Hey, 19-year-old Waze user, that’s Walter Becker Way. Becker, the late co-founder of Steely Dan, was honored at a street naming ceremony Sunday in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens, held at an intersection almost in sight of the building where he grew up.
The ceremony came toward the end of a nine-night stand that Donald Fagen and the touring remainder of Steely Dan are doing in Manhattan at the Beacon Theatre, including full-album performances of “Aja,” “The Royal Scam,” “Countdown to Ecstasy” and “Gaucho.”
The hour-long celebration in Queens was live-streamed on Facebook by classic rock station Q104.3 and hosted by the station’s Jim Kerr. Opening remarks were offered by the New York City councilwoman who proposed the honor, 29th district representative Karen Koslowitz, who pointed out the other cultural exports the Forest Hills neighborhood gave to the world, including the Ramones, Burt Bacharach and Art Garfunkel (with Paul Simon not having grown up too far away, she added).
Among the featured speakers was long-time backup singer Cindy Mizelle, guitar tech Ulrich Salizar, screenwriter and childhood friend Howard A. Rodman and web archivist Matt Kerns. Mizelle, a member of the Steely Dan band for 15 years and featured vocalist on Becker’s last solo album, “Circus Money,” said, “Walter is such a champion in my eyes. He always treated me with love and respect as I did him and his family… It’s been a wild ride since 2003… He took me under his wing and really showed me that I could relax in the person I am to sing live.”
Kerns has been the primary online curator of Becker’s legacy since he started a site devoting to reprinting the raps that Becker would improvise during “Hey Nineteen” every night on tour. In his speech, he took issue with the portrayal of Becker as Fagen’s “silent partner,” saying, “Anyone who knew him would tell you that Walter Becker was anything but silent.”
“Walter was at once fiercely private but also soul-baring in the soul he revealed in his music,” said Kerns. “He was literate without being pretentious, sophisticated with a splash of sophomoric humor, he was jazz and he was rock, he was mentor and learner, professor of infectious vibes, and student of rhythm and soul.”
Added Kerns, “His voice as a songwriter was uniquely New York, uniquely Queens, uniquely Forest Hills. Long after life took him to Annandale, to Manhattan, to L.A. and to Maui, Walter would often return to this place, driving around these streets to show friends and family and loved ones the old neighborhood. And now children growing up in this neighborhood can glance at this sign and wonder who this Walter Becker guy was.”
The Becker family and Kerns arranged for everyone attending the street naming ceremony to receive a USB drive containing both of Becker’s solo albums, along with a yet-unreleased outtake from “Circus Money,” “This Is My Building,” that will be put up on walterbeckermedia.com in about a week.
Becker died of cancer in New York on September 3, 2017, a little over four months after his last performance with Steely Dan.