EMINENT HIPSTERS by Donald Fagen (Vintage Books, 2014)
This book is a good antidote to clichéd rock memoirs suggesting life on the road is one extended party. Here there’s no sex, some prescription drugs and a bit of AOR.
The second part takes the form of a 2012 tour diary based on concerts across America performed with Michael ‘Doobie Brother’ McDonald and Boz Scaggs as The Dukes of September Rhythm Review.
It was written mostly to relieve the monotony of playing a series of gigs in mostly sub-par venues to aging punters and staying in soulless hotels.
Fagen coins the term Acute Tour Disorder (ATD) to describe the state of anxiety, paranoia, depression and physical discomfort he experiences. You have to wonder why he keeps going and he asks himself this same question at regular intervals.
Along the way he gives full vent to his many gripes about the younger generation (dubbed ‘TV babes’) and how gadgets and devices are turning us into zombies: “Call me old Uncle Fuckwad, I don’t care……. but information technology is a pure mindfuck”
Although he is a bona fide grumpy old git, Fagen comes across as an honest human being through his black humor and self deprecation. He writes really well too making it clear that if he hadn’t become a musician he’d have made an excellent journalist.
While this is not an autobiography, in the first chapters you get a good sense of what it was like growing up in America in the 1950s and 1960s as he writes of his discovery of jazz and sci-fi together with his love of eminent hipster like country singer & DJ Jean Shepherd, The Boswell Sisters, Ike Turner. Ray Charles and Ennio Morricone.
He drops in a few references to his early career but if you want to know more about the Steely Dan years then this is not the book for you. A book about how classic albums like Can’t Buy A Thrill and Aja came into being would have sold better but one thing you learn from this book is that Donald Fagen isn’t interested in conventional crowd-pleasing gestures. He is not trying to lieable here.
Donald Fagen is cantankerous and contrary but you warm to him all the same because he never tries to gloss over his faults and has plenty of interesting stories to tell.