“Reelin’ in the Years” by Steely Dan

I’m a teenager, on the roof, nailing tar paper. The boom box is tuned to WMMS, a Cleveland station nicknamed The Buzzard. Elliot Randall’s unmistakable guitar solo issues out, and Big Al, down at the ripsaw with a hangdog look from having gone frog-gigging all night, drones “hell yeahhhh.”

Two decades later. The Foxhead, Iowa City. I’ve got ten years on my MFA cohort, many of whom have Ivy League degrees and languidly pull on PBRs. A poet puts Reelin’ on the jukebox. Is this ironic? It suddenly sounds more prog than construction rock. Donald Fagen’s manic, talky lyrics tumble over the piano. But when the chorus hits, I’m all in: “Are you reelin’ in the years / stowin’ away the time…?”

For me, “Reelin’ in the Years”…wait for it…reels in these years. The song traffics in metamemory: You hear it and fish for the last life in which it mattered. The years bob out there, an archipelago in a pond, waiting to be caught.
-Ted Mathys

MathysphotoTed Mathys is the author of Null Set (2015), The Spoils (2009), and Forge (2005), all from Coffee House Press. The recipient of fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, and Poetry Society of America, he holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and an MA in international environmental policy from Tufts University. He lives in Saint Louis, teaches at Saint Louis University, and co-curates the Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts poetry series.

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