Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Steely Dan Lexicon - part 4: Donald Fagen's 'The Nightfly' album - rel. to '2001'


This post consists of a list of observations on the meanings of the lyrics to some of the songs on Donald Fagen's 1982 album, The Nightfly, and how they relate to Stanley Kubrick's 1968 movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Certain items in this post will be best understood by those who have read the analysis of 2001 on this blog.


Above left: The cover of Donald Fagen's 1982 album, The Nightfly.[a] Above center: Italian explorer Giovanni Battista Belzoni.[Image from the Wikipedia 'Giovanni Battista Belzoni' page, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.] Above right: The camera 'eye' of A Space Odyssey's HAL computer.

The Nightfly album lyrics here

Songs on The Nightfly album
1. I.G.Y. (What A Beautiful World) (listen on YouTube): According to the NASA IGY page, it was from the IGY (International Geophysical Year) rocket and satellite research that the US developed its space program. Therefore, it is not completely surprising that the lyrics in this song have to do with 2001: A Space Odyssey's (fictional) voyage in space.

I.G.Y. begins with the lyrics, "Standing tough under stars and stripes / We can tell / This dream's in sight." The way that Fagen, the song's vocalist, says, "We can tell", sounds similar to the words 'we count down'; this, taken together with "stars and stripes", is a reference to Discovery One, the spaceship in A Space Odyssey, and to the fact that it is a United States spaceship. It is aboard Discovery One that the two main characters in Kubrick's film, astronauts David Bowman and Frank Poole, are voyaging toward Jupiter. "This dream's in sight" is a reference to how a portion of Kubrick's movie depicts a dream David Bowman experiences, and to how the movie is dominated by visuals ("sight"), with relatively little dialogue. In the verse of I.G.Y. that reads, "Under sea by rail", "Under sea" refers to the fact that part of Bowman's journey on Discovery One, is symbolic of the three days that the biblical prophet Jonah spent in the belly of a whale.

Top left: A Space Odyssey's Discovery One spaceship, viewed from the rear. Top right: Frank Poole (left) and David Bowman, aboard Discovery One. Above left: By the point in A Space Odyssey pictured here, Bowman is the only living man left aboard Discovery One. Bowman is here about to leave Discovery One in an EVA pod, symbolically depicting the biblical Jonah (represented by Bowman) being vomited out from the whale's belly, the whale here being represented by Discovery One itself. Above right: This room appointed in Louis XVI-style is part of a dream Bowman experiences, late in A Space Odyssey.

The I.G.Y. lyrics that say, "Get your ticket to that wheel in space / While there's time", are to be interpreted as follows: The "wheel in space" is a reference to the round, rotating space station from A Space Odyssey, and the "ticket" being referred to is a movie ticket - to A Space Odyssey. The lyrics that read, "The fix is in / You'll be a witness to that game of chance in the sky", refer to how the odds are stacked against Bowman and Poole, who have been set up to fail in their mission to Jupiter, by mission control on Earth and by HAL, the Discovery One on-board computer. These lyrics are also a reference to the billiard ball 'metaphor' in A Space Odyssey ("game of chance"): Frank Poole, wearing a yellow spacesuit, is hit by the white EVA Pod, which looks like a billiards cue ball, and which is here under the control of HAL. This attack sends Poole drifting off into space. In the British-style version of billiards known as blackball, the object balls (the balls to be pocketed) are solid red and solid yellow.

Above left: The round, rotating space station from Kubrick's film, orbiting Earth. Above right: Frank Poole and his EVA Pod go careening off into space, after Poole has been struck by the pod (which is here under HAL's control). Note that Poole is wearing a yellow spacesuit.

Above left: In accordance with the above-mentioned billiard ball metaphor in A Space Odyssey, David Bowman wears a red spacesuit. Here, he is getting ready to perform a repair on Discovery One's communications satellite antenna. Above right: The rack set-up for the billiards game known as blackball.[Image from the Wikipedia 'Blackball (pool)' page, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.]

The lyrics, "A just machine to make big decisions / Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision", are a reference to the computer ("machine") HAL, who has control over almost all aspects of Discovery One's operations. HAL is intelligent enough to make decisions. However, he has been intentionally wrongly programmed for the mission by scientists on Earth, who have evil intent, so "just" and "compassion" in the I.G.Y. lyrics are being used sarcastically.

"We'll be eternally free yes and eternally young" is a reference to the end of A Space Odyssey, when the 'starchild' (the fetus inside an orb of light, shown at left) is born (thus "young") - with "eternally free" being spoken sarcastically, since the reality is that in A Space Odyssey, one thing being symbolized is Kubrick's prediction that we'll eventually be controlled by certain evil parties (elite elite hermaphroditic Jews, certain evil high-ranking Mormons and Freemasons, and certain other groups, as detailed in the Space Odyssey analysis).

2. The Nightfly (title song) (listen on YouTube): The lyrics at the very beginning of the song, "I'm Lester the Nightfly / Hello Baton Rouge", indicate that the D.J., Lester, is in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but he (voiced by Fagen) later says, "With jazz and conversation / From the foot of Mt. Belzoni ", and Mount Belzoni isn't in Louisiana, it's in Mississippi. The fact that Lester is 'fooling' us about his geographical location, is a reference to how the Space Odyssey Jupiter mission, which is being broadcast to audiences on Earth, is designed to fool these audiences, in the sense that not all of the mission is actually being broadcast from Discovery One - some of it is being televised from the above-mentioned space station. Also, the way Fagen says, "foot of Mt. Belzoni", makes it sound like 'foot-in-mouth Belzoni'; Giovanni Battista Belzoni (shown in the center screencap at the top of this post) was famously clumsy. "So you say there's a race / Of men in the trees": The second verse here can also be heard as, 'Of men in latrines', which is a reference to Heywood Floyd preparing to use the zero-gravity toilet in A Space Odyssey (by reading its instructions).

Heywood Floyd reads the instructions for the zero gravity toilet in A Space Odyssey.

3. Ruby Baby (Fagen's cover of the song originally performed by The Drifters) (listen on YouTube): The use of the word "Baby" in the song's title, and the use of it in the lyrics as well, are references to Kubrick's 'some women are childlike' theme in A Space Odyssey. The verse, "I'm gonna steal you away from all those guys", is a reference to Kubrick's 'women is space as prostitutes' theme in the same film. Note that The Drifters originally released Ruby Baby in 1956, before Kubrick's movie was released; but nevertheless, Fagen included the song on his album and intends for the lyrics, as he sings them, to be the references to Kubrick's film as described.

The fact that this stewardess takes small 'baby-steps' as she walks around the circular passageway in the lunar lander spacecraft in A Space Odyssey, is meant by Kubrick to be a metaphor for the idea, that certain women are childlike. (see YouTube video here).

a. Image from the Wikipedia 'The Nightfly' page; "Donald Fagen - The Nightfly", licensed under fair use via Wikipedia. The cover art copyright is believed to belong to the label, Warner Bros., or the artist(s) who produced the recording or created the cover artwork.

All song lyrics in this post are believed to be used in accordance with the U.S. Copyright Fair Use Act (Title 17 U.S. Code).

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