Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen Recalls the Last Time He Saw Walter Becker
Even while on his deathbed, Steely Dan's Walter Becker was able to crack jokes. In a new interview, his longtime musical partner, Donald Fagen, discussed seeing Becker, who died on Sept. 3 from esophageal cancer.
"When I heard he was really ill," he said on Rolling Stone's Music Now podcast, "I was on the road in, I think, Salina, Kansas, and I flew back. I had a day off and he was in his apartment in New York. And I was really glad that I went. I could see he was really struggling. When I put a chair next to the bed, he grabbed my hand. It was something he had never done ever before. And we had a great talk and, you know, he was listening to hard bop – his wife had put on Dexter Gordon records. He was very weak but he was still very funny. I'm really glad I had those hours."
But even though in 2013 the duo spoke of making a new album, Fagen now admitted that, when they said that, Becker didn't really have much of a desire to record anything. "Walter had some health problems," he continued, "and especially after 2011-12, I think just being ill for so long, he had a little bit of a personality change and he was much more isolated, and he kinda wasn't that interested in working on Steely Dan records anymore. It also might have to do with the specter of doing an album that would be on the same standard that we did previously. Maybe that scared him a little bit, or maybe he didn't have the energy. I did ask him once in a while if he wanted to do something – and he'd usually say, 'yeah, sure,' but then he wouldn't call me or whatever, so it was obvious that he lost some of the enthusiasm."
Fagen also acknowledged that his continued use of the name Steely Dan as a touring entity is largely to appease the promoters. "I would actually prefer to call it Donald Fagen and the Steely Dan Band or something like that," he said.