A witty, candid, sharply written memoir by the cofounder of Steely Dan
In his entertaining debut as an author, Donald Fagen—musician, songwriter, and cofounder of Steely Dan—reveals the cultural figures and currents that shaped his artistic sensibility, as well as offering a look at his college days and a hilarious account of life on the road. Fagen presents the “eminent hipsters” who spoke to him as he was growing up in a bland New Jersey suburb in the early 1960s; his colorful, mind-expanding years at Bard College, where he first met his musical partner Walter Becker; and the agonies and ecstasies of a recent cross-country tour with Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs. Acclaimed for his literate lyrics and complex arrangements as a musician, Fagen here proves himself a sophisticated writer with his own distinctive voice.
In these entertaining sketches, Steely Dan keyboardist and front man Fagen pays tribute to the "talented musicians, writers, and performers" from beyond the suburban New Jersey of his youth. In one chapter, Fagen recalls his early fascination with now-forgotten jazz singers the Boswell Sisters. He singles out Connie whose career was affected in some measure by an early brush with illness (likely polio) and praises her last recording, saying that she sounds like a "toned-down Wanda Jackson or Brenda Lee." Fagen sends a kind of love letter to Henry Mancini, telling the composer of the theme from the television show Peter Gunn a theme whose first notes every neophyte guitarist tried to learn back then that his music continues to be young and fresh. Fagen vivaciously recalls his college days at Bard, meeting his future Steely Dan bandmate Walter Becker, and playing at a Halloween party with Walter and actor Chevy Chase on drums. In 2012, Fagen, Michael McDonald, and Boz Scaggs toured as the Duke of September Rhythm Revue; during the months of the tour, Fagen kept a journal, included in these pages, that's filled with irony, sarcasm, humor, anger, and flat-out honesty about what it's like to be on the road playing to houses filled with aging hippies: "Tonight the crowd looked so geriatric I was tempted to start calling out bingo numbers. By the end of the set, they were all on their feet, albeit shakily, rocking.... So this, now, is what I do: assisted living."
Honest & Funny But Not What the Title Suggests
This was given to me as a gift. But most friends of mine know that I would have bought it anyway without a second look. Contemporary music biography is a favorite genre and Fagen is on my short list of musicians that have had an influence on my own musical world.
Donald Fagen is, to me, what Van Heusen, Kern, or Young was to a previous generation of musicians. The American Songbook continues to evolve and find an audience thanks to artists like Mr. Fagen. On every level, Fagan is the complete package - lyricist, songwriter, musician, arranger, producer, etc… The first portion of the book mainly deals with the musical and cultural influences that were central in Fagen's own life as an artist and a human being. If you know nothing about jazz history or have no interest in popular culture circa 1957-1967 then you may find yourself bored. But you may take interest in the second part of the book - a tour diary for the Dukes of September circa 2012.
As a reward for all the hard work of being a standard bearer he submits to the crappy existence of living life on a tour bus. It doesn't even take imagination to understand how tiring that life could be. As an antidote to the dreariness, Fagen eviscerates the tour bus life with his legendary wit in a personal road journal. And we get a chance to look over his shoulder.
But there is a huge gap in this book. And those that did not investigate beyond the title before purchasing may be taken aback by what is NOT in the book. "Eminent Hipsters" (plural) suggests Fagen and Becker - the principal duo behind Steely Dan. For me, it comes off as a bit of false advertising. Steely Dan is not at all central to this book. A better title would have been the singular, "Eminent Hipster".
Fagen puts out 120% on the stage. He is a joy to watch. His contribution to contemporary music goes well beyond Reelin' and Rikki. He has (oh God this is hard to say) "matured gracefully" as an artist. Fagen likes to grouse about what he perceives to be inane and banal in popular culture. If his own fans are the target then so much the better. (Were all in the big auditorium singing "Got the Steely Dan tee shirt…" together.) I think his opinions regarding synthesizers, TV and internet, and tuning make my own eyes roll on occasion. But I will always be interested in what Donald has to say. And I submit that I am far more partial to this book than the average DanFan.
Can You Hear Me Dr. Whine?
I tried to like this book, because I am a huge Steely Dan fan. But I’ll bet Donald Fagan enjoyed writing this book far more than this “TV baby” enjoyed reading it.
Donald Fagan is who Kyle’s cousin Kyle (TV reference DF likely won’t get) grows up to be.
Not bad Not great