Steely Dan: Rose Darling

Dec 11th, 2012 by Nicholas Pell in Music

Some of you might know that I’m a bit of a Steely Dan fan. The obsessioncomes and goes, but my passion for the Dan never goes away entirely. I’m currently on one of my periodic Dan benders, having listened to over 100 Steely Dan songs in the last seven days, according to my Last.fm page. I’ve decided to re-attempt an abortive project I once began to talk about every Steely Dan song (before the breakup — I don’t count the newer shit). Let’s begin with “Rose Darling” off of the Katy Lied album.

One thing about Steely Dan lyrics is that they’re more like a carefully crafted novel than a pop song. There are double meanings, triple meanings, quintuple meanings, dramatic irony and nuanced characters. One place where this lyrical quirk produces interesting results is the band’s total lack of a love song. They don’t have one. I challenge any man to prove me wrong.

“Rose Darling” is an excellent example of what the band write instead of love songs. When you listen to it the first time, it sounds like a very sweet little love song with a soaring chorus (“With only you and what I’ve found / We’ll wear the weary hours down”). Upon further inspection, however, you will find something far more sinister lurking under the surface. As we will see, this is a trope common to all Steely Dan “love” songs.

Rather than a song about the joys of spending time with a loved one, “Rose Darling” is about a man who hates his wife (whom he calls “Snake Mary”) and can’t wait for a little time alone with “Rose Darling.” For those of you who were either never in 6th grade or are incapable of making such connections, “Rose Darling” is none other than Miss Rosie Palm. Thus, rather than a love song, “Rose Darling” is a subtle paean to the joys of masturbation and sexual release in a dead and empty relationship.

That’s how the Dan do love; Dark, personal and above all, real. We’ll continue to explore the Dan catalog in future installments of this series

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