Agents of the law
Luckless pedestrian
I know you're out there
With rage in your eyes and your megaphones
Saying all is forgiven
Mad dog surrender
How can I answer
A man of my mind can do anything

I'm a bookkeeper's son
I don't want to shoot no one
Well I crossed my old man back in Oregon
Don't take me alive
Got a case of dynamite
I could hold out here all night
Yes I crossed my old man back in Oregon
Don't take me alive

Can you hear the evil crowd
The lies and the laughter
I hear my inside
The mechanized hum of another world
Where no sun is shining
No red light flashing
Here in this darkness
I know what I've done
I know all at once who I am

I'm a bookkeeper's son
I don't want to shoot no one
Well I crossed my old man back in Oregon
Don't take me alive
Got a case of dynamite
I could hold out here all night
Yes I crossed my old man back in Oregon
Don't take me alive

Lyrics submitted by nicole, edited by wesley1015

"Don't Take Me Alive" as written by Walter Carl Becker Donald Jay Fagen

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Lyrics powered by LyricFind

Dont Take Me Alive song meanings
Add your thoughts


sort form View by:
  • +8
    My InterpretationI *LOVE* Steely Dan songs! They're always so good and so complex at the same time. I know people talk about the generalities of their songs. I've read
    lots of "...this is about a guy who..." or general analysis about moods or
    settings. But I've found that, honestly, Steely Dan *rarely* writes a song
    about generalities - they're VERY specific. In fact, eerily so (see my
    analysis of Glamour Profession).

    That doesn't change the fact that the music is great! In fact, knowing how they compose lyrics makes me delve that much deeper...

    "Don't Take Me Alive" off of "The Royal Scam" is about David Sylvan Fine, the
    youngest of the Sterling Hall bombers (at the University of Wisconsin-
    Madison) who was captured ins San Rafael, California in January of 1976.
    Despite the title of the song he WAS taken alive, spent three years in prison
    and eventually became a paralegal in Oregon.


    This is a David Fine (also known as William Fewes) inner monologue as the
    'agents of the law' (FBI or, as they are known, "federal agents") surround
    his room in San Rafael to arrest him for the Sterling Hall bombing in 1970.

    He was one of four men that bombed the building on the University of
    Wisconsin-Madison campus because it housed the Army Mathematics Research
    Center. (Three others were injured.) The 'luckless pedestrian' is the only
    casualty of the Sterling Hall bombing, researcher Robert Fassnacht.


    In the press, David Fine's father was listed as a bookkeeper or salesman in
    the Portland, Oregon area. Not a "bookie" or anything else nefarious - just
    an honest middle-class working professional of the time.

    All of the Sterling Hall bombers statements after the fact, specifically said
    that they did not plan for anyone to be injured by the bomb - which was
    retaliation for the infamous Kent State massacre. The fatality and other
    casualties were simply the result of bad timing. And Fine was unarmed at the
    time of apprehension. ("I don't want to shoot no one.")

    The "crossing" line is likely refers to the aftermath of Mr. Fine's hard work
    (and money) to get him into the Engineering program at the University of
    Wisconsin-Madison, only to have him become a radical who was (incorrectly)
    associated with the Weather Underground.

    And, of course, the "Don't take me alive" line which adds the element of
    danger. After the bombing when all four went on the run and even during his
    arrest, there is no record of Fine making that statement. Call it "artistic
    license" on Steely Dan's part - but the bombing DID make headline news at the
    time and was a big event.

    The "Got a case of dynamite, I could hold out here all night" lines refer to
    the actual bombing of the building itself. There was no mention of dynamite
    or anything else being present when Fine was apprehended - so once again, this is 'artistic license'.


    The first couple of sentences refer to Fine's hearing in San Francisco AFTER
    his arrest. According to newspaper accounts, he was smiling, cordial and
    comfortable in the courtroom and had no real remorse. So, as he sat on the
    stand, captured after more than five years on the run, he would perceive the
    crowd as "evil". The crowd, on the other hand, would be happy to capture one
    of the criminals in what was at that time, the largest bombing on U.S. soil.
    (The 1995 Oklahoma City bombing would eclipse it.)

    The remaining lines of this stanza reference his job while on the run and
    living in San Rafael - 'warehouseman' (according to one paper) or as a
    traffic manager for a small electronics company in Santa Monica ("the
    mechanized hum of another world"). There inside the dark ("no sun is
    shining") warehouse, as William Lewes (or Lewis), the police weren't after
    him ("no red lights flashing"). But, left alone in his hours of work there,
    he knows who he really is and what he's responsible for. (Look up his testimony in San Francisco and you'll know what I mean.)
    Hoops McCannon July 10, 2016   Link
  • +5
    General CommentThis has absolutely nothing to do with cyborgs. That moment in the song is the criminal knowing that he isn't a human. Its a metaphor. He knows he is capable of doing things (murdering innocents) that normal people can't. The mechanized hum is his soul speaking to him. He's about to make an important decision that could lead to his death or alienate him from real people. I think the 'bookkeepers son' bit is about how he went from a regular guy leading a fairly simple life to what he has become.
    MotoManiacon October 01, 2008   Link
  • +3
    General CommentA disturbed young man kills his father and goes on the run. The authorities close in; desperate, he takes a hostage and barricades himself. During the stand-off the realization of his actions and his life cause him to give up all hope. He decides to commit “suicide-by-police.” [“Don’t take me alive.”]
    panzer4963on April 05, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI would have to say it is a barricade situation. The true nature of his crimes are left deliberately ambiguous. The song-writer did not want people to get stuck on a situation, but to feel an emotion. The prime emotion here: desperation. His father is neither a robot or a 'bookie'. BTW: bookies are bookMAKERS (gambling odd-setters and bet takers), not bookEEPERS(low-level accountants). He says that he is a bookeeper's son as a way to say that he is NOT a tough guy. He comes from a safe and stable up-bringing. He's just an average guy in a horrible situation. Something went wrong back home, and he has come to the end of the line hounded and surrounded by angry pedestrians and lawmen.

    The mechanized hum is a reference to mental-illness. How else to truly good people end up commiting horrible acts? People in desperate situations or who have "snapped" and hurt someone will often "disconnect". They often say they heard voices or "ringing" or humming in their ears. They will say things had a very mechanical feel. They will later say that they were running on "autopilot". He is obviously desperate to get away from the mob, the police, justice, anxiety. So, he withdraws from reality into the dark recesses of his soul, by doing so, he realizes who he truly is, what he has done, and the true gravity of his situation.
    thedurable1on August 05, 2011   Link
  • +2
    General CommentAfter listening to this song about a million times and not understanding why he would cross his old man who is a bookkeeper I heard the real lyric, He's not saying "I crossed my old man" but "I crossed my _own_ man back in Oregon". This small change makes the meaning of the song perfectly clear. He didn't rob a bank with his father and then cheat him but his partner, his "own man". No wonder he doesn't want to get caught alive, he's a dead man either way.
    wesley1015on April 05, 2016   Link
  • +1
    General CommentRelatively obviously (for Dan), this is the story of a "Mad Dog" a criminal who is holed up inside a bank or something, surrounded by police. He grabbed a hostage off the street (luckless pedestrian).

    Perhaps he is on a crime spree that started with him shooting his father in Oregon, and now he is planning to blow himself up rather than be taken into custody...
    hubofhipon June 15, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI definately get the 'android' vide from this too. Especialyl in lines like "a man of my mind can't do anything," "I'm a book-keeper's son" (the first computers were used for glorified sorting procedures) and the "mechanized hum of another world."

    As a side note, William Gibson (coiner of the term "cyberspace") said he listened to a lot of Steely Dan when he wrote, and I can see that in some of their songs.
    Seraph47on January 03, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentCyborgs. [Shake head, tsk, look sad, shoot oneself]

    It's about a bank heist gone wrong. Please people.
    ratfinkaboobooon October 14, 2009   Link
  • +1
    Song MeaningFagen told NME in 1976. “In Los Angeles and through the world in general, terrorism is a way of life actually for a lot of people. The song was inspired by a run of news items in Los Angeles where people would barricade themselves inside an apartment house or a saloon with an arsenal of weapons. It’s about individual madness rather than political situations.”

    Read More: 40 Years Ago: Steely Dan Pull Off 'The Royal Scam' |
    AdHocon January 06, 2018   Link
  • 0
    General Comment>:-]
    nicoleon May 07, 2002   Link

Add your thoughts

Log in now to tell us what you think this song means.

Don’t have an account? Create an account with SongMeanings to post comments, submit lyrics, and more. It’s super easy, we promise!

Back to top