Mar 16, 2018

Coming clean

5 comments

Edited: Mar 17, 2018

 

Dear all,

Thanks for this place.

You’re giving me a chance to come clean, as it has been hanging on my mind especially since Walter abruptly left the building.

 

Many moons ago, I played Walter on another forum.

 

Allow me to rewind a bit. I am a touring and recording session musician. In the early 2000’s, I stumbled upon a post from a guy who anonymously blogged about recording an album for a band who’d been at the center of a bidding war between major record labels. It was called “The daily adventures of Mixerman” and caused quite a stir amongst musos and industry insiders. It was a fascinating insight into the recording process and the industry as it was then; it was also hilarious.

 

I found out the guy (Mixerman) was hosting a forum and soon found myself signing up and enjoying the vibe there. These were folks who were all about recording and music. Many a passionate hobbyist but also (as I would find out) a bunch of pros with Grammys on their mantelpiece, gold records hanging on the wall or a permanent “all access” backstage pass tattooed on their chest. Pretty much everyone would sign up with an alias, which allowed us to vent and share how we survived a current recording or tour without actually naming names. Newcomers and pros alike would suffer merciless witty roasts and thoroughly enjoy it.

 

Over time I got in touch with some of the mods and admins and ended up helping out with their yearly online music collaboration competition. We were early birds in this: 15-20 teams, spread across the globe and as many timezones would have to write, record and produce a song together over the course of a couple months, exchanging audio tracks over the “internot” as we called it. The quality was astonishingly good; over the years and after 10 editions there was an impressive catalog of over a hundred tunes which made the cut.

 

We were all about music, recording and the industry but we also were a bunch of merry pranksters. During online music collaboration season, we’d sneak into a given team’s ftp folder, download a vocal track, pitch it ever so slightly out of tune and replace it back on their ftp. We’d take a drum track and transform an effortless groove into a sad rhythmic hiccup. The guy who would have to mix the track would be wondering how this drum track from a big pro could ever be such an abysmal failure. And there would be much rejoicing from us behind the curtains.

 

Mixerman’s growing fame and the online music competition brought more eyeballs to the forum, and we ended up having about 10000 members.

As the community grew, the need for some more hands-on moderation became apparent. I’d become an admin by then. We discussed how to approach this, trying to keep the signal to noise ratio as low as possible so that the info shared on the forum would still be of value, as opposed to what we saw happening elsewhere in other fora’s I can’t mention here. *

We discussed at length how to do this efficiently while keeping our very particular vibe alive. So in addition to our great mods, we started to use “sock puppets” whenever we needed to make a point (or stir some sh.t).

For instance, we created a character called “the Colonel”, a blatant reincarnation of Colonel Tom Parker. Whenever someone would cluelessly complain about the state of the industry, the Colonel would come waltzing in and put up a post complaining about how "a man can’t make a decent living and skim 50% of the top of the talent’s income anymore". The pros would come in and share their real-life stories but the sock puppets allowed to inject a bit of levity into the discussions.

 

So, one day, in need of another sock puppet, I summoned a character named “Studiotan” who’d sport a picture of Walter as his avatar. Studiotan’s opening post explained how he’d been a “lurker” but was intrigued by our little community. Within minutes, someone on the forum sent Studiotan a PM (private message): “Dude, don’t use your picture as an avatar, that’s too obvious. Thrilled to have you here.”

Dear me. Hook, line and sinker. Studiotan thanked the guy and quickly changed his avatar to a hawaiian girl playing the ukulele (as if that would be less obvious). The same guy who sent the message to Studiotan/Walter sent a message to the mods: “Walter is in the house!!!”. It quickly simmered upwards to the admins. I immediately kept my fellow admins in the loop but we decided to not share the info with the mods, just to see how we could spin this.

Now, let me re-assure you. Over the course of 5 or 6 years, Studiotan/Walter appeared maybe 5 or 6 times. His comments would be minimal. He’d reply “Hilarious.” to someone who posted a weird and completely useless microphone placement technique. Or he’d make a semi-hidden self-deprecatory comment when someone would mention Steely Dan. The main reason for the few and short appearances was that there was no way I could ever match the man’s wit. And English is not my native language. But the fact that a bunch of people on a forum (including some of our mods) would believe they were sharing a small spot of cyberspace with Walter was too good to let go.

I went as far as having Studiotan sign up for one of our online music competitions because he thought it would “give him a vacation from having to hang out with the other dude.” Of course, due to touring or recording commitments his contribution would never materialize.

 

Ours was a special forum. A pretty decent group (in the vicinity of 30 folks) would fly across the globe and meet up in real life once a year for a week-long party in some remote place in Canuckistan. We weren’t able to do it every year, but some of these guys are my very good friends to this day. Invariably during these gatherings someone would wonder if we’d heard anything new from Studiotan, and they would still be amazed that His Witty Greatness would mingle amongst us mere mortals. Not wanting to disappoint them, I kept the truth hidden from most.

 

The times, they are a-changing, and Facebook came and changed how people connected on the net. The forum lost its appeal and the discussions moved over to FB. Finally, last year, we pulled the curtain on the forum. It has always impressed me that the mere mention of the presence of Walter would command such respect from musicians and recordists. I would have loved to come clean and tell him about our little prank. When he left for the next dimension last year I was sad and regretted I’d never been able to let him know he was able to have this huge influence on people without even being there.

Nah, what I am saying. I’m sure he knew.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity. Feel free to wipe, discard, erase and re-record as needed.

 

Cheers,

Paul

 

 

* Gearslutz

 

(attached pic: a sad Photoshop effort showing one of our admins supposedly meeting up with W before a SD performance in our neck of the woods in Europe).

 

Mar 17, 2018Edited: Mar 17, 2018

Paul — wish we had private messaging

here–– one of many improvements promised by the platform (yeah right!). If you'd like to take it private for whatever reason just drop me a line — media at wwwwalter u no hu .com

But let me say in the meantime first, thanks for your story, seems important to tell for both you and us, and I’m glad you wanted to tell it here. I'm especially glad you gave us so much background and context… with stories like yours the situation and its social ”feel” is always more than half the story--not to mention interesting as hell-- the depth and complexity of so many online communities. Beyond that, there's probably a dozen people at least who have really interesting stories (and questions) related to online identities in general and WB “sightings” in particular. I have been involved, centrally or indirectly, in more than a few of these. For any number of reasons, people seemed prone to both ”see” and “be” WB online.

I won’t go on about this topic unless others show some interest or better yet would like to a tell us about their own “close encounter” . But I think it's an interesting issue in general and certainly as pertains to Walter. And in the meantime, please know that you are but one of some unknowable but large number of people who have done what you have. Thanks for posting

Apr 26, 2018

Paul - I'm VERY disappointed.

HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME?

To me - the staunch defender of all things Dan-ish?

So the whole backstory of "studiotan" having subscribed to find out who's behind the "Slipperman" persona was also fake?

Great, just great. Now I have to remove "was once subscribed to the same forum as Walter Becker" from my resume.

 

Apart from that I hope you're in good spirits. May you always go 2 11.

 

 

Apr 26, 2018

Gacki - I apologize. Nah ;-) Remind me of your forum name over there?

Apr 27, 2018

Ah, come on. "Staunch defender of all things Dan-ish" doesn't ring a bell?

 

I am/was "Oberlehrer", of course.

 

(And it's a damn shame we didn't manage to bring "Lost it all" over the finish line.)

 

Is there still some place where some of the other Womb-ians are hanging around?

Apr 27, 2018

Gacki said: "Staunch defender of all things Dan-ish" doesn't ring a bell?"

There were so many of you... ;-)

Ha ha ha...good times...

Funny you should bring up "Lost it all"... I stumbled onto it very recently and was thinking the same.

Who knows, might give it another go :-)

I'm still in touch with a bunch of the guys on FB, and I see some of them regularly.

Still working on musical projects (and others) with Malice.

Hugs mate!

P

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  • [ Howard Rodman's remarks made as keynote address on the occasion of the re-naming of the corner of 112th Street and 72nd Drive in Forest Hills, Queens as ‘Walter Becker Way.’ ] In his legendary essay, “Paris, Capital of the 19th Century,” the German-Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin talked about the ways in which Paris, with its boulevards, its arcades, its poets, was truly the capital of the 19th century. But an equally compelling argument can be made: that Forest Hills, the community that spreads out from the very corner on which we stand now, was indeed the capital of the twentieth. Think about it: how many of the disparate musical and cultural strains that define the second half of the twentieth century had their origins right here. Paul Simon grew up at 137-62 70th Road. Jeffrey Hyman, later Joey Ramone, grew up at 102-10 66th Road, and John Cummings, Tommy Erdelyi, Doug Colvin – later Johnny, Tommy, and Dee Dee Ramone respectively – came up a street or two away. It’s hard to think of Bridge Over Troubled Water and Beat on the Brat [with a Baseball Bat] as coming from the same planet. But in fact: they came from within blocks of each other. The Ramones and Paul Simon were not Forest Hills’s only odd pairings. Leslie West and Pia Zadora. Donna Karan and Thelma Ritter. Wilhelm Reich and Anthony Wiener. But in weighing the contribution of this piece of outer-borough soil to the country, and the larger world, we inevitably find ourselves speaking of Walter Becker. Who when I first knew him, age ten, lived right there. Like many of the friends and comrades with us this morning, we went to PS 196, whose anthem I can still sing, “PS one hundred and ninety six, we raise our voices high…” I wish Walter were here to sing the rest. Though in theory there were no ‘tracks,’ everyone knew that 5-5 and 6-2 were the IGC classes. In theory that stood for Intellectually Gifted Children. In practice: smart-ass wiseacres, using whatever intelligence we could muster in service of mocking the world into which we’d been born, fueled by transistor radios and Mad magazine. And even then, just kids in Miss Bishop’s class, in Miss Cathey’s class, Walter’s lead was the one we followed. In Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth , as deep as they go, cavern after cavern, they again and again come across a scrawl or a sign of Arne Saknussem – the 16th century Icelandic magician who’d always gotten there first. Walter was our Saknussem. There was something older about him, and most certainly wiser. He had his aesthetic down cold, as if received. And was extravagant about letting the rest of us know what to listen to, what to read, what to watch. He gave me my first Borges, my first Nabokov, my first Burroughs. He told me what movies to see. He’d toss music my way — I remember, in particular now, Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity . And if I balked, or was unreceptive, he’d say, “You’re going to like this in a year or so, so why don’t you start now and save yourself some time.” While the rest of us were (awkwardly; clumsily) fashioning our personas, his seemed always to have been there. Part Terry Southern, part Lenny Bruce, but always — as was the case with him, and not yet with us — far more than the sum of his influences. We’d drink Romilar, bought over there, and watch re-runs of The Million Dollar Movie , in his apartment right up there. Somehow, the movie was always Panic in the Year Zero . On another night Walter and my mother and me got so stoned that we listened to a record skip-skip-skip for half an hour before we realized it wasn’t intentional. An evening I had forgot entirely about, until Walter chose to recount it, forty-five years later, at a Steely Dan concert during the vamp of Hey Nineteen . At the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. In front of six thousand people. In detail, and with my mother’s name carefully pronounced. (Word travels fast. When I got home that night my fifteen-year-old son had a Cheshire Cat grin. And said, “Dad, is there anything you want to talk about?”) But back to days and nights in vintage Forest Hills. We had our peacoats, our McCreedy & Schreiber boots, we walked like this, we’d take the E train to the Village on Friday nights to hang at the Café au Go-Go. I see a few people out there who will know exactly what I mean. We were, face it, tragically hip bridge-and-tunnel teenyboppers. As John Boylan, one of Walter’s early collaborators would put it, “E train, to Forest Hills. E train, so easy to find. E train, home from the Village, let mother take care of your mind.” But Walter didn’t have a mom to come home to. Perhaps this accounts for why he was getting stoned with mine. Perhaps this accounts for how he was able to run so wild, and so free: with no mother at home, and a father so often away, and a grandmother whose threats terrified no one, Walter could do as he pleased. We’ve long recognized the astonishing, revelatory work that this enabled. But let us take a moment, too, to acknowledge the pain. He taught those of us who knew him, and millions who didn’t, how to become what he and Donald would call “gentlemen losers.” But all of that came at a real cost that neither he nor we would often want to name or to face. Which is why my favorite of Walter’s songs might be This Moody Bastard from 11 Tracks of Whack . These days it's like a tomb/ Amid in the stacks of gloom/ Looking out the window/ In the downstairs room And the time goes by/ And the time goes by/ Sometimes it goes so slowly/ You know a man could cry Till the day goes down/ In deep disgrace/ With empty pockets/ And a dirty face This moody bastard remembers/ You were some kind of friend even then Once in a great while/ He needs one... I think we all of us know what “once in a great while” means. We’re left with memories, to be sure. Glorious memories. And we’re left with the music, which is indelible, music which was never was quite in sync with its time, and because of that will never grow old. Nor will the world he limned: an unparalleled gallery of local losers, smalltime hoods, dive-bar cynics, rooming-house romantics, would-be has-beens; the autodidacts, the isolatoes; the carneys, shills, junkies, dealers, conmen, fugitives – all of them on the run from the one thing they cannot change: who they are. We feel large and uneasy empathy for them, even as we know they’re getting exactly what they deserve. We know them better than they know themselves. And Walter knew them best of all. This would be the place to mention the obvious: that if you’re looking for a top-40 hit, you don’t use as your hook, “Even Cathy Berberian knows there’s one roulade you can’t sing.” Yet Walter and Donald did, anyway, and sold forty million records, anyway. They did it not by reverse-engineering what an audience might like, but by being deeply, obsessively, cannily true to themselves. The success of Steely Dan was because, not in spite of, its celebration of the marginal. With the passage of time one learns to look past Walter’s brilliance, past his astonishing way with words and with music – strike the Mu Major chord! – past the sensibility he helped forge, past the obsessive dedication to getting it right— Past all of these to Walter’s true generosity of spirit. Reaching deep inside himself, taking the joys and pains he found there, and making them our own. As Walter Benjamin put it: “The flâneur stood at the margins of the great city. He sought his asylum in the crowd.” It took Walter Becker – indelibly cool, impossibly droll, triumphantly cryptic, unimaginably hip, with the intelligence to see life as it is, and the heart to set it down in ways that have now circled the globe it took Walter Becker to look out at this suburban landscape of postwar six-story housing, and recognize it for what it was: not a bedroom community, a bridge or a tunnel or an E-train away from Manhattan, but as something grand and glorious in and of itself. Forest Hills. A place he saw as the capital of the 20th century. And then: made it so.