How to Turn a Cruddy Movie Into a PR Opportunity, the Steely Dan Way

steelydan.jpgWendy McCaw, Mayor Villaraigosa, you may now bow down to your PR masters: The venerable bards of Henry Mancini-esque rock, Steely Dan. All morning, I’ve been trying to get on the Steely Dan website to read the now-famous “Open Letter to the Great Comic Actor, Luke Wilson,” and couldn’t get through for all the traffic. This goof has gotten the Dan more mainstream publicity than anything they’ve done since the band’s inception in 1972.

Perfect timing: Steely Dan is on a summer tour with Michael McDonald, and without a new CD to generate reviews and other clips.

The letter’s conceit is that Luke’s brother Owen Wilson has “gotten himself mixed up with some pretty bad Hollywood schlockmeisters,” who, they say, stole the idea for the flop “You, Me and Dupree” from Steely Dan’s song about a lustful loser, “Cousin Dupree,” “and then,” according to the letter, “when it came time to change the character’s name or whatever so people wouldn’t know what a rip the whole thing was, THEY DIDN’T EVEN BOTHER TO THINK UP A NEW FUCKING NAME FOR THE GUY.”

The letter is hard to quote because it’s a graphic object that you can’t copy and paste from (which will force everyone to go onto the group’s website and read about the tour, another good PR maneuver!). What makes it priceless is how they adopt the shambling, stoned blather that Owen Wilson has foisted upon the American public through innumerable talk-show appearances, and that writers for Owen Wilson’s movies have now learned to ape.

But underneath the sunny, “it’s all good” patter lurks the trademark Steely Dan menace their fans have grown to know and love through songs like “Daddy Don’t Live in That New York City No More,” and “Gaslighting Abbie”:

Anyway, they got your little brother on the hook for this summer stinkbomb of a movie — I mean, check the reviews — and he’s using all his heaviest Owen C. licks to try and get this pathetic way-unfunny debacle off the ground and, in the end, no matter what he does or what happens at the box office, in the short run, he’s gonna go down hard for selling out like this and for trashing the work of some pretty heavy artists like us in the process. You know yourself, man, that what goes around comes around — that’s like the first fucking thing you learn, right? Instant karma is a fact, Jack. So your spaced-out little bro is generating some MAJOR harsh-ass karma for himself by fucking us over like this — I mean, we’re like totally out in the cold on this one — no ASCAP, no soundtrack, no consultant gig…. No phone call, no muffin basket, no flowers, nothing.

luke-and-owen.jpgThe threats mount until finally they offer Luke an opportunity to help Owen avoid tangling with “this guy who works for us sometimes…you know what a Navy Seal is, right? Well, this dude’s like that, only he’s Russian”: Send him to appear at Steely Dan’s Irvine concert to apologize, “and then he can get back to his life and his family and his beautiful moviestar-style pad or whatever, none the worse for wear….” Oh, they’ll throw in some Steely Dan “merch” and “if he wants to sit in” he can “bring his bongos.”

Hilarious, and it did the job. America now knows that Steely Dan is on tour. The Irvine show was actually last week, and I didn’t hear whether Owen Wilson showed up or not. In fact, I haven’t heard much of anything from the Owe-ster in a couple weeks…

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