I was listening to an old Steely Dan playlist the other night, and yes, I’m that cliché old guy who still listens to a band that I fell in love with more than 40 years ago. The first song that came on was “Rose Darling,” which I’ve always associated with Rob. It has nothing to do with the music (pristine, as always) or lyrics (it’s about sex, I think), but there’s a good story behind it.
I had tickets to see Walter (R.I.P.) and Donald at Jones Beach one summer night a million years ago, and a few hours before the concert began Caryn and I got into an argument. I have no memory of what we were fighting about, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was basically an excuse for her to bail on the show. Let’s just say that I had dragged her to see plenty of stuff that she didn’t want to see, and it was just one of those nights where she didn’t want to be dragged. Zach was away at summer camp, so I asked Robbie—he was always Robbie back then—if he wanted to come with me. He couldn’t have been more than eight or nine years old.
“Sure, I don’t want you to go alone,” I remember him saying. A few years later, Zach would say the exact same thing before accompanying me to see “Snorah” Jones, a nickname we bestowed on her that evening when we were sitting in the front row and Zach fell asleep.
So we were driving to Jones Beach (no relation to Snorah) and I was playing a Steely Dan mix in the car just to whet Robbie’s appetite, which really didn’t need whetting since I played their music on an endless loop whenever we were in the car together. Robbie and Zach sorta-kinda-almost liked the Dan back then, but it had more to do with osmosis and the fact that they hadn’t yet developed their own impeccable musical tastes.
As we pulled into the parking lot, Steely Dan songs were echoing out of virtually every car, all turned up to 11. We joined right in, blasting “Josie” and sang/screamed the lyric, “When Josie comes home, so good / She’s the pride of the neighborhood…”
We parked and made our way toward the stadium. Sharing the things we know and love with those of my kind (sorry, sometimes I spontaneously speak in Steely Dan-ish), I put my arm around Robbie’s shoulder, and I remember feeling overwhelmingly happy that he was there with me. It was one of those perfect summer nights with a warm breeze coming off the ocean that becomes even more perfect in your memory as the years go by.
Right before we got to security, some half-drunk, wholly stoned woman wearing a “Two Against Nature” T-shirt turned around and kneeled down to talk with Robbie.
“You are just the cutest! Are you a Steely Dan fan like your dad?” she asked.
“Yes, I am,” he said.
“What’s your favorite song?” she asked.
Now Robbie could have answered with any number of songs. He could’ve said “Reeling in the Years” or “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” or any other SD radio hit. Or he could’ve said “Peg” or “Josie,” songs that I included on almost every mixtape I ever made. He could’ve said “FM” or “My Old School” because one of those songs was probably the favorite of the woman who asked him what his favorite song was. But he didn’t name any of those.
“Rose Darling,” he said nonchalantly, blowing the woman’s mind. She looked at me, nodding her head and up and down and then just burst out laughing. “Your dad taught you right, little boy!
Now any major dude with half a heart surely will tell you my friend that “Rose Darling” is an excellent choice for an all-time favorite song, but it’s still a pretty obscure deep track from “Katy Lied” (and it’s not even my favorite on the album, which would be “Dr. Wu”). To this day, I have no idea why he chose it, but since then, “Rose Darling” was always in heavy rotation whenever I thought of Rob.
For as long as I can remember, Steely Dan’s music has always amplified whatever I was feeling at the time. I’ve played it when I was really happy and when I was really sad. “Rose Darling” will forever be a happy song. Maybe that’s why, when I tried to listen to it the other night, I couldn’t seem to get past the first few bars.
“Deacon Blues” has always been the go-to for sad, and like the song’s narrator, I too cried when I wrote this, and also when Donald Fagen sang:
“This brother is free. I’ll be what I want to be.”
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