October 3, 2021
From Gerald R. Lucas
Home at Last
By: Steely Dan (1977)
By: Steely Dan (1977)
I know this super highway
- ↑ From the 1977 album Aja, with Homer’s Odyssey as an obvious influence. This song has always been the height of cool for me: from the “Purdie shuffle” to the understated horn section, this is the heart of Aja and an understated masterpiece. Check out the later “True Companion” for a more futuristic companion to this song. While obviously taking aspects of the Odyssey as influences, maybe Circe, the Isle of Helios, and the sirens, it could also be a longing by Fagen and Becker to return to New York from where they recorded Aja in Hollywood.
- ↑ With contemporary images like super highway and reservation, the song jumps back and forth between those that could be associated with the Odyssey and those that belong to the modern world. What connects them is the dominant metaphor of travel. Odysseus is the archetypal rolling stone, ladies’ man, rebel without a cause. Home for him is the road as it ultimately seems to be for Odysseus.
- ↑ The sun is a friendly, familiar constant in travel, but remember in the Odyssey, it’s their landing on Helios’ island that spells the final doom for Odysseus’ crew. Odysseus is the only one to escape—“the lucky one” who did not kill and eat any of Helios’ cattle.
- ↑ Well, Homer is credited for writing the Odyssey, but it is Odysseus who tells his own story in the heart of the narrative. These are tall tales that are most familiar.
- ↑ Who is the “you” here? The narrator/traveler seems to be teasing us with his perennial narrative of travel—this one’s as old as the hills. We might have super highways now and our journeys may be safer and more predictable with reservations, but that does not mitigate the necessity of travel, especially to highlight the importance of homecoming.
- ↑ An allusion to the sirens episode in the Odyssey, but it is vague enough to refer to unknown threats on the road.
- ↑ While Odysseus’ men quickly freed him after he heard the sirens’ song, here the narrator/traveler seems to be an unwitting passenger on the journey, someone who has little control where the ship takes him. Perhaps this is a comment on contemporary life and work: we are compelled to go where they lead, rather than find our own paths.
- ↑ This sounds more like the cliché that home is where the heart is and not a known quantity like it was for Odysseus. Or, perhaps his home is tied to the mast—a perpetual traveler, or a rolling stone. This makes sense when looking at the next stanza.
- ↑ I like the ambiguity here: yes, it could be relief, like finally, I made it home. But, more interestingly, it could be that home is the last place you make it. Yes, while home is comforting and predictable, it is most likely where you will meet death. At least that’s the hope, eh? Dying on the road contains a particular terror—it certainly did in the Odyssey. Interestingly, too, home was not Odysseus’ final stop. He was curious and craved adventure, which could be argued was his downfall—depending on who you ask.
- ↑ This sounds like Circe, though it could certainly refer to Calypso or Nausicaa.
- ↑ Moments of peace always lead to conflict. This is particularly true in the Odyssey: after Odysseus leaves Circe, he and his crew travel to the underworld—the psychological low point in his journey.
- ↑ Here’s that ambiguous “you” again, implied in the imperative mood. Who is calling for the traveler/narrator? Is it the friend of the next line? I like the idea that after staying with Circe for a year and sleeping with her, eating her food, drinking her wine, Odysseus decides it’s time to leave. The idea that he calls her a friend after all of that keeps with the spirit of the Odyssey and maybe shows the influence of Odysseus on masculine culture ever since. Circe had it right: they truly were pigs. Also, Circe is the one who tells Odysseus what he still has to go through before he can go home—the underworld, the sirens, Scylla and Charybdis, the Isle of the Sun, and Calypso—in a way, she makes these reservations for him in that she sets Odysseus on a particular path—one she knows he will follow.
A student of mine read reservation as a doubt or disapproval which makes less sense in context, but introduces an interesting ambiguity—perhaps expressing his reluctance to stay? The phrasing suggests, too, the speaker’s reluctance to take responsibility for his decision or actions.
- ↑ Luck is an echo of line three where he was lucky. I think the implication here is that travel is a gamble: the longer you travel, the more likely it is your luck will eventually run out—maybe this time before you get home at last.