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Ben Affleck: Did Friends Intervene?

Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez | Steely Dan | Sightings

Ben Affleck: Did Friends Intervene?

Twice last week, before the idiotic B-Lo/J-Lo wedding was called off, I was told the same thing: Ben Affleck's close pals staged an "intervention," the kind used for addicts, to stop his wedding to Jennifer Lopez.

It looks like they got through to him.

On Wednesday, friends of Affleck's I talked to didn't deny that the intervention took place, but by the time I reached them the wedding had been canceled anyway. There was relief in the air and in their voices.

Such a group consensus would have included Matt Damon (by phone from Prague), Ben's brother Casey, producer Chris Moore and a handful of Affleck friends from the film business, including his "Project Greenlight" comrades.

What is known is that on Wednesday night, as I reported exclusively the next morning, Affleck and Lopez had dinner at the Ivy on Robertson in Beverly Hills, simply as a public-relations move once the wedding was called off.

Their mutual agent, Patrick Whitesell, suggested it as a way of cooling off the press interest that has become so weird and intense. They were not alone, either, which is important to note. This was a business meal, not a romantic encounter.

The world knows the couple had asked Miramax for a print of Stephen Frears' "Dirty Pretty Things" to watch at home because I reported it here on Thursday. Whether they ever watched it remains an unanswered question.

Is the whole thing over? If a poll were taken, the answers would be a resounding "Yes" and "We never want to hear about it again."

The end comes with Lopez a decided winner. Because of Affleck's relationships in the film business, she wound up making three quality Miramax movies, including one with Robert Redford and Lasse Hallström and another with Richard Gere. That's nothing to cry about. She also gets to keep lots of jewelry and cars given to her by Ben as gifts.

What does Affleck get? Freedom. You can't put a price on that.

Will Steely Dan Make It a Grammy Repeat?

Two-and-a-half years ago, the iconic jazz-rock combo called Steely Dan won the Grammy Award for Best Album of the Year with "Two Against Nature." It was their first and only Grammy in their 30-year career, and, though they are known as cynics who mocked the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for years, they accepted their statues with a certain ironic grace.

Now, the question is, to paraphrase their first hit: Can they do it again?

Steely Dan — which is really just guitarist Walter Becker, singer/keyboardist Donald Fagen and a supporting cast of top-notch musicians — played two of the best shows I've ever seen this past weekend at New York's Roseland Ballroom.

The Saturday night show was so good that Becker, not a man of many words, actually exclaimed from the stage that perhaps it was his all-time favorite.

When the capacity audience of 3,000-plus, jammed like upright sardines from the lip of the stage to all corners of the cavernous, historic, seedy dance hall, started singing the words to the obscure Dan song, "Don't Take Me Alive," Fagen — also not one to show tremendous emotion — seemed genuinely shocked and bowled over.

With all this going for them, then, is it possible to win another Grammy — or even be nominated for one?

Their new album, "Everything Must Go," was released in June by Warner Bros. to mostly excellent reviews. The album should be up for Best Album. The title track qualifies for Best Performance by a Duo, Group or whatever.

With its intricate jazz composition, winning melodic lines and trenchant lyrics about corporate greed, "Everything Must Go" is already the song of the year. In a perfect world, which would exclude illiterate rappers and lip-synching teenagers, Steely Dan would be vying for Grammys with Macy Gray, the late Warren Zevon, the Pretenders, Coldplay, Aretha Franklin, Annie Lennox, Luther Vandross, Beyoncé Knowles and Wyclef Jean.

But it's a real world, so Justin Timberlake and 50 Cent are more than likely to squeeze in there and become spoilers for more deserving work.

Still, it was a great enjoyment on Friday and Saturday nights to see Steely Dan perform at Roseland. In their so-called prime, they were not a touring band.

After a disastrous run in 1973 opening for the Electric Light Orchestra, Becker and Fagen took the group off the road and never returned. Three great albums — "Katy Lied," "The Royal Scam," and "Aja" — followed to complement their predecessors "Can't Buy a Thrill," "Countdown to Ecstasy" and "Pretzel Logic." In 1981, Steely Dan released "Gaucho" and folded its tent, presumably never to be seen again.

But in 1994, the Dan resurfaced. Fagen had put out two solo albums and, with the help of his wife, songwriter Libby Titus, fashioned the New York Rock and Soul Revue. The time was right to let Steely Dan go live. Several successful tours led to "Two Against Nature," an album that lived up to the duo's reputation for twisted lyrics in songs like "Cousin Dupree" with its tangy suggestion of incest.

The weekend's shows mostly ignored "Nature," and concentrated instead a lot on "The Royal Scam" and "Aja." In fact, the two-and-half-hour show began with the title track from "Aja," an eight-minute-plus jazz opus that is probably the most complicated in the group's canon.

Leave it to Steely Dan not to start a sold-out show with a hit or even something bouncy. But as Fagen said later: "It gets it out of the way. Then it's all downhill."

The Steely Dan ensemble consists of 12 or so players besides Becker and Fagen. The most famous is sax player Cornelius Bumpus, known for his work as an original Doobie Brother, which is ironic because singer Michael McDonald and Jeff "Skunk" Baxter migrated from the Dan to the Doobies in the mid-'70s.

But the three other horn players are equally remarkable. Lead guitarist Jon Harrington, who stands stage left and a little separate from the others, was a star both nights. Twenty-five-year-old drummer Keith Carlock was so commanding I would recommend Pete Townshend pick him up for the next Who tour without question. And so on.

You can only imagine musicians with sweating palms waiting for their audition with perfectionists Becker and Fagen. (Carlock was overheard saying he'd had a couple of drinks on Friday night before the show just to calm down; I'd be nervous to hear him sober.)

The shows were full of music, which is not something you might say these days of other acts. Nothing was sampled or supplemented. In the airy space of Roseland the horns melted like butter, the background singers sounded like angels and the guitars crackled.

Fagen perched at an electronic keyboard or wandered center stage while he sang. Becker knocked off some virtuoso guitar riffs and even got to speak-sing lead on two songs -- the new "Slang of Ages," and the classic, story-driven "Haitian Divorce" about a woman who returns from her Caribbean divorce trip pregnant with a local's baby and tries to pass it off as her ex-husband's.

In the end, though, it was the stuff from "Everything Must Go" that I really wanted to hear. Not just the title track, but also "Godwhacker" (which hit a hot groove on Saturday night) and "Slang of Ages" — and I wouldn't have minded hearing "Blues Beach," "Pixeleen" and "Things I Miss the Most," all of which have been rotated in and out of sets through the tour.

The show was a hit, in every sense. The album may have been abandoned by Warner Bros., but hey, what album hasn't been? "Two Against Nature" didn't start out as a sales success until the Grammys bolstered it, and I'm sure the same will happen again with "Everything Must Go."

Sightings

Michael Caine and Joan Collins, separately, supped at Elaine's in New York on Saturday night. Earlier in the week, Harper's editor Lewis Lapham went outside and explained golf to Franklin, the permanent homeless guy who fetches cabs for tips from the well-heeled patrons.

Téa Leoni, actress/wife of David Duchovny, with her two blonde kids, dining at Joe Jr.'s famous coffee shop in Greenwich Village over the weekend. Duchovny, who just lost his author father, starts shooting a film next month in the neighborhood co-starring Robin Williams.

Radio "personality" Howard Stern on Sunday afternoon, looking as disheveled as possible, walking a small white bulldog with brown spots into Central Park at the West 67th St. entrance. Salman Rushdie at the dinner for Cate Blanchett's new movie "Veronica Guerin" at the Plaza Athenee.