"The Boston Rag" as written by Walter Carl Becker and Donald Jay Fagen....
Any news was good news
And the feeling was bad at home
I was out of mind and you
Were on the phone
Lonnie was the kingpin
Back in nineteen sixty-five
I was singing this song
When Lonnie came alive

[Chorus]
Bring back the Boston Rag
Tell all your buddies
That it ain't no drag
Bring back the Boston Rag

You were Lady Bayside
There was nothing that I could do
So I pointed my car down
Seventh Avenue
Lonnie swept the playroom
And he swallowed up all he found
It was forty-eight hours til
Lonnie came around

[Chorus]


Lyrics submitted by AbFab

"The Boston Rag" as written by Walter Carl Becker, Donald Jay Fagen

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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The Boston Rag song meanings
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  • +3
    General CommentI understand this song very well, even though it is very short on detail - by design. You don't need too much detail with a subject like this... it's about a basic set of circumstances, but moreso the feeling that goes along with it. Obviously it involves drug use and some interpersonal drama between the narrator, Lonnie, and the narrator's girlfriend. Lady Bayside is Walter's reference to ladies with 'tude that come from Bayside in NYC, which is where Walter grew up. So the narrator is caught between Lady Bayside and Lonnie, his friend, the drug kingpin, and surely the person he likes to hang around and do drugs with, and the fact that, and this is important, the party is about to come to an abrupt end. This is precipated by the whole lifestyle but is culminated, as is often the case, by a very real tragedy - Lonnie's overdose due to his overzealousness with the partyin'. This puts the author into a tailspin. He tries to turn to his girlfriend, but she doesn't even care because they're in the middle of a fight... so the bottom really falls out on this guy, especially because he's getting that gnarly depression that comes along with too much drug use immediately followed by the situation where no more stuff is avaialable and the shit is hitting the fan at the same time. A young person doesn't have the goods to handle this kind of turmoil, but many have found themselves faced with it. The narrator is the type who will probably eventually right the ship, and maybe this becomes just another song to him... but for many others they just get taken down for the count. The reference to the Boston Rag is also somewhat vague, but not when you take it in the context of the lyric itself in the chorus... bring back the Boston Rag, as a song the guy is always chanting, has a fairly understandable meaning... especially to me because it's something I've often thought about... it's about nostalgia with a touch of sadness... about the passing of a 'better time'. The feeling that you just want the Boston Rag, that perfect song or perfect time (1920's was when they had all the famous 'rags'... the piano tunes with the jump bass) that you are so nostalgic about, when you could be crazy like you are now, but not feel so worn out and depressed at the same time. And the knowledge, whether it is exactly true or not, that there is no way in hell that you can ever go back... and just that knowledge, right when it hits you... you are suffering a mental breakdown. All hail the Boston Rag. Better days will come down the road, or else (the guitar solo is one of the greatest and tells a lot of the story in itself that the sparse lyrics can't..) Writing sparsely is a real talent, because you still have to make things rhyme... so don't get too stuck on the exact words... it's meant to connect with you on a more simpler, you lived it yourself kind of way..
    caucasianon March 21, 2010   Link
  • +2
    General Comment"Rag" is slang for a newspaper. I read the details once, but don't remember them all ... essentially "Lonnie" is a reference to a real person who was editor or owner etc. of this publication, before getting booted out. None too happy with the situation, Lonnie goes on a bit of a bender.
    what123everon May 26, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThe guitarwork on this song is far better than the lyrics, I think.

    As for the lyrics themselves...I read an interview where Becker said that he wrote the verses about a friend of his from his youth. Fagen apparently wrote the chorus. The only other thing I can remember is that Becker made some cryptic comment to the effect of "The nice thing about The Boston Rag is that it's set in New York City." So take that for what it's worth.
    thermo4on October 16, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentLyrics are pretty cryptic, I'm guessing Becker and Fagenwere pretty "out of their minds" too when they wrote this.

    Be that as it may, this remains quite possibly my favourite Steely Dan tune. That second verse on a good set of headphones is pure audiogasm.
    whapcapnon June 01, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI wish I could figure out what this was about. Anyone know?
    mailman54on July 21, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI THINK THIS SONG IS ABOUT 3 FREINDS THAT APPARENTLY HAVE A PRETTY TIGHT TRIANGLE AMONGST THEM. tHEY PROBABLY DUBED THEMSELVES AS "THE BOSTON RAG".

    FAGAN, OR WHOMEVER IS TELLING THE STORY WAS HIGH OUT OF HIS MIND IN THE FIRST PHASE OF THE SONG, AND THE GIRL (?) WAS ON THE PHONE WITH THE BIG DRUG DEALER NAMED LONNIE (WHOM IS APPARENTLY PART OF THE TRIANGLE OF FRIENDS). IN THE SECOND PHASE OF TE SONG, SOMETHING BAD HAPPENED TO THE GIRL. M THINKING SHE BECAME A PROSTITUTE OR SOMETHING "LADY BAYSIDE" AND THIS EFFECTED LONNIE SO BADLY THAT HE WENT TO A DRUG HOUSE AND TOOK EVERYTHING IN SIGHT. "LONNIE SWEPT THE PLAY ROOM, AND HE SWALLOWED UP ALL HE FOUND". HE APPARENTLY OVERDOSED AND WAS IN A COMMA FOR 2 DAYS, "IT WAS 48 HOURS TILL LONNIE CAME AROUND". SOME PRETTY TRAGIC STUFF MAN, BUT ITS SOME PEOPLES REALITY.

    ANYWAY, I FEEL THAT THIS SONG IS WAY UNDERATED! IT MAKES ME EMOTIONAL EVERYTIME I HEAR IT, AND THE STORY THAT UNFOLDS OVER TE MUSIC. HELL I COULD BE WRONG ON THE MEANING, BUT THEN AGAIN, I WASNT EVEN ON STEELY DAN REAL TOUGH BACK IN 2002, AND MOST OF THIER MUSIC CAME OUT EITHER BEFORE I WAS BORN, OR WHILE I WAS STILL VERY YOUNG, BUT YET AND STILL THEY ARE THE GREATEST TO EVER ATTEMPT THE ART OF MAKING MUSIC IN THE 70'S AND I LOVE THEM FOR THE GIFT THEY HAVE GIVEN THE WORLD!
    SteelyDanforeveron October 27, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthis song has serious drug undertones, don't you think?
    grenparptaron February 24, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAudiogasm...nice touch.

    I always thought it was about a the narrator's family...Lady Bayside being the mother of Lonnie and Lonnie being their little kid born in '65 who in a literal playroom put things in his mouth and had to get his stomach pumped.

    That, and the bluebirds help me get dressed in the morning.

    Eh, the Boston Rag could be a symbol of an easy morning's work of reading the paper, a sign of the sanity that he called life before the kid came. Ahhh, those happier days...
    GreyBlueEyeson August 24, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentLonnie refers to a guy who used to be the leader of their clique back in college. Supposedly he took a pile of pills and was out of it for two days.
    There were apparitions of the virgin Mary in Bayside NY back in the early 70's, so I'm guessing that line is referring to the fact that the girl was a virgin as well, or perhaps just too religious or moral for the scene they were in at the time.
    slusichon May 20, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI always got this image of Lonnie being the narrator's toddler son, the narrator is always strung out and the wife being on the phone, "too busy" or never around in general. The narrator and his girlfriend, wife, whatever might be a poor couple who never get along or are never together or just have a bad homelife, lifestyle, etc, i dunno. "The Boston Rag" I feel is the narrators way of showing the listener that he is nostalgic for better times, "I was singing this song when Lonnie came alive" might be his way of saying life, for him, has sucked even before their son Lonnie was born. "Lady bayside" seemed to me like she was flirting around with other guys and he couldnt do anything about it. I thought it goes "Lonnie was the king THEN / back in 1965" but it doesnt matter much... "So i pointed my car down 7th ave" sounds to me like the narrator left the girl and maybe took their son, and as a druggy, he didnt pay enough attention to him and Lonnie got into the drug stash ("swept the playroom") and was comatose for 48 hours.
    wally1047on July 21, 2009   Link

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