I sort of lost track of Steely Dan for a while and to be honest it's partly because I haven't really felt much for their work since "Two Against Nature." But that album - or at least the one song... I was in a bookstore in Manhattan and as I was browsing I heard music playing from above and I thought what is that beautiful sound? I knew SD was scheduled to release a new album so I quickly realized they were my angels. Specifically, "Jack of Speed."
But because of Walter Becker's recent death I've been reading up on the Dan and just realized Donald Fagen had put out a book of writing, "Eminent Hipsters", so I bought it and read the whole thing in a sitting. In the credits at the back Fagen thanks Hendrick Hertzberg for reviewing his manuscript, which led me to wonder why Fagen has never written for the New Yorker.
In the New Yorker archives there are some articles which mention Steely Dan in passing and just a few that focus on them, including one about Becker's death, and that's it. The closest they get to a review is Sasha Frere-Jones odd summation of them as "a band that could not come to be now."
But no Fagen bylines and why not? He knows Hertzberg, he's a bona fide god of rock, there's probably a greater concentration of Dan fans among New Yorker readers than most other places and he writes beautifully, as you might guess from some of the finer Dan lyrics, but especially in the second half of the book, which is almost entirely Fagen bitching about the discomforts of touring with a sub-Dan band. I found those stories more interesting than his essays about the monsters of jazz and other childhood heroes.
The second half of the book isn't only an old guy complaining about the kids these days and health problems, although even that is far more interesting than you have any right to expect. There's also jarring moments of tragedy (his wife's son's suicide) and unexpectedly hysterical humor and just solid nuggets of wisdom. Some of my faves:
So it's five years since Fagen wrote the book and he just lost his long-time collaborator and friend and must be going through a lousy time. I hope he's OK.
And also I hope that the New Yorker will ask him to write pieces now and then. And give him one of those nifty headshot cartoon icons like Hertzberg has.
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
On the road with Donald Fagen
Posted by Nancy