“Doctor Wu” by Steely Dan
There seems to be an ongoing debate as to whether the “Doctor Wu” mentioned in this song is a real person. Yes, there is an actual Dr. Wu who has been known to treat celebrity drug addicts. But on more than one occasion Donald Fagen, the co-writer and vocalist of this piece, has clarified that the titular character is not a real person.
In fact he went on to elaborate that Doctor Wu is actually ‘the personification of a dope habit’. And that foreknowledge is actually essential in making sense out of this narrative, since it relies heavily on metaphors, allegories and flipping of the addressee.
Characters of “Doctor Wu”
So there are three characters at play in this song. They are – the narrator, Dr. Wu and one Katy. Katy serves the role of the unfaithful lover in the vocalist’s life, though his girlfriend nonetheless. In fact as further explained by Fagen in his own words, this narrative revolves around a “love-dope triangle”.
So in an attempt to make sense of all of this, well, Wu is who the vocalist goes to apparently for counseling when he is having trouble with Katy. But since said Doctor is a personification of dope, what that would mean is that the narrator tends to get high on hard drugs whenever he’s stressed out romantically.
Further implied by the way Donald has described this song is that Katy herself is hooked on dope. That’s not something that most listeners are likely to pick up on from the lyrics unless they have a really sharp ear and good understanding of Steely Dan’s artistry, as said aspect of this narrative is theoretically alluded to at the end of the first verse.
Honestly, up until this point we haven’t done much research into the band ourselves. But it does appear that the homeys have had their own fair share of experiences with drugs. For instance, the other co-writer of this song is, Walter Becker, was once sued for a ridiculous sum of money after his girlfriend at the time overdosed to death.
And in our final referring to Donald Fagen’s description of “Dr. Wu”, he explained the song away in a manner that would insinuate he not only knows a lot of drugs but also unfaithful women.
So conclusively, let’s say that the narrator not only has problem with Katy – the woman in his life – but also with drugs being a troubling presence that not only Katy uses but also the vocalist himself.
Facts about “Doctor Wu”
“Doctor Wu” was released in March of 1975 as part of Steely Dan’s album “Katy Lied”. The album’s title was was actually inspired by a phrase found in the second verse of this song.
ABC Records, the label behind this track, never released “Doctor Wu” as a single. However, it still went on to become a favorite amongst fans of the band.
Steely Dan frontman Donald Fagen and his former bandmate, the late Walter Becker (1950-2017), are the credited writers of this song. And its producer is Gary Katz.