The fool in Steely Dan’s “Only a Fool Would Say That” is John Lennon
Steely Dan’s lyrics were intellectual, literary, and sometimes sexist and racist, both a product of their time and a product out of time. Okay, I had to get that out. Primarily known as a studio band, with the absolute most talented studio musicians of the day rolling through their sessions, the Dan — named after a dildo in the fantastically strange and extraordinarily prescient experimental novel Naked Lunch by William Burroughs, made musically astounding records with singable choruses and unique, unforgettable themes.
The sarcasm and wit were not only directed at USian pop culture, aesthetics, and consumer culture but also at other musical acts. As reported in Far Out Magazine, the “fool” spoken about in the 1972 song “Only a Fool Would Say That” is non-other than John Lennon.
Only a Fool Would Say That was “written in response to Lennon’s parade of peace. It looks at idealism through the practical eyes of folks on the street. ‘You do his nine to five,’ they sing, ‘drag yourself home half alive, and there on the screen, a man with a dream.’ And with that, you get a sense of how grating and vacuous they thought that Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ campaign had become.”
“Over gentle jangling guitars, Donald Fagen renders John Lennon an artist out of touch with the common folk, living an idealist fantasy that serves as more of a holier than thou doctrine than a realist hand to humanity. The era was approaching the crumbling poverty of recession, but Lennon appeared as some sort of cowboy on a national talk show making proclamations that the following lyrics were quick to mock: “Our world become on/ Of salads and sun / Only a fool would say that / A boy with a plan / A natural man /Wearing a white Stetson hat.