My older daughter is supposed to learn a new word a week. And tell the class. She has a good vocabulary, so I think some weeks she coasts on fancy words she already knew. But she likes new words! So I thought I would make a short list of cool words for 12-year olds, in case she ever needs a new one on short notice: asperity, vermiculation, sussurus. That sort of thing.
Then I thought of a good one: Custerdome! From the classic Steely Dan track, “Gaucho”. The Steely Dan lexicon defines it as “an archetype of a building that houses great corporations.” Alas, since this fictional synecdoche of a fictional archetype exists in the minds of Fagen and Becker, the term has languished on the badland borderlands of private language-hood. My daughter is not exactly a Dan fan, so probably that state of affairs will persist. “Try again tomorrow.”
Here’s the song on YouTube, in case it’s been years. Such a great track!
Of course, it’s not for everyone.
But seriously: Gaucho, the album, is hanging so far out there in the ether, where sleazy Yacht Rock and bad Jazz Fusion and astringent LA alienation meets session cats who are only in it for the money. Frank Zappa wishes he thought of having back-up singers go all “Who is the gaucho, Amigo?/Why is he standing/ In your spangled leather poncho/ And your elevator shoes.” (If he weren’t dead, that is.)
I don’t expect my daughter to be able to understand why ‘high in the Custerdome’ is so evocative. Much less explain it to a bunch of other 7th graders. But maybe she could teach them what ‘astringent’ means.
And use it in a sentence: “The sleazy astringency of Steely Dan makes me feel gross. Like I’ve been slathered in expired Coconut Butter to protect me from the Santa Ana Winds, which are blowing sand into my merlot.”
Thoughts about Steely Dan? And/or good words for 12-year olds?