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Quantum Criminals: Ramblers, Wild Gamblers, and Other Sole Survivors from the Songs of Steely Dan (American Music Series) By Alex Pappademas, Joan LeMay Cover Image
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“I ADORED IT”—Michael Chabon

A literary and visual exploration of the songs of Steely Dan.

Steely Dan’s songs are exercises in fictional world-building. No one else in the classic-rock canon has conjured a more vivid cast of rogues and heroes, creeps and schmucks, lovers and dreamers and cold-blooded operators—or imbued their characters with so much humanity.

Pulling from history, lived experience, pulp fiction, the lore of the counterculture, and their own darkly comic imaginations, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker summoned protagonists who seemed like fully formed people with complicated pasts, scars they don’t talk about, delusions and desires and memories they can’t shake. From Rikki to Dr. Wu, Hoops McCann to Kid Charlemagne, Franny from NYU to the Woolly Man without a Face, every name is a locked-room mystery, beguiling listeners and earning the band an exceptionally passionate and ever-growing cult fandom.

Quantum Criminals presents the world of Steely Dan as it has never been seen, much less heard. Artist Joan LeMay has crafted lively, color-saturated images of her favorite characters from the Daniverse to accompany writer Alex Pappademas’s explorations of the famous and obscure songs that inspired each painting, in short essays full of cultural context, wild speculation, inspired dot-connecting, and the occasional conspiracy theory. All of it is refracted through the perspectives of the characters themselves, making for a musical companion unlike any other. Funny, discerning, and visually stunning, Quantum Criminals is a singular celebration of Steely Dan’s musical cosmos.

About the Author

Alex Pappademas is the author of Keanu Reeves: Most TriumphantThe Movies & Meaning of an Irrepressible Icon and the writer and host of the acclaimed podcast The Big Hit Show. His work has also appeared in GQ, the New York Times, and Grantland.

Joan LeMay is an artist based in London and New York City (although the paintings for this book were created in Portland). Her work appears in multiple publications and books and has been shown in museums, galleries, and public spaces internationally.

Praise For…

Quantum Criminals is one of the sharpest, funniest, and best books ever about any rock artist.

— Rolling Stone

Weird and wondrous...Quantum Criminals fairly drips with information…and I have drunk it in eagerly...The writing in Quantum Criminals is often arresting and always engaging pop-music journalism...Quantum Criminals is a reminder that one can be massively fulfilled by language one doesn’t fully comprehend.
— New York Times

Pappademas offers a lively series of ruminations about individual songs, loosely pegged to the characters who populate those songs and who are rendered in playfully detailed and colorful portraits by LeMay. The result is both a celebration and an artifact of the current Steely Dan moment...In sharp and funny chapters, Pappademas riffs on [Steely Dan's] cast of characters in ways that capture the band’s cultural context and musical debts.

— The Atlantic

[Quantum Criminals] uncovers the vast constellation of lyrical references, artistic influences and social and political contexts surrounding the band and its music.

— NPR Music

Wry, playful but deeply incisive...Fagen, Becker...and Pappademas are kindred spirits, smartass, sharp-eyed observers of life’s El Supremos—a description that suits other Dan fans as well. Quantum Criminals is like a secret handshake between two covers. The best part is that it illuminates details the rest of us may have glossed over for years.

— Los Angeles Times

In one fell swoop, [Quantum Criminals] has become the essential Steely Dan book. And you should absolutely be reading it right now...Pappademas and LeMay leave no stones unturned in their quest to unlock every mythological quadrant of Steely Dan’s immense, decades-long artistic conceptions.

— Paste

A whimsical plunge into one of America’s most unconventional rock bands...[A] delicious deep dive into the many protagonists in the 'Steely Daniverse'...LeMay’s vibrant paintings—more than 100 of which are included in the book—provide yet another kaleidoscopic lens through which to consider the duo’s wild imaginations. Any major dude will tell you that this is a solid and highly entertaining take on Fagen and Becker’s 'platonic love story.'

— Kirkus

[An] engaging and illuminating way to tell the band's history...Quantum Criminals is undoubtedly the best thing I’ve ever read about this endearingly strange and endlessly fascinating band.

— The Forward

An engrossing series of essays that innovatively chart the cosmology of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker’s musical universe…[A] terrific and irresistible book.

— Talkhouse

Remarkable...we finally have a book about Steely Dan in which the writing and art fully measure up to the sophistication and beauty of Becker and Fagen’s music...Pappademas’s incisive, elegant prose poetry pairs perfectly with LeMay’s colorful hand-painted portraits that offer humorous and empathetic glimpses of the Dan’s menagerie of luckless pedestrians.
— Expanding Dan

Wonderfully weird and insightful...the Steeliest of all the Steely Dan books out there. And it’s wholly refreshing...There have been a number of fine books on Steely Dan, but Quantum Criminals is the one whose spirit, vivacity, and off-kilterness matches its subjects and their body of work.
— Houston Press

Steely Dan fans should love this book. And if you’re not a fan of that non-band band, but love good writing about rock music, Quantum Criminals is still worth reading.
— Milwaukee Shepherd Express

These song-based essays are part band biography, trenchant culture criticism, poignant ‘70s history, and psychedelic tone poems. Like Steely Dan’s tunes, they toe the line between an unbridled reverence for the music and esoteric sensibilities. I read it in a day and came out with an even deeper respect for their catalog.

— No Expectations

This is the finest piece of rock journalism that I have read in a long time.

— Religion News Service

Alex Pappademas reveals the stories behind many of [Steely Dan's] songs and, in the process, gives us a book that shows what the right kind of obsession leads to—joyful, contagious passion. Featuring terrific illustrations by Joan LeMay, this is a fascinating, fun, and deep dive into the stories behind the music and the men who created it...After you read this book, you’ll never be able to forget the genius of these two writers.
— Air Mail

For those who are anywhere from casual listeners to hardcore Dan Fans, this book is an unceasing delight from cover to cover…Engrossing, well-written, with vivid, whimsical illustrations, Quantum Criminals is the literary equivalent of a Steely Dan album: vibrant, a little strange, and nearly perfect.
— Spectrum Culture

Writer Alex Pappademas and painter Joan Lemay...go beyond explanation to produce the definitive Danomicon with this expansively argued and vibrantly illustrated survey of the songs, lyrics and characters populating the whole Steely Dan catalog.
— Tertulia

Whether you count the current Danaissance as something entirely new or another turn in a recurring cycle, and even if you’re among those who find the band too weird or jazzy, it’s undeniable the Dan endures. Quantum Criminals is an entertaining and insightful account of why.
— The Washington Free Beacon

The book is as smooth and intriguing as Gaucho, a combination of sophisticated thinking, clear language, and a calm view of the dark interior of this band. All of it is told through a series of connected biographies that are based on each song that the band recorded . . . and that give the musicians involved, the cultural views accumulated, and Pappademas’s own journey, significant roles in what is a great and complex story. The book will be terrifically satisfying to any and all Dan fans in the way that having one’s own experiences and perceptions acknowledged and validated is, but it goes far beyond hagiography.
— The Brooklyn Rail

The new book, Quantum Criminals: Ramblers, Wild Gamblers, and other Sole Survivors From the Songs of Steely Dan, is the delightful result of an author not only understanding their subject, but emotionally bonding with it. In this case, it’s the two co-authors, Alex Pappademas (who writes the words) and Joan LeMay (who paints the pictures). . . Quantum Criminals understands the paradoxical nature of Steely Dan, and the book embraces that chaos. It’s not a paean to “great men” of classic rock, nor is it a fan service love letter. But it is most definitely the right book about the correct band.
— The Daily Beast

There have been a number of fine books on Steely Dan, but Quantum Criminals is the one whose spirit, vivacity, and off-kilterness matches its subjects and their body of work.
— Classic Rock Bob

[An] ultra-cool hybrid of music criticism and pop art...For older fans, who remember when 'Rikki Don't Lose That Number' owned the airwaves in spring 1974, Quantum Criminals is like a tour guide with a music geek friend whose fresh outlook about songs you've heard hundreds of times enables you to experience elements of their greatness for the first time.
— New Hampshire Union Leader

The best music book of 2023…From Rikki to Hoops McCann to Kid Charlemagne, Pappademas’ prose and LeMay’s paintings pair together to give Donald Fagen and Walter Becker’s band the vivid, unforgettable context it has always deserved. It’s an essential mapping of Steely Dan’s wild and wonderful world, told straight from two Danheads.
— Paste Magazine

Steely Dan’s stock is even higher today than it was in the 1970s, when they were having hit records. Critic Alex Pappademas and illustrator Joan LeMay deliver the perfect celebration of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker’s unique hermetic grandeur, honoring their oblique mystique while also getting at the real human beings lurking beneath the pristine tunes and cynical worldview. Each chapter is a revelatory riff on a different character in a Dan song — from Peg to Rikki to Mr. LePage to the Gaucho — with LeMay’s artwork just as smart and fun as the writing. They get into topics like the band’s secret hip-hop influence, their ‘famously overdetermined guitar solos,’ and the dialectical nature of their relationship with fellow El Lay rock royals the Eagles. People have been trying to untangle the riddle of Steely Dan’s greatness for decades. No one’s ever done it better.
— Jon Dolan

Quantum Criminals is such an unusual, funny, and creative work of criticism that it should inspire anyone who loves pop music but feels tired of the forms into which the market hems writers who want to tell its stories.
— Slate

Quantum Criminals: Ramblers, Wild Gamblers and Other Sole Survivors from the Songs of Steely Dan (University of Texas Press) by Alex Pappademas and Joan LeMay has been described as the quintessential Steely Dan book. As part of the project, LeMay, a native Houstonian, created 109 whimsical portraits of characters that sprang from the musicians’ lyrics and legends. In a review, fellow artist Melissa Messer wrote: 'Looking at Joan’s oeuvre makes me feel tipsy, or like I’ve drunk Wonka’s Fizzy Lifting Drink and I’m swimming through the air after her, searching for the same vision.'
— Texas Observer

This book not only dissects Steely Dan’s lyrics and dives deep into the imagery of their discography, it also steps back and provides helpful context about how the band’s music was written.
— New York Magazine: The Strategist

Product Details
ISBN: 9781477324998
ISBN-10: 1477324992
Publisher: University of Texas Press
Publication Date: May 9th, 2023
Pages: 280
Language: English
Series: American Music Series