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Cultural legitimacy or 'outsider hip'? Representational ambiguity and the significance of Steely Dan

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Steely Dan, a rock band which has consistently produced high calibre songs but eschewed celebrity, embodies a particular idiosyncratic rock genre that contains originality, craftsmanship and a critical attitude to art and life. In many ways the core musicians can be regarded as intellectuals whose songs not only offer particular individualised and self-driven 'outsider' identities for the fan but also claim cultural authority. This article explores the ambiguous socio-cultural and musical space occupied by the band in relation to rock music and the 1970s context more generally. It examines techniques of production, lyrical content, fan attachment and broader signification with regard to individual style and cultural legitimisation. It also critically assesses theoretical arguments that consider the positioning of the music within modernist and postmodernist discourses.

Keywords: alienation; mannerist; middle-brow; popular modern; self-styled distinction

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Drama, Goldsmiths, University of London, London, UK

Publication date: April 1, 2009

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