Music Analysis:
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Deacon Blues - The Loser's Camelot
Album: Aja, 1977)

Reverting to my hypothesis about the mysteriously ironic relationship between the two songs, it is mentioned at the beginning of this analysis, that in spite of the striking archetypal and structural similarities shared by Deacon Blues and Hotel California, there is one striking departure that I wish to use to prove the basis of the said hypothesis: that is Deacon Blues provides a solution to the problem posed in Hotel California.

Focusing on the problem posed in Hotel California, it is essentially about why and how people become prisoners of evil, enslaving systems, whether they are professional, political, financial or spiritual. On many occasions Don Henley said that while it is true that the song is about their trials and tribulations of life in L.A., it could be quite easily extrapolated to be a portrait of the American nation and its cultural and spiritual decadence as well. It is difficult to imagine if he intended it to be so at the point of writing the song, or later on realized that it can be a larger narration about anybody living in the United States and consequently is victimized by the decadent culture it glorifies to its people. The last two verses (fifth and sixth) starting mirrors on the ceiling, pink champagne on ice capture the dramatic moments of the protagonist’s fast realization of his apparent imprisonment in an evil system, effectively summed up with the last line of the sixth verse – you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!

What could a possible solution to this problem of spiritual enslavement be? What is the solution that Deacon Blues provides to this problem of enslavement? Contrast the aforementioned ending of HC with the ending of DB; there is a symbolic reason why Fagen and Becker ends Deacon Blues with the fifth verse without going into a sixth, and it is highlighted by the last verse that begins with this is the night of the expanding man and ending with ‘this brother is free, I’ll be what I want to be.’ A sixth verse is omitted, on purpose, to signify their liberation from a continuous cycle of social derision and ridicule that they had bravely endured in order to move forward and achieve their vision, for now they have achieved their idealistic vision and earned the fame and respect of the who’s who of tinsel town. They have delivered on the ‘crazy schemes’ few believed they could achieve and silenced all the naysayers. It is essentially, an expression of spiritual liberation from refusing to being governed by the dictates of peer pressure and social conditioning and the feeling of vindication for sustaining your courage not to blindly follow the blind, but to see for yourself what your strengths and weaknesses are, deciding what you want to do, and having faith and clarity of vision that your dreams can be achieved.

The discussions and comparative analyses explain the essential difference between the two autobiographies to be this: the protagonist in DB started off developing a clear vision in his mind, which was oriented in his love of music and creating the best music he possibly could. Business was to him a necessary evil to achieve his vision – a vehicle to get to his goal – and he didn’t care much for chasing women, money or fame, and always kept his eye on the dream. In HC, however, the protagonist embarks on his adventure in search of an opportunity to make his mark in the world through the vehicle of music, and gets caught up in a plentiful supply of cash, power, women, and fame that were hitherto unavailable to him. He too recognizes the symbols of success as per his conditioned consciousness and is soon to follow the embedded dictates of popular culture in being consumed by it all. And therein lie the roots of their contrasting fates.

Breathtakingly, what seals my hypothesis about this mysterious relationship between the two songs is the stunning similarity in the musical components of the two songs. The musical introductions and the basic chord progression of the two songs can be broken down as follows.

 

DB – Musical Introduction
Cmaj7     | Gsus2/B  | Bbmaj7   | Fsus2/A  |
Dmaj7     | Asus2/C# | Cmaj7    | Gsus2/B  |
Ebmaj7    | E7#9     | Followed by an ascending arpeggio of 7 notes: G, G#, D, G, G#, D, G

 

HC – Musical Introduction
Bm         | F#
A          | E
G          | D
Em         | F#



Musical Introduction – Discussion and Comparative Analysis
There are three specific attributes with regard to the musical introduction that needs to be highlighted. Firstly, in the above introductory chord progressions of Deacon Blues and Hotel California, each pair of chords are based on descending perfect 4th intervals, which are not very common in popular music. For example, in Deacon Blues, the progressions C – G, Bb – F, and D – A, are all built on descending perfect 4ths, and so are the progressions B – F#, A – E, and G – D in Hotel California, which is indeed a remarkable similarity, and the first of many striking resemblances that will be highlighted. If the chord progression from B – F# was inverted                                                  to F# – B, it would yield a natural dominant chord resolving to the root or tonic chord. Therefore, the inverted chord progression built on the descending perfect 4th interval can be viewed symbolically, as a chord progression, which moves against resolution; this is an important quality and the first attribute of the chord progression that will be noted with regard to both songs in proving the said hypothesis.

Secondly, taking into account how the chord progression is arranged vertically, you would notice that in DB, the root note of the first chord of each horizontal line of the chord progression moves forward by a full or half note: the root of the first chord of the first horizontal is C, the second horizontal is D (full note above C), and the third horizontal is Eb (half note above D). Taking the same vertical arrangement in HC, you would see the root note of the first chord of each horizontal line of the chord progression moves backward by one note: that is from B to A to G to E. This vertical movement of the chord progression as an ascending (or advancing) bass line in DB and a descending (or retreating) bass line in HC can be defined as the second attribute.

Thirdly, looking at the horizontal progression of the chords in DB, each line is arranged in two sets of chord pairs, where each chord pair moves against resolution like pointed out in the first attribute above. The second pair of chords in each horizontal line moves down a full or half note from the first pair. For example, in the first horizontal you have the first chord pair C – G being followed by Bb – F, where the note C in the first pair coming down a half note to Bb, or D – A being followed by C – G with D moving down a full note to C on the second horizontal. This relationship between the two paired chord sets follows the same retreating pattern highlighted in the aforementioned second attribute of HC, and this will be the third attribute.

In the discussion and analysis of the two songs, I stated that the protagonist of Hotel California was driven by a socially conditioned concept of success whereas his counterpart in Deacon Blues had defied socially conditioned models of success and had found his own unique dream to realize. The two songs are about their respective stories on how they went about achieving their ambitions. Would it be accurate, therefore, to state that the protagonist in HC has got entangled in a vicious trap that was setup by the Music Industry, in their attempt to exploit young and naive artists in order for them to maximize profits? And they accomplished this by conditioning their expectations through mass media and popular culture from a young age and then, once the talented and ambitious among them find their way to tinsel town, they would control them by supplying them with all the money, women, and luxuries that were promised to them, until they are firmly in their grip?

In my opinion, the first attribute of the chord progression described above (move against resolution) conveys the effect of social conditioning on an individual’s psyche; essentially, it communicates how popular culture programs the minds of youth to seek solutions for their happiness outside of themselves, which is designed to make them thirst for more and more in material things to satisfy themselves, and thereby cleverly diverting their attention from turning inward to find true happiness that is available within. In other words, by creating culturally imposed demands to maintain a prescribed image of a successful person, youth are conditioned to shun the potential they have within them to discover themselves and find the true peace of knowing yourself.

The second attribute of HC (retreating) conveys the long-term effect of the first attribute on one’s psyche. Once it is fed into the subconscious that one cannot act outside of the dictates of popular culture, which encourages the display of success in material things, and discourages listening to the inner voice of your own heart that tells you something very unique to yourself, one naturally starts to retreat; but because the whole of society, that has been shaped by popular culture are also following the same retreating path, one may not notice the backward movement; that is until a few brave souls, such as the protagonist in DB, starts to rebel against culturally imposed demands and follow the dictates of their inner voice.

What is incredibly fascinating is how DB captures both attribute one and two of HC in its chord progression. Looking at a single horizontal line, you would see the identical pattern of retreating chord movement against resolution seen in HC, the only difference being while there are three sets of pairs in HC (B – F#, A – E, G – D), there are only two sets of pairs in DB (C – G, Bb – F). However, two sets of pairs is sufficient to establish what I believe DB is trying to communicate: the protagonist in DB was a subject in the same social laboratory that his counterpart in HC was, and he was subject to the same conditioning that his counterpart in HC fell prey to. Yet, in the second attribute of DB (the advancement of the vertical by a full or half note), you see how the protagonist in DB is trying to push himself against the retreating current of society (third attribute), which is trying to condition him to follow the accepted social norms by constantly leveling jibes and taunts at him. Every time he pushes forward the force of the retreating current, which moves against resolution, pulls him back as well; then he courageously exerts himself and pushes further than he had been before, but he is pulled back again, for he too, is still not completely unaffected by the conditioning. He perseveres with courage knowing very well that to be a victim of the ridicule is to give up his vision and conform to mediocrity.

His persistence pays off eventually, as by the third horizontal, he pushes forward with great difficulty (move to Eb), and he finally breaks away from the pull of the current and changes direction completely (move from Eb to E changes the descending perfect 4th movement); a bulb goes off in his head and he now sees himself and his vision so clearly that no sinister move from without can affect him anymore. This final chord movement from Eb to E which seems to liberate the protagonist from the cycle of conditioned manipulation can be contrasted with the final chord movement from E to F# in HC’s chord progression, which ironically helps reset the cycle of conditioned manipulation. These qualities are both quite remarkably consistent with their respective songs’ themes that it begs the question: could the artists have possibly intended them? Or is there a higher intelligence that is communicating this message through the artists?

What is even more astonishing is how Fagen manages to replicate the moment of liberation that was present in the fifth verse of the lyric component, at the precise location in the musical introduction as well. For example, matching one verse in the lyric component with one paired chord in the introduction, one can see how the musical introduction too breaks from the cycle on the fifth paired chord (Eb – E); and immediately there is an ascension of 7 notes, which maybe how Fagen wished to symbolize the feeling of ascending his stairway to heaven at that special moment of defying social conditioning and discovering himself.

It is remarkable how Fagen could have.

As much as I am able to believe that Don Fagen has the creative genius to have written this incredible song with its startling references across its lyric and music components, I have no illusions whatsoever that whatever references and relationships that I am alluding to between Deacon Blues and Hotel California were intentionally built in by Fagen; for that would certainly be beyond my comprehension. It is true that Henley and Frey borrowed ideas and styles from Fagen and Becker for Hotel California and tipped their hats to Steely Dan as a tribute, but the only time Fagen gave The Eagles something resembling a nod was in the song Everything You Did, and that too admittedly was not meant to be a compliment! The connections that I am making between Deacon Blues and Hotel California as well as their source of inspiration remain a mystery to me, but in their beautifully abstract symmetry, I firmly believe there is a profound message: if we do not have the courage to listen to our inner voice and follow our own heart, but instead continue to follow the dictates of our social conditioning, which are engineered for selfish ends, sooner or later we will end up as prisoners of an evil system.

The great German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer said, “We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves in order to be like other people.” Donald Fagen and Walter Becker never wanted to be like other people. They always wanted to be unique and follow their own visions and dreams, and to them it mattered very little what other people thought about them. They took the time to find and listen to their inner voice, for there is no clearer voice to follow than the one within, if you can find the courage to shut out the noise from without.

“The protagonist is not a musician. He just sort of imagines that that would be one of the mythic forms of loserdom to which he might aspire, and you know, who’s to say that he is not right? A thing like that”, said Walter Becker about the song, in his own sardonic way.

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