Steve Miller Wrote ‘The Joker’ as a Balm for Vietnam War Turmoil
Steve Miller Band struck gold (and platinum) with their breakthrough 1973 album The Joker and its chart-topping title track, which introduced listeners to the space cowboy, the gangster of love and Maurice, who spoke of the pompatus of love.
The head-scratching lyrics have become part of the pop-culture lexicon, but the band's namesake frontman revealed there was a purpose to his nonsensical pot-smoking anthem.
"Vietnam [the war] wasn't over; there was just always shit going on with [then-President] Nixon; there'd been riots all over the country," Miller recently told the New York Post. "The country was in a mess. And I just wanted to, you know, not sing about all the negative shit but try and do something positive."
It's easy to see why listeners gravitated toward the protagonist of "The Joker," a freewheeling vagabond in pursuit of a good time, while the U.S. was in turmoil. "It was just a song about this Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer kind of character — a rascally kind of guy who's just out and about having fun and not taking anything too seriously," Miller explained.
Watch Steve Miller Band's 'The Joker' Video
The song was also mildly transgressive for its time, as marijuana legalization was still decades away. "Ooh, hush hush — that was, like, secret talk in 1973," the 79-year-old rocker said with a laugh. "Nudge nudge, wink wink."
Miller's still out on the road delivering classic-rock staples like "The Joker," "Fly Like an Eagle" and "Jet Airliner" to the masses, but he's no longer living out all of his lyrics, as he gave up drinking and smoking at 35. "Drinking was easy — I just quit," he said. "But the smoking was really tough."
He also maintains an offstage fitness and practice regimen that keeps him in top shape for gigs — while also earning him some light ribbing from friend and collaborator Paul McCartney, whose 1997 album Flaming Pie features Miller on several tracks. "They were making fun of me for doing my vocal warm-ups," Miller said. "And I just said, 'Paul, you know, you really ought to try it. It really helps.'"