"Bad Sneakers" as written by Walter Carl Becker and Donald Jay Fagen....
Five names that I can hardly
Stand to hear
Including yours and mine
And one more chimp who isn't here
I can see the ladies talking
How the times are getting hard
And that fearsome excavation
On Magnolia Boulevard

And I'm going insane
And I'm laughing at the frozen rain
And I'm so alone
Honey when they gonna send me home
Bad sneakers and a Pina Colada
My friend
Stompin' on the avenue
By Radio City with a
Transistor and a large
Sum of money to spend

You fellah, you tearin' up the street
You wear that white tuxedo
How you gonna beat the heat
Do you take me for a fool
Do you think that I don't see
That ditch out in the valley
That they're digging just for me


Lyrics submitted by AbFab, edited by nomusician2

"Bad Sneakers" as written by Walter Carl Becker, Donald Jay Fagen

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Bad Sneakers song meanings
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  • +3
    General CommentI mostly agree with shanef, but can offer some clarification.

    The scenario is a native New Yorker who's living and working in LA, in drug rehab, homesick, and sick of his lifestyle in southern California. The five names are the original members of the Steely Dan Band, some of whom are no longer part of the band. sthe references are to the music business scene in LA and some of the original band members no longer part of Steely Dan. He's talking to Walter Becker.

    The chorus describes a vision of himself back home, when he didn't spend money on fancy shoes (so he's wearing "bad sneakers," maybe worn-out Converse high-tops) but roamed around Manhattan and bought drugs carefree.

    Magnolia Boulevard is in North Hollywood, and the site of a number of medical offices, including more than one rehab clinic. The ladies are prostitutes, street-walkers who aren't making as much money, or not enough to feed their drug habits. The "fearsome excavation" is some construction site. The "ditch" in the valley is a metaphor for a career dead-end he fears music company executives will force him into, as well as the grave he might be buried in if he continues to rely on drugs to deal with his stress and creative unhappiness.
    bramdakotaon August 09, 2011   Link
  • +3
    General CommentKind of thought it was about someone basically losing his mind, and probably already institutionalized; in particular, experiencing paranoid schizophrenia. The chorus is plain enough, I think...in the schizophrenic mind, objects become invested with extreme (delusional) importance - those sneakers, they're very bad! Also, the "fearsome excavation" - could be simple construction of some sort, but the schizophrenic mind invests it with menace and dread. Walking around with a transistor refers (perhaps) to the common delusion of having your thoughts monitored and/or broadcast into your head (see e.g. Clean, Shaven). And the paranoid perception that everyone's scheming about you, just out of eyesight/earshot - and that they're out to kill you - "do you take me for a fool...that ditch they're digging..."

    Not sure about the white suit. I like to think I'm pretty on top of drug slang, including terms specific to the 70s and earlier, but I don't hear cocaine here - unless it's what's driving the madness.

    Regarding the pina colada, I got nothing.
    TedPikulon July 14, 2012   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI think it is basicaly about his (Fagen) life in LA that he bacame bitter about and fearsome of success that would change him. He is talking to Becker about going insane and wants to get back to Manhattan, probably because of to much work with the band and big pressure ('Five names that I can hardly stand to hear' being the inner band and Chimp being the producer) and unexpected success ('Fearsome excavation on Magnolia Boulevard' - big house he is building in elite neighbourhood). Even bad things about NYC look good now: frozen rain, bad sneakers (way too casual dresscode and behaving of New Yorkers - With a transistor and a large sum of money to spend).
    Wearing white tuxedos probably means that his partner accustomed to this new life and he hasn't.

    Something like that.
    FrailGraspon September 12, 2008   Link
  • +1
    Song MeaningWhen i used to listen to this song i used to cry. Likemant steely Dan songs they hit home with me.It is all about being institutionalized ;because you cannot make it on the outside world. It speaks about good times when he was in his bad sneakers. Some of their songs do not require to much reading into. Iam also a professional musician who ruined his life through drugs ,so ican feel and identify
    with many of their songs ,because there lied me.
    mrsagflyon March 18, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI've never quite understood what the term, "bad sneakers" means, but this song, again, has many drug references in it. Like many Dan songs, I think this is being sung from a first-person perspective. The guy may or may not be in rehab, or something like that. Or, is he in some kind of psychiatric insitution? Frozen rain, in this song, is probably a cocaine reference. "Five names that I can hardly stand to hear...etc." Maybe a reference to the group of people he has to sit with during his rehab sessions, or something like that. Maybe it's the nurses who are talking about that "fearsome excavation." He's tired of the whole thing, of the people he's surrounded by, delving into his own problems, Maybe he feels like a chimp, being experimented on?

    The guy "tearin up the street" is either the narrator who uses cocaine or his dealer. "You wear that white tuxedo" - a reference to cocaine on the face, by the nose, etc. "How you gonna beat the heat" - a reference to not being caught by the police. "That ditch out in the valley....etc." - a reference to the fact that if he keeps doing cocaine, he's gonna end up dead.

    I'm pretty sure that a lot of that applies, just not sure how it all goes together...would love other insights.
    shanefon February 08, 2008   Link
  • +1
    Song MeaningAs with all Dan songs there's cryptic references galore... I can't recall where I read an article about this song, but I definitely remember Fagen saying it was about Vietnam Vets...... he offered nothing more.....
    heartnmindon January 22, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAgreed. I do like this, although sometimes I feel like the best part is the chorus, as the rest sometimes sounds quite odd...
    Lukasaon May 10, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI've always loved the intro to this song. Has anyone notices the slightly hyperactive piano comping during the guitar solo? Steely Dan arrangements are just so deep. Every time I hear them I pick out something new every time even if I think I've got the song sussed.
    Danfanon February 19, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentNo offense, but I feel like Shanef's explanation of the song, some of it just seemed like it was a bit too much. While there is a big possibility of it being about drugs, I feel the reference to white tuxedos and beating the heat is just too much of a stretch to be attributed to cocaine in the nose and the police.

    Now, while I can't really offer any better insight than he can, I sort of the get the image of Gatsby from The Great Gatsby when listening to this song for some reason, though I used to get an image of a soldier waiting to go back home, too, though the latter makes less sense (unless you listen to the "Honey, when they gonna send me home" part, I guess). It really gives me an impression of the writing of the authors of the Lost Generation.
    Image In Nationon July 05, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentTo me this song is about some one living in NYC IN THE 70'S. Bad sneakers and a pina colada may have been a popular drink served by street vendors {no alcohol} also a transister radio.And "Radio City" being Radio City Music Hall.The man in the white tuxedo is probably a successful local street thug who kind of tries to recruit people to do his dirty business. Do you think im a fool and i dont see where this will lead? And he has a desire to be home with his kind of people and family.
    messieron August 15, 2009   Link

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