?  Send the check for US$400,000 (advance on licensing fees) out by Fedex to Mickey by tomorrow and we’ll talk a little later in the day about merch, percentages, backend, soundtrack, ASCAP, etc. Mickey himself doesn’t need any kind of an advance but he’ll probably take a couple of points on your net career action.  It’s a little expensive – and Mickey certainly doesn’t need the bread – but just pay the points, okay?  It’s a lot better than the alternative.

We remain your abject servants,

W. Becker and D. Fagen AKA Steely Dan©

 

Wes and Owen in Sundance, Utah, 1993.

Wes and Owen in Sundance, Utah, 1993. Via

 

RE: The part about checking with Owen and Luke Wilson.

On July 17th of 2006, three days after the release of You, Me and Dupree, a movie starring, Owen Wilson, Steely Dan wrote to Luke, Owen’s brother. Posted on the official Steely Dan website, the band wonder if the film owed anything to their son Cousin Dupree.
to
Owen Wilson replied, referring to Steely Dan’s song Hey Nineteen:

“I have never heard the song ‘Cousin Dupree’ and I don’t even know who this gentleman, Mr. Steely Dan, is. I hope this helps to clear things up and I can get back to concentrating on my new movie, ‘HEY 19.”

 

steely dan letter owen wilson

Transcript:

The Residential Suites at Longworth
“Where Value is King — And So Are You!”

Corpus Christi TX

July 17, 2006

OPEN LETTER TO THE GREAT COMIC ACTOR, LUKE WILSON

Hey Luke –

Hey man – it’s, like, Don and Walt, we’re the guys from Steely Dan, the group, we won those Grammies that time, maybe you recall? You know, “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”? “Reelin’ in the Years?” “Hey Nineteen”? “Babylon Sisters”? Right, that’s us! So how’s it going?

Cool, we hope. We both really liked that “Bottle Rocket” movie that you and your brother did. We both thought it was way rocking! – even though the end was a little sad, you know, the overall thing was so great. In fact, it’s the only movie that you and your brother did that we can really agree on, the two of us… we usually like the same kind of things, but not always exactly the same things, if you can get to that.

Anyway, the reason we’re writing, aside from the fact that there’s no show today and we’re stuck in this dump in Corpus Christi – well, man, something kind of uncool has come to our attention and we’ve got to, like, do something or say something before the scene gets out of our control and something even more uncool happens. This doesn’t involve you directly, man, you seem pretty cool, even when you’re playing some pretty bogus parts in bad movies all the time, we realize that it’s not entirely your fault and that you’re entitled to have whatever low standards you want in terms of what’s cool to get involved with for the, you know, bread or whatever.

It’s your little brother Owen C. that’s the problem. We realize what a drag it is for you to have people coming to you about his lameness all the time and we’re really sorry to be doing the same thing – believe us, usually that’s not what we’re all about. But it so happens that your brother has gotten himself mixed up with some pretty bad Hollywood shlockmeisters and that he may be doing, like, permanent damage to his good creds and whatever reputation for coolness he may still have – let’s face it, ‘Bottle Rocket’ was a ways back already.

What we suspect may have happened is this: some hack writer or producer or whatever they call themselves in Malibu or Los Feliz apparently heard our Grammy winning song “Cousin Dupree” on the radio and thought, hey, man, this is a cool idea for a character in a movie or something. OK, so the “cousin” idea was no doubt eliminated so as not to offend the Fundamentalist ticket buyers in the Flyovers. Nevertheless, they. like, took our character, this real dog sleeping on the couch and all and put him in the middle of some hokey “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” ripoff story and then, when it came time to change the character’s name or whatever so people wouldn’t know what a rip the whole thing was, THEY DIDN’T EVEN BOTHER TO THINK UP A NEW FUCKING NAME FOR THE GUY!

Anyway, they got your little brother on the hook for this summer stinkbomb – I mean, check the reviews – and he’s using all his heaviest Owen C. licks to try and get this pathetic way-unfunny debacle off the ground and, in the end, no matter what he does or what happens at the box office, in the short run, he’s gonna go down hard for selling out like this and for trashing the work of some pretty heavy artists like us in the process. You know the first fucking thing you learn, right? Instant karma is a fact, Jack. So your spaced out little bro is generating some MAJOR harsh-ass karma for himself by fucking us over like this – I mean, we’re like totally out in the cold on this one – no ASCAP, no soundtrack, no consultant gig (like we got from the Farrelly Bros. when they used a bunch of songs in their movie, “You, Me and Irene” or whatever). No phone call, no muffin basket, no flowers, nothing.

And Luke, think of yourself, man. Do you want to go down as the brother of the Zal Yanovsky of the 21st century? Maybe this reference is a little obscure for someone of your generation (X? – Y? – ZERO?), but it would be worth your while to look it up in some counterculture encyclopedia or something. Because being the New Zallie’s brother is definitely NOT A GOOD THING to be.

OK, then. So not to worry, man. Check it – whatever redress we get from the suits at the studio, that’s strictly between our badass attorneys and theirs – we wouldn’t even think for a Hollywood minute of getting Owen mixed up in all that bullshit… After all, Donald even liked “The Big Bounce”. Really!

But, hey, Luke, man – there is one petite solid you could do for us at this time – do you think you could persuade your bro to do the right thing and come on down to our Concert at Irvine and apologize to our fans for this travesty? I mean, he wouldn’t have to grovel or eat shit or get down on his hands and knees and ask forgiveness – we don’t want him to do anything he’s not comfortable with – but he would have to cop to the fact that what he and his Hollywood gangster pals did was wrong and that he wishes he had never agreed to get involved with this turkey in the first place. He just tells the audience and the band and the crew that he made a bad mistake and that he’s sorry – is that so fucking hard? What the hell, you’re his big brother. If you lean on him a little bit, I’m sure he’ll do the right thing. You don’t owe him anything, after the way he and Gwynnie Paltrow double-timed you in “The Royal Tenenbaums”. So you just tell him – he’ll come down to Irvine, apologize on stage, then we’ll load him up with cool Steely merch and he can party with us and the band. Otherwise, if this business goes unresolved, there are some pretty heavy people who are upset about this whole thing and we can’t guarantee what kind of heat little Owen may be bringing down on himself. When negative energy like this attaches itself to someone because they allow themselves to get involved in stuff that is not spiritually aligned for them on all levels, there can sometimes be some very harsh trips that go down. Your bro may be creating an extremely retrograde reality matrix for himself with his whole sellout moviestar game and there may be some righteous dues to pay, amen.

For example, there’s this guy who works for us sometimes, he’s not necessarily the kind of folks you want to know or hang with, but, if you happen to get in a barfight or some kind of hassle in a foreign country, he’s your best fucking friend in the world. You guys must go to the movies a lot – you know what a Navy Seal is, right? Well, this dude’s like that, only he’s Russian. This particular guy – of course, he’s a big fan of ours, but he may not have even heard of “Bottle Rocket” – hardly anybody has – I mean, one time we saw this guy, WITH HIS BARE HANDS, do something so unspeakable that – but, hey man, let’s not even let it get that way, you know? Let’s just help Owen C. do what’s right, let’s play past this particular screwup, and then he can get back to his life and his family and his beautiful moviestar-style pad or whatever, none the worse for wear, and with some groovy new tee’s and hoodies and maybe a keyring or a coffee mug in the process. Alright? Well, alright!

Regards & etc. Don and Walt

P.S. Tell Owen to bring his bongos if he wants to sit in —

P.P.S. We’re now seeing that according to Wikipedia, Owen is older than you are. But you seem a lot more mature somehow… don’t you?”

Oct. 29, 1977, file photo, Walter Becker, left, and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan

Walter Becker, left, and Donald Fagen – October 29, 1977

 

In 2013 Donald Fagen in his book Eminent Hipsters, explained why he and Becker had written to Wes Anderson:

“I think one of the reasons we’re intrigued by Anderson is that he seems to be fixated on the sort of geekish, early-sixties adolscent experience that he’s too young to have had but that Walter and I actually lived through. And yet he nails the mood precisely, using comic exaggeration and fantasy to do the job. Although it was no picnic, it’s too bad everyone’s coming-of-age can’t take place in the early sixties. Seeing the scouts in Moonrise Kingdom, I was reminded of my own experience at Boy Scout camp. I remember spending a lot of time in my tent worrying over a huge pot of boiling water in which I was trying to brew just the right blend of herbal tea, mostly wintergreen picked in the forest, following some recipe in the Scout handbook.”

Via: Steely Dan, Letters of Note, Some Came Running