Steely Dan: Bodhisattva




Steely Dan


Countdown to Ecstasy (MCA 11887)

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Donald Fagen (vocals, piano, synthesizer), Walter Becker (bass), Jeff Baxter (guitar), Denny Dias (guitar),

Jim Hodder (drums)


Composed by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen


Recorded: Santa Monica, CA, early 1973


Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

"Bodhisattva" is an excellent track dealing with a somewhat obscure topic in a Western world that, according to Steely dan frontman Donald Fagen a few years later, welcomes its citizens with "sausage and beer."

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a bodhisattva is, "a being that compassionately refrains from entering nirvana in order to save others and is worshiped as a deity in Mahayana Buddhism." However, you have to question the beliefs of the narrator here, who surely needs proof that Buddhism works to even begin to believe in it. Sarcastically, vocalist Donald Fagen instructs whomever acts as his "shakabuku" (or initiator) to take him "by the hand" and lead him to verifiable proof of the religion's powers. Amidst few lyrics, the only references that the track makes to anything at all includes mentions of Japan and china, but this "china" is not the country but an allusion to the porcelain that is manufactured in that nation. Hence, in stating that he would like to see "the sparkle of your china," the lyricist states that he basically could never believe in what he considers the "porcelain god" of organized religion. In the final verse, a note about cults and religious fanatics surfaces in the words "I'm going to sell my house in town"-a commentary which could mean that Fagen had checked out the scene and could not relate to those who sacrifice everything for religion's sake.

Exactly why the main character is so skeptical is the question; certainly, he had been led to explore the tenets of the practice, but, upon meeting those ideologies, a complete rejection seems in order. While the guitar duel between Denny Dias and Jeff Baxter creates a jazz firestorm within, it aligns with lyrics that reflect upon the piety by which the participants in Buddhism believe. The person who was termed a "Razor Boy" and one of Hollywood's "Show Biz Kids" on the very same album, though, may not be quite ready for such a major change in his life to occur.

However, on Countdown to Ecstasy, it does eventually occur; the CD's final track, "King of the World," finds the speaker assailing "assassins, cons, and rapers," which shows that, while the world peace offered by the Buddha may not have been up his alley, at least he has learned to embrace some form of morality by the end.

Reviewer: Marcus Singletary

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