Walter Becker

Street Naming Ceremony, NYC

Walter Becker Street Naming
Forest Hills, NY 10/28/18

Review- Rebecca Wolf
Photos- Rebecca Wolf

It was a brisk fall day, a day that all week had threatened to be doused by rain. However, on October 28th, on the corner of 112th St. and 72nd Dr. in Forest Hills, Queens, there was no rain in sight.  And, just before noon, as the crowd gathered to honor the late Walter Becker, who passed away September 3, 2017, the sun began to shine. The sun’s rays added to the warm vibe and positive spirit already running through the crowd of Becker’s devoted fans.  These fans, some local, some from out of state and some from across the pond, had made the trip to this special corner in Forest Hills, where the street would now be named Walter Becker Way.  The celebration was live-streamed on Facebook by Q104.3 and hosted by the station’s Jim Kerr .

Becker’s childhood apartment building is steps away from this corner. This was where he spent his youth. At 10 years old, hanging out with his closest friend, Howard Rodman, he never could’ve imagined the music he’d share in creating, the impact that this music would have on millions of adoring fans, and that his little corner of the world would one day be emblazoned with his name.

Becker met his soon-to-be musical partner, Donald Fagen, while attending Bard College in upstate NY. The two formed the jazz-rock band Steely Dan in 1971 and their musical partnership created a unique sound and quality, easily recognizable as their own. While the additional band members, including studio and touring musicians changed from album to album and tour to tour, it was Fagen and Becker who were always the heart and soul of Steely Dan.  From 1972 to1980 the band released 7 albums, including hit singles and gold records, before musically parting ways for over a decade.  Upon reuniting in the early 1990s, Steely Dan hit the touring circuit, where they were continuously welcomed by their dedicated, enthusiastic fans, until their last performance together on May 27, 2017.  During this time, they released two albums in the early 2000s, and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

Both Becker and Fagen released solo albums during their hiatus from the band. Becker’s first release in 1994, “11 Tracks of Whack", was featured in the NY Times Top Ten List of the year. After 14 years, his second release in 2008, Circus Money, was a classic hit with fans and music critics. It was “11 Tracks of Whack” that caught the attention of teenage boy, Matthew Kerns, who became a diehard Walter Becker fan. During the Steely Dan tour in 2000, Kerns had the opportunity to meet Becker, and over the subsequent 17 years, a friendship grew. Kerns lobbied for the street naming, and NYC Council Member, Karen Koslowitz, representing the 29th District, successfully accomplished this honor. At the opening of the dedication ceremony, Koslowitz spoke of Becker’s roots in Forest Hills, and noted the additional musical icons emerging from the neighborhood, including Art Garfunkel, Burt Bacharach and the Ramones.
In addition to Koslowitz and Kerns, Becker’s childhood friend, Howard Rodman (who flew in from LA for the street dedication), Steely Dan back-up singer, Cindy Mizelle, and Becker’s last guitar tech, Ulrich Salizar, all took moments during the dedication to share their memories about Becker, including his uniqueness, intelligence, caring, and talent. Rodman noted that even from a young age Becker was hipper than everyone else and always had a “true generosity of spirit”.  Salizar called Becker an “amazing human being”. Mizelle recalled that in 2003 Becker “took her under his wing” when she joined Steely Dan. She spoke of his kindness and respect and said she’d love him forever.
Kern’s speech gave highlight to Becker’s depth as an individual, and his relatability to all.  He noted that Becker was never one to flaunt his knowledge or expertise. He found humor in himself and others, and remained as much a student as a teacher. While Becker had been called Steely Dan’s  “silent partner” in the media, with an emphatic chuckle, Kerns made it clear that Becker would himself find this characterization completely inaccurate (which Kerns concurred), as he was anything but silent.
Through his connection over the years with Walter Becker and family, Kerns became involved with curating many of Becker’s personal items. Several of these items were up for grabs for lucky fans at the dedication ceremony. By winning Walter Becker trivia games, several ecstatic fans left for home with one-of-a-kind treasures. A gentleman from England won a guitar strap worn by Becker on stage, while another Londoner was thrilled to win a black leather jacket. A father and son from Boston won a windbreaker, and several fans were excited to snag Hawaiian shirts from Becker’s closet.

When the hour long celebration came to a close, it was time to unveil the sign….Walter Becker Way. As the cover was removed, Walter Becker’s fans cheered. It was a bittersweet moment. We were all standing on the street corner, dedicating a street to a talented, beloved musician, marking the spot where his formative years were spent….making sure he’d be remembered (or asked about) by everyone looking up at that corner on 112th St. and 72nd Dr. How we all wished though, that we weren’t there, that we were actually heading to the Beacon that very night, to see Walter, playing with Steely Dan, during their now annual two weeks at the Beacon. If only……
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