"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

[Chorus]
I'll 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
And 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'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

[Chorus]

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


Lyrics submitted by jachschmere

"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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  • +6
    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
  • +4
    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
  • +4
    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 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
  • +2
    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
  • +2
    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
  • +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 CommentEven though I haven't been around that long only the greatest songs can make you feel like you've known them for centuries and this is one. It's about a drive to the top, to share with the world his hardships and soul. It's an inspiration to me as a young person to do and share what I love at any cost before it's too late. Steely Dan lives forever.
    abc55555on January 13, 2005   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
  • +1
    General CommentColtrane didn't die from alcoholisim! He didnt even drink at the time of his death. He died from liver complications from all of the heroin he used to shoot years before (wich I might add he also kicked cold turkey).
    SteelyDanforeveron February 22, 2007   Link

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