Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Book Review: Steely Dan's DONALD FAGAN Eminent Hipsters

Eminent Hipsters: Donald Fagan

Fagan keeps a diary of his life on the road with veteran performers, Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs as The Dukes Of September 2012.

It only took me about 41 years to figure out why I was never a fan of the melodic, polite, truly boring sound of Steely Dan--A very disengaged, aloof, tired old Donald Fagan! AND I gotta' believe he's been disengaged, aloof, old and tired since before stardom struck in 1972. Well, that's a lie. I actually like two Steely Dan songs, My Old School and FM (No Static At All), from my favorite radio movie of the same name in 1978. Fagan probably grimaced when having to played THOSE songs back in the day?

His influences were totally Jazz growing up (bor-r-r-ring)* Brubeck, Henry Mancini and some Jazz DJ's in the night out of New York City in the 1960's.

OK, let's score him some points here, Mr. Fagan was influenced by the on-air artistry of radio hosts who provided a musical soundscape for dreams of a kid growing up wanting to be something. Points here** I remember when radio was this meaningful through the speakers, under the pillow from a transistor radio so my parents wouldn't come in and tell me to "go to sleep."

Note: A transistor radio is a little portable radio with on and off switch, a single dial wheel for favorite frequencies, a D-battery and single tiny speaker. A popular gadget for young people in the 1960's through early 1970's.

Anyway, Mr. Fagan describes Eminent Hipsters as the people who molded and shaped his artistic sensibilities and aspirations as a youth. Parents, family members, teachers, friends and show business entertainers all became Eminent hipsters' to help the young Fagan break the ball and chain of a boring, gray, uneventful  Northern New Jersey upbringing.

TV Babies: The term for paying customers born after 1960, wanting to hear the radio hits from a band! Imagine that? WHO are these people? WHY are they spending their hard earned money to see live, the hits they came to love over the radio?? HOW dare they! Let these guys play something meaningful. Let see some musical genius that never got airplay because the other song was better? Amazing how artists hate what works. I get it that it is boring to be on auto pilot and artists are born to "create" and stretch the muscles of artistic genius. I GET that BUT that's not what I am PAYING for. Play Reeling In The Years, dammnit!

Life on the road, 8-10 hours trips between cities and shows and 2-star motels to save the money to get through the tour is an absolute grind, a hell and I understand Fagan's daily description of flat tires, blown alternators and really smelly mattresses at the local no-tell motel. I GET that. Hopefully they left the light on as the commercial goes? BUT, I DON'T get the dis engagement from "people", hotel guests, kids by the pool or fans wanting a picture or autograph. THAT'S what it is all about. Play Reeling In The Years' feed off that "rush" of applause and thank your lucky stars you do this for a living.

I DO give Fagan credit for his honesty in showcasing his disdain for obstacles in the way of his art. Audience members screaming curse words and walking out at the beginning of a show for an unfamiliar opening number. Another show while Michael McDonald was launching into a Doobie Brothers "hit", Fagan casually walking over to the female backup singers, on stage with a hope the theater would catch fire and the TV Babies would go screaming and running for their lives. Fagan makes it a very colorful entertaining read with these assessments throughout. LOVED the candor of the disgruntled man. I marvel at all the entertainers that WANT to be him. to BE at his level.   

I do love going behind the scenes in diary form to see how these people tick. It's GREAT research for interviews, boundaries etc. The book is an easy read. I did it on one 5 hour cross-country flight. AND somewhere (34,000ft) down below I'm sure their was a broken down tour bus with a famous old guy asking himself, WHY am I here??"   


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