"Deacon Blues" as written by Walter Carl Becker and Donald Jay Fagen....
This is the day of the expanding man
That shape is my shade
There where I used to stand
It seems like only yesterday
I gazed through the glass
At ramblers, wild gamblers
That's all in the past

You call me a fool
You say it's a crazy scheme
This one's for real
I already bought the dream
So useless to ask me why
Throw a kiss and say goodbye
I'll make it this time
I'm ready to cross that fine line

Learn to work the saxophone
I play just what I feel
Drink Scotch whiskey all night long
And die behind the wheel
They got a name for the winners in the world
I want a name when I lose
They call Alabama the Crimson Tide
Call me Deacon Blues

My back to the wall
A victim of laughing chance
This is for me
The essence of true romance
Sharing the things we know and love
With those of my kind
Libations
Sensations
That stagger the mind

I crawl like a viper
Through these suburban streets
Make love to these women
Languid and bittersweet
I rise when the sun goes down
Cover every game in town
A world of my own
I'll make it my home sweet home

Learn to work the saxophone
I play just what I feel
Drink Scotch whiskey all night long
And die behind the wheel
They got a name for the winners in the world
I want a name when I lose
They call Alabama the Crimson Tide
Call me Deacon Blues

This is the night of the expanding man
I take one last drag
As I approach the stand
I cried when I wrote this song
Sue me if I play too long
This brother is free
I'll be what I want to be

I learned to work the saxophone
I play just what I feel
Drink Scotch whiskey all night long
And die behind the wheel
They got a name for the winners in the world
I want a name when I lose
They call Alabama the Crimson Tide
Call me Deacon Blues


Lyrics submitted by jachschmere, edited by raybrown5

"Deacon Blues" as written by Walter Carl Becker Donald Jay Fagen

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Deacon Blues song meanings
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  • +12
    My InterpretationHello Friends,
    Some of you may find this a little over the top, but I have to do it. After 30 years of listening to this song, I think I have it finally:

    "This is the day of the expanding man"
    Visualize The Hulk or some other comic strip character, expanding so much that he bursts out of his clothing, as a completely new being. Our hero is changing so fast that his former lifestyle cannot contain him any longer.

    "That shape is my shade, There where I used to stand"
    He has stepped "out of the light" of his former life, but he can still look back and see his shadow. Those are the "old" relationships and routines that are still fresh in his mind. Maybe some guilt or remorse or fear is still haunting him.

    "It seems like only yesterday, I gazed through the glass,
    At ramblers, wild gamblers, That's all in the past"
    He recalls the days when he could only "gaze through the glass", and dream of making the changes he has just decided to make. It was all romance and fantasy, he perceived the world he lusted after as a "wild gamble", not within the realm of anything really possible.


    "You call me a fool, You say it's a crazy scheme,
    This one's for real, I already bought the dream"
    His fantasy has turned into his new reality. He has "bought his dream" with his boldness to step away from his boring, responsible life and take the big chance to be a musician and live the lush life.

    "So useless to ask me why, Throw a kiss and say goodbye
    I'll make it this time, I'm ready to cross that fine line"
    There is no answer to "why". He has to do it, and he knows he will make it. And what is "making it", other than successfully crossing over "that fine line". He has tried before and was unsuccessful.

    "I'll learn to work the saxophone, and I'll play just what I feel
    Drink Scotch whiskey all night long, And die behind the wheel"
    He is not suicidal, oh no. He is caught in the morbid/ romantic imagery of a Charlie Parker, a Billie Holiday, a Jimi Hendrix, a Janis Joplin. A hero of music, who plays or sings with with immortal power. And then dies young, a victim of the ultimate self-destructiveness that was part of his or her vast creative engine.

    "They got a name for the winners in the world
    And I want a name when I lose"
    He knows he is second rate, he will never be a great musician, one of the winners. But he will be a loser who had the courage to be himself, to declare his name against all odds.
    "They call Alabama the Crimson Tide, Call me Deacon Blues"
    I believe this is a reference to a college football team that never won a game. It somehow gained a mythic power to its reputation as a loser. You can have a name, even when you lose.


    "My back to the wall, A victim of laughing chance"
    His choice is no longer his own, he is a victim of the force of chance, which has him "against the wall", with nowhere else to go.

    "This is for me, The essence of true romance
    Sharing the things we know and love, With those of my kind
    Libations, Sensations, That stagger the mind"
    A libation is an ancient ritualistic pouring of water on an altar, known to many religions and cultures, and is well documented in the Old Testament. He is pouring out his soul as a "libation service" to his new religion. His new spiritual world is full of sensations that are so powerful and real that they "stagger the mind"

    "I'll rise when the sun goes down, Cover every game in town
    A world of my own, I'll make it my home sweet home"
    As a man of the night, a working musician, he will inhabit a new world, one that he can call his own, because he sets his own goals, works his own schedule, far away from the business world. It will be his new home, where he will feel comfortable, safe and loved.

    "This is the night of the expanding man"
    So the day has turned into night. The "day" was the preparation, the drama of the changes he made. The night is the real thing. His first gig as a working musician, now that he has quit his job, severed many relationships, and perhaps has moved to a new town.
    "I take one last drag, As I approach the stand"
    One last drag of the spiritual cigarette, the last memory of his former life. Then he puts out the cig, goes up to the bandstand, and he is ready to start a new life.

    "I cried when I wrote this song, Sue me if I play too long
    This brother lives free, I'll be what I want to be"
    Please forgive him the sentimentality of his rare emotional state at his debut, which is likely to be expressed in a sax solo which is much too long to be musically appropriate. However, he wants us to know that he has finally "made it". He is free at last. His long solo will be a testament to his new self.

    Let's all wish him well.
    jake58on October 05, 2012   Link
  • +8
    General CommentIt's about a guy who's been climbing up the corporate ladder ("the expanding man"), only to realize that he doesn't respect this way of life. So he becomes a bluesman, and declares himself a "free" person, and tries to cope with his loneliness and misery by martyring himself (possibly explaining the word "deacon," a church reference). For the longest time I thought "They call Alabama the Crimson Tide" was the worst lyric I'd ever heard, until I discovered what it really meant. Of course it's over the top, that's the whole point: Modern society, with its ridiculous values, defines a winner as a football team. The protagonist in this song mocks these ideals, yet he is unhappy because he feels he has no place in the world.

    This song means more to me every time I hear it. The sax solo ain't bad, either.
    satelliteon April 11, 2005   Link
  • +6
    General CommentThat song is pure genius ! And the chorus is one of the most terrific I've ever heard !
    About the lyrics, I agree that this song is certainly autobiographical. I would just mention what a journalist called Stewart Mason wrote about it on allmusic.com :
    "Fagen has said that the narrator is a middle class suburban kid newly besotted by jazz and Beat culture, and indeed, listening carefully suggests just the sort of over-romantic naiveté and general cluelessness that one would expect from someone attracted to a lifestyle he does not yet understand. The great opening line of the chorus, "Learn to work the saxophone," suggests that he doesn't even have his verbs straight yet! And yet, even though there's certainly a level of mockery to the lyrics, Fagen's performance is so achingly sincere that one assumes that the middle-class kid in the song might be some combination of his and Becker's teenage selves."
    He explains it much better than I could do with my broken English...
    The Dog That Ate...on September 30, 2006   Link
  • +4
    General CommentWow, some good discussion over this, one of if not the best Dan tunes ever.

    This tune's meaning is LARGE. Most of you I think are right, but there's more. Highly spiritual.

    The 'expanding man' is a man who has had a realization and has resolved to expand himself - in all ways. Many paths in life teach asceticism - depriving yourself of luxuries or indulgences to reach enlightnment. The protagonist has the insight, as many nowadays are (we're approaching global enlightenment folks, try as Bush might to thwart it) that the very fact of being alive is a luxury and an indulgence. He used to look through the glass at 'gamblers, wild ramblers' but that's all in the past. He now understands that THEY are the ones who are ALIVE. Truly alive. It's not about sin, it's about worshipping life - with wine, women, and song. God wants you to get nekkid, get loaded, and get expanded.

    The last verse shows us that this whole tune is the reflection of the man after the transformation. He's giving us a memoir to show us that the transformation seems painful, damaging, wrong, all that. But - the judgement of the 'court' (the rest of unenlightened humanity) means nothing to him. He cried when he wrote this song - meaning yes, there is tragedy even among those who live life to the fullest, but that is also part of the path and must be accepted. "Sue him if he plays too long" - go ahead and do what you will to people like him, it won't matter.

    This brother is free - he'll be what he wants to be. The causality goes both ways between those two facts. Be what you want to be, and you will be free.

    And when you find others who are free, you can share with them sensations which stagger the mind, but only with those of your kind - the enlightened. A whole new world opens up to those who open themselves. And it's indescribable to the rest.

    Listen to the Dan, get your freak on, live forever.

    Nuf said.
    rainwalkon March 25, 2007   Link
  • +4
    General CommentI'll put in my two cents. 1st verse tells how our character never considered himself a loser as he looked out on the 'ramblers and gamblers,' but he finds something romantic about the concept and decides he wants to be a blues man. He thinks there's nothing more to it than picking up the sax and putting feeling into it, drinking too much, and dying early as a loser with a name. He wants to have a good, exciting time, talk with the others like him, get with all the ladies, and play at night.

    I think the song is much more sarcastic than many have given it credit for. The narrator isn't supposed to be someone freeing himself from society; he is naive. The idea of someone reinventing their life as a musician, not for the idea of playing music but for living hard and dying a loser, is more than a little ridiculous and should not be desirable.

    Interesting notes on the football references. Very cool songwriting.
    larrysasquatchon August 14, 2009   Link
  • +3
    General CommentI can truly relate to this song. It's essentially about a guy who wants to escape his mundane life.
    Bortherman_711on July 10, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThe narrator is dead. He is going to heaven. A shade is a ghost.

    This is the day
    Of the expanding man
    That shape is my shade
    There where I used to stand

    He decides he is going to be a jazz saxaphonist. He buys into the lifestyle. He has a certain amount of success. But he gets drunk and dies in a car accident... then narrates the song as his spirit leaves his body, expanding into the universal conciousness. He is a "loser" because he died in a foolish accident.
    Chawkeon April 06, 2007   Link
  • +2
    Song FactDonald Fagen and Walter Becker explain Deacon Blues in a WSJ article:

    As midlife-crisis songs go, Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues” ranks among the most melodic and existential. Recorded for the album “Aja” in 1977, the song details the bored existence of a ground-down suburbanite and his romantic fantasy of life as a jazz saxophonist.

    Written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen in 1976, “Deacon Blues” was released in 1977 on Steely Dan’s album “Aja,” which in the fall reached No. 3 on Billboard’s album chart, where it remained for seven consecutive weeks. The song also was a hit single in early 1978.

    With Steely Dan appearing in New York at the Beacon Theatre from Oct. 6-17, Mr. Fagen, Mr. Becker, guitarist Larry Carlton and saxophonists Tom Scott and Pete Christlieb recalled the writing, arranging and recording of the cult classic. Edited from interviews:

    Donald Fagen: Walter and I wrote “Deacon Blues” in Malibu, Calif., when we lived out there. Walter would come over to my place and we’d sit at the piano. I had an idea for a chorus: If a college football team like the University of Alabama could have a grandiose name like the “Crimson Tide,” the nerds and losers should be entitled to a grandiose name as well.

    Walter Becker: Donald had a house that sat on top of a sand dune with a small room with a piano. From the window, you could see the Pacific in between the other houses. “Crimson Tide” didn’t mean anything to us except the exaggerated grandiosity that’s bestowed on winners. “Deacon Blues” was the equivalent for the loser in our song.

    Mr. Fagen: When Walter came over, we started on the music, then started filling in more lyrics to fit the story. At that time, there had been a lineman with the Los Angeles Rams and the San Diego Chargers, Deacon Jones. We weren’t serious football fans, but Deacon Jones’s name was in the news a lot in the 1960s and early ‘70s, and we liked how it sounded. It also had two syllables, which was convenient, like “Crimson.” The name had nothing to do with Wake Forest’s Demon Deacons or any other team with a losing record. The only Deacon I was familiar with in football at the time was Deacon Jones.

    Mr. Becker: Unlike a lot of other pop songwriting teams, we worked on both the music and lyrics together. It’s not words and music separately, but a single flow of thought. There’s a lot of riffing back and forth, trying to top each other until we’re both happy with the result. We’ve always had a similar conception and sense of humor.

    Mr. Fagen: Also, Walter and I both have jazz backgrounds, so our models are different than many pop songwriters. With “Deacon Blues,” as with many of our other songs, we conceived of the tune as more of a big-band arrangement, with different instrumental sections contributing a specific sound at different points. We developed “Deacon Blues” in layers: first came the rhythm tracks, then vocals and finally horns.
    Many people have assumed the song is about a guy in the suburbs who ditches his life to become a musician. In truth, I’m not sure the guy actually achieves his dream. He might not even play the horn. It’s the fantasy life of a suburban guy from a certain subculture. Many of our songs are journalistic. But this one was more autobiographical, about our own dreams when we were growing up in different suburban communities—me in New Jersey and Walter in Westchester County.

    Mr. Becker: The protagonist in “Deacon Blues” is a triple-L loser—an L-L-L Loser. It’s not so much about a guy who achieves his dream but about a broken dream of a broken man living a broken life.

    Mr. Fagen: The concept of the “expanding man” that opens the song [“This is the day of the expanding man / That shape is my shade there where I used to stand”] may have been inspired by Alfred Bester’s “The Demolished Man.” Walter and I were major sci-fi fans. The guy in the song imagines himself ascending the levels of evolution, “expanding” his mind, his spiritual possibilities and his options in life.

    Mr. Becker: His personal history didn’t look like much so we allowed him to explode and provided him with a map for some kind of future.

    Mr. Fagen: Say a guy is living at home at his parents’ house in suburbia. One day, when he’s 31, he wakes up and decides he wants to change the way he struts his stuff.

    Mr. Becker: Or he’s making a skylight for his room above the garage and when the hole is open he feels the vibes coming in and has an epiphany. Or he’s playing chess games against himself by making moves out of a book and cheating.

    A mystical thing takes place and he’s suddenly aware of his surroundings and life, and starts thinking about his options. The “fine line” we use in the song [“So useless to ask me why / Throw a kiss and say goodbye / I’ll make it this time / I’m ready to cross that fine line”] is the dividing line between being a loser and winner, at least according to his own code. He’s obviously tried to cross it before, without success.

    Mr. Fagen: By the mid-‘70s, we were using session players in the studio. Steely Dan became just Walter and myself. We’d handpick musicians for the sound we were looking for on each song. We tended to go through quite a few musicians looking for the results we wanted.

    Sound-wise, we were influenced by the jazz albums of engineer Rudy Van Gelder, the engineer who recorded many of those legendary Prestige and Blue Note albums in the 1950s and ‘60s.
    Mr. Becker: The thing about Rudy’s recording technique is how he got each instrument to sound intimate, with musicians playing close to the microphones. The way he recorded, you had the continuity of lines and the fatness of tone that made solos jump out. We wanted all of our recordings to sound that way.

    Larry Carlton: When I met with Donald, he gave me demos of him singing and playing “Deacon Blues.” I transcribed the chords and built an arrangement for the rhythm section that was tight but left plenty of space for other layers—like horns and background vocals that I knew they would add later.

    The song’s famous opening is my guitar and Victor Feldman’s Fender Rhodes electric piano playing the exact same chords and voicings, plus drummer Bernard Purdie’s cymbal figures. To keep the song’s rhythm-section arrangement from sounding stiff, I added guitar ad-libs here and there to create contrast after Donald’s vocal was in place. They were there to frame his voice.

    Mr. Fagen: Once the rhythm track and my vocal were set, horns were added to give the song a dreamy, reedy sound. We brought in saxophonist Tom Scott to write the arrangement. We told him we wanted the horns to have a tight, romantic “Duke Ellington cloud” feel.
    Tom Scott: When I arrived at the Village Recorder in West Los Angeles, where Donald and Walter were recording, they played me the rhythm track. Donald said he wanted to add four reeds, two trombones and a trumpet—but not a high-note trumpet. I heard right away how I’d arrange the horns—adding 9ths and 11ths and other jazz dissonances that were implied but not there.

    I had about a week and a half to write arrangements for all the songs on “Aja” where they wanted horns. For “Deacon Blues,” I used a sound that mirrored Oliver Nelson’s orchestral style. I wrote in these “rubs”—two notes close together in the middle register played by the tenor and baritone saxophones. This produces a really thick, reedy sound.

    Mr. Fagen: When everything was recorded—the rhythm section, the horns and the background vocals—Walter and I sat in the studio listening back and decided we needed a sax solo, someone to speak for the main character. We liked the sound of a tenor saxophonist who played in Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show band, a cat who blew like crazy when the show went to a commercial. He had this gutsy sound, but we didn’t know who it was.
    Mr. Becker: We had our producer Gary Katz ask around and he found out it was Pete Christlieb. Pete had invented any number of cool harmonic devices that made his playing sound unique. He just sounded like a take-charge soloist, a “gunner.”

    Pete Christlieb: I went over to the studio one night after the Tonight Show finished taping at 6:30 p.m. When I listened on headphones to the track Tom had arranged, there was just enough space for me to play a solo.

    As I listened, I realized Donald and Walter were using jazz chord changes, not the block chords of rock. This gave me a solid base for improvisation. They just told me to play what I felt. Hey, I’m a jazz musician, that’s what I do. So I listened again and recorded my first solo. We listened back and they said it was great. I recorded a second take and that’s the one they used. I was gone in a half-hour. The next thing I know I’m hearing myself in every airport bathroom in the world.

    Mr. Fagen: The song’s fade-out at the end was intentional. We used it to make the end feel like a dream fading off into the night.

    Mr. Becker: “Deacon Blues” was special for me. It’s the only time I remember mixing a record all day and, when the mix was done, feeling like I wanted to hear it over and over again. It was the comprehensive sound of the thing: the song itself, its character, the way the instruments sounded and the way Tom Scott’s tight horn arrangement fit in.

    Mr. Fagen: One thing we did right on “Deacon Blues” and all of our records: We never tried to accommodate the mass market. We worked for ourselves and still do.
    Link2Realityon July 17, 2016   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis song is about the blues, and being a bluesman. And an individual.
    This brother is free
    I'll be what I want to be
    montresoron December 25, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThe song is about a man who decided to say "screw it" and live his life how he wants to live it. "they got a name for the winners in the world, well I want a name when I lose".

    So many times in life, we dont actually live life because we are all so pre-disposed of all the stuff that dont really matter, that doesnt really give us true happiness in this world. This may be through jobs, family , friends, etc.

    The guy more than likely had a corporate job, and in the firstt verse he is probably talking to a girl friend or a wife. "that shape is my shame there where I used to stand", his job, and , "so useless to ask me why throw a kiss and say goodbye". His girl.

    I allways felt this song to be genius for one because he uses the allegories (or whatever literal term you'd like to dub it) of day and night.

    The first phase is of day "this is the day of the expanding man", which symbolizes the begining of of his transformation from what is typically seen as normal, to 'what he wants to be'.

    The last phase starts with "the night of the expanding man", signifing symbolizm of his exodus from this realm to the next (his death), from what is seen to be a self destructive life.

    At any rate Ill stop here because I could write a whole damn essay over this one song, but I will grant you the privelege of entertaining the fact that this song is about a man whom though may be seen as self destructive, took his fate in his own possession. Now Im not saying be a bum, or even drink and drive, and I dont believe Fagen is either. But ask yourself this question..........ARE YOU BEING WHAT, OR WHO YOU WANT TO BE????
    SteelyDanforeveron October 17, 2006   Link

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