A literary ode to the ultimate ramblers, wild gamblers, and sole survivors, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, the geniuses behind Steely Dan. These fellas created characters in worlds as fully realized as any in a Pulitzer, Oscar, or Nobel Prize winning work. They simply zeroed in on beautiful losers and low-lifes that rarely receive their time in the sun. Alex Pappademas uses the brilliant structure of tackling this rogue's gallery one by one, alongside the snarky paintings of Joan LeMay, to unpack the combined history and psyche of their deeply cynical Creator. So, luxuriate with some Cuervo Gold or cherry wine or scotch whiskey all night long and read behind the wheel.— From Tyler
A literary and visual exploration of the songs of Steely Dan.
Steely Dan’s songs are exercises in fictional world-building. No one else in the classic-rock canon has conjured a more vivid cast of rogues and heroes, creeps and schmucks, lovers and dreamers and cold-blooded operators—or imbued their characters with so much humanity. Pulling from history, lived experience, pulp fiction, the lore of the counterculture, and their own darkly comic imaginations, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker summoned protagonists who seemed like fully formed people with complicated pasts, scars they don’t talk about, delusions and desires and memories they can’t shake. From Rikki to Dr. Wu, Hoops McCann to Kid Charlemagne, Franny from NYU to the Woolly Man without a Face, every name is a locked-room mystery, beguiling listeners and earning the band an exceptionally passionate and ever-growing cult fandom.
Quantum Criminals presents the world of Steely Dan as it has never been seen, much less heard. Artist Joan LeMay has crafted lively, color-saturated images of her favorite characters from the Daniverse to accompany writer Alex Pappademas’s explorations of the famous and obscure songs that inspired each painting, in short essays full of cultural context, wild speculation, inspired dot-connecting, and the occasional conspiracy theory. All of it is refracted through the perspectives of the characters themselves, making for a musical companion unlike any other. Funny, discerning, and visually stunning, Quantum Criminals is a singular celebration of Steely Dan’s musical cosmos.
Alex Pappademas is the author of Keanu Reeves: Most Triumphant—The Movies & Meaning of an Irrepressible Icon and the writer and host of the acclaimed podcast The Big Hit Show. His work has also appeared in GQ, the New York Times, and Grantland.
Joan LeMay is an artist based in London and New York City (although the paintings for this book were created in Portland). Her work appears in multiple publications and books and has been shown in museums, galleries, and public spaces internationally.
Quantum Criminals is one of the sharpest, funniest, and best books ever about any rock artist.
Pappademas offers a lively series of ruminations about individual songs, loosely pegged to the characters who populate those songs and who are rendered in playfully detailed and colorful portraits by LeMay. The result is both a celebration and an artifact of the current Steely Dan moment...In sharp and funny chapters, Pappademas riffs on [Steely Dan's] cast of characters in ways that capture the band’s cultural context and musical debts.
[Quantum Criminals] uncovers the vast constellation of lyrical references, artistic influences and social and political contexts surrounding the band and its music.
Wry, playful but deeply incisive...Fagen, Becker...and Pappademas are kindred spirits, smartass, sharp-eyed observers of life’s El Supremos—a description that suits other Dan fans as well. Quantum Criminals is like a secret handshake between two covers. The best part is that it illuminates details the rest of us may have glossed over for years.
In one fell swoop, [Quantum Criminals] has become the essential Steely Dan book. And you should absolutely be reading it right now...Pappademas and LeMay leave no stones unturned in their quest to unlock every mythological quadrant of Steely Dan’s immense, decades-long artistic conceptions.
A whimsical plunge into one of America’s most unconventional rock bands...[A] delicious deep dive into the many protagonists in the 'Steely Daniverse'...LeMay’s vibrant paintings—more than 100 of which are included in the book—provide yet another kaleidoscopic lens through which to consider the duo’s wild imaginations. Any major dude will tell you that this is a solid and highly entertaining take on Fagen and Becker’s 'platonic love story.'
[An] engaging and illuminating way to tell the band's history...Quantum Criminals is undoubtedly the best thing I’ve ever read about this endearingly strange and endlessly fascinating band.
An engrossing series of essays that innovatively chart the cosmology of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker’s musical universe…[A] terrific and irresistible book.
These song-based essays are part band biography, trenchant culture criticism, poignant ‘70s history, and psychedelic tone poems. Like Steely Dan’s tunes, they toe the line between an unbridled reverence for the music and esoteric sensibilities. I read it in a day and came out with an even deeper respect for their catalog.
This is the finest piece of rock journalism that I have read in a long time.