I am really hoping there’s an inside joke I am missing. But I did look really hard. The hidden gag should be expected of course, and in this case hoped for. Steely Dan was lyrically elaborate. Tough, witty, sardonic lyrics that rewarded closer study are a given. Banyan trees and Cathy Berberian, anyone? Tracking down the references in Steely Dan lyrics added another dimension to their music and I have always been a fan.
I also enjoy the strange nuggets found in a close reading of their web site or boxed sets of various sorts. They seemed like messages to the clued-in. No question -- Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, whether together or separately, could write. They cared about words. I guess that may still hold true for Donald Fagen’s recent book “Eminent Hipsters,” but what those words are in service of is a mystery to me. Like I said, I hope it’s just a joke that I don’t get.
First off, Donald Fagen can write. He writes really well. When he takes off on why the Blossom Sisters are important, or his surprisingly fond memories of his years at Bard College or his adolescent heroes of late night jazz radio you kind of get where “Eminent Hipsters” might have gone.
There is even a Steely Dan lyrical insight that settles a bar bet for me: “Deacon Blues” is a reference to the great football player Deacon Jones. But that’s about all the good stuff there is -- not even half the short book. (159 small, wide margin, double spaced pages for $26.95).
I wonder if this book wasn’t a contractual obligation -- it is so half baked. First the title; it is not good and not befitting the co-author of songs with titles like “Black Cow” and “Here at the Western World.” The book cover art is atrocious. Tellingly, Fagen is hiding his eyes. About those points I will say no more.
Other than the aforementioned good bits, most of the rest of the book is a very sketchy tour diary from a “Dukes of September” tour. It will surprise no one that Donald Fagen is a huge music snob -- but it was a surprise to see the degree of loathing with which he seems to regard his own fans. They are routinely described as fat, bald, old, drunk and with very poor taste in music and just about everything else.
Maybe it was meant to be sorta funny. But it isn’t.
Touring seems to be an extended hell of bad food, hotels that do not measure up, crappy sound in halls and protracted bouts of an undefined illness. He mocks Boz Skaggs and Michael McDonald for sleeping in the tour bus and then bitches about the crappy hotels endlessly. At one point in the book he even acknowledges that he sounds like a grumpy old man. Which is all well and good but doesn’t make this book any better.
I still long to hear that funny, wise and, yes, eminently hip, voice on the printed page, But this book ain’t it.
Or maybe it was Becker’s voice all along. Hey Walter, how about a book?