With some kind of personal amends having been made between Donald Fagen and Aimee Mann after she was dropped as an opening act on a summer tour, Mann has reseumed humbly fangirling on Steely Dan, and in a possibly bigger and better way. The singer-songwriter has introduced into her set the Dan song she’s indicated she is most obsessed with, the 1972 classic “Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me).”
At her first show of 2022, opening a four-night stand at New York’s City Winery, Mann surprised and amused fans by starting the show with her cover of “Brooklyn.” By the third night of the run, with the shock value gone, “Brooklyn” was still in the set, if relegated to her first encore number. But the message was clear: all, or at least some, was forgiven, and sometimes music appreciation trumps perceived professional slights.
Check out audience footage of Mann performing the Steely Dan cover in the Instagram post below (click through the arrows in the post to get to the third item, the “Brooklyn” excerpt).
As previously reported last month, Mann had said there were no lingering hard feelings over the tour snafu and tweeted, “All is forgiven if Donald just tells me what Brooklyn is about.” The meaning of the song “Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me),” sung by then co-lead vocalist David Palmer on Steely Dan’s 1972 debut album, “Can’t Buy a Thrill,” has puzzled many fans over the decades. In a followup chat with Variety, Mann reiterated, “I still love them, and he owes me that explanation of Brooklyn.”
And then she got her wish: Fagen wrote her a note explaining the meaning of the song. Mann said she appreciated Fagen unpacking the song for her and was keeping the note’s exact contents to herself.
Public awareness of the Mann/Dan imbroglio began when she devoted one of a series of cartoon strips she’s been posting about her daily life on Instagram to admit that she felt undercut when Steely Dan mysteriously dropped her from part of the ensemble’s summer tour, well after her opening-act status had been announced and tickets went on sale. “No one is entirely sure why,” she wrote in the cartoon thought bubbles, “but it seems they thought their audience wouldn’t like a female singer-songwriter? … As it happens, Steely Dan is the one band that I 100% love, with no reservations, so it really sucks. … But you know what? People are allowed to not like you, for whatever reason.. … Good luck to all bands.”
Interest in the news intensified enough that Fagen issued a statement, maintaining that he wasn’t aware Mann’s participation in the tour had already been announced when he made the decision to drop her. ““There was a communication problem on our end,” he said. “I was misinformed as to how firm the commitment was to any particular opening act. And, although I have the greatest respect for Aimee as a writer and performer, I thought it might not be the best matchup in terms of musical style. But I can’t pass the buck. I’ll take the blame for the screwup. I apologize for any distress this has caused Aimee and her fans.” Fagen — the sole surviving member of Steely Dan after Walter Becker’s death — also rebuffed the notion that a disinclination toward putting female singer-songwriters on the bill had anything to do with it.
Mann accepted that, telling Variety, “He probably didn’t even know what stage it was in, something I can easily see happening. I totally disagree about the style thing, though. I know so many people who are fans of mine and fans of theirs, and way more women than were fans in the ’70s. It’s not as segmented as it used to be. People are thinking more of an approach to songwriting than the styles — jazz-influenced versus folk-influenced.”
But onto the important stuff: What is “Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me),” about, and what kind of arcane information does Aimee Mann now possess about the tune that we should be looking between the lines of the vocal inflections in her cover version to suss?
It may not actually be that esoteric, even though the lyrics don’t necessarily do would-be interpreters any favors with lines like “A race of angels bound with one another.” Some fans back in the day had interpreted the “under me” to be a reference to the song’s narrator literally having the body of a “charmer” under his in sexual congress. But over the years it has become clear that the lyrics refer to a couple in the apartment under the protagonist’s. Even then, there has been speculation about whether the man described as being out on the stoop is a drug dealer (an alternate version of the lyrics describes him as a “sentry”), or whether the “owe” might refer to prostitution. It seems more likely, though, that it refers to a general sense of entitlement.
Becker confirmed this view all the way back in a 1974 cover story in Zoo World magazine: “Like ‘Brooklyn,’ for example, the song that goes, ‘Brooklyn owes the charmer under me.’ Well, the charmer is a guy who lived under Donald’s apartment when we were in Brooklyn. And the song is just a bunch of things that that guy and his wife had coming to them, you know, for the indignities that they had suffered living in Brooklyn, sitting on the stoop and just shooting the shit about the Mets and that kind of thing for 30 years. So, as you see, the song does yield to a valid interpretation.”
Perhaps not coincidentally, major-Dan-fan Mann titled a 2012 album “Charmer.”
Although there’s no guarantee her cover will stay in the setlist, mutual fans of Mann and the Dan can take their chances seeing her on her headlining tour. Remaining dates below:
4/20/2022 7:30 PM Ridgefield Playhouse Ridgefield, CT
4/21/2022 8:00 PM Keswick Theatre Glenside, PA
4/22/2022 8:00 PM The Academy of Music Theatre Northampton, MA
4/23/2022 8:00 PM Chevalier Theatre Medford, MA
4/25/2022 8:00 PM Birchmere Alexandria, VA
4/26/2022 8:00 PM Birchmere Alexandria, VA
4/27/2022 8:00 PM The Kent Stage Kent, OH
4/29/2022 8:00 PM Old Town School of Folk Music Chicago, IL
4/30/2022 8:00 PM Old Town School of Folk Music Chicago, IL
5/1/2022 7:30 PM Fitzgerald Theater St. Paul, MN
5/2/2022 7:30 PM Stoughton Opera House Stoughton, WI
5/4/2022 7:00 PM Pabst Theatre Milwaukee, WI
5/22/2022 7:00 PM The Novo Los Angeles, CA