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by Donald Fagen

Pub Date: Oct. 22nd, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-670-02551-0
Publisher: Viking

Not really a rock memoir, but rather a book as distinctively peculiar and edgy as one might expect from the co-founder of Steely Dan.

The literary debut by keyboardist Fagen, a former English major who has written pieces on popular culture for magazines, opens with essays concerning his formative years as a skinny, anxious nerd immersed in jazz and science fiction, rebelling against 1950s suburbia as a self-described “subterranean in gestation with a real nasty case of otherness.” He writes of radio hipsters and jazz clubs, of the “mendacity on the part of adults that was the most sinister enemy of all.” Fagen ends this section with a reminiscence of his years at Bard College, where his underachieving bohemian classmates included Walter Becker, who became his musical partner. And that’s pretty much it for Steely Dan, since “that’s another story,” one that perhaps he is saving for another book. Instead, the second half is what he understatedly calls his “grouchy tour journal from the summer of 2012,” when he teamed with Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs as the Dukes of September, performing their own hits and older R&B for an audience he appears to dislike. The younger ones are “lazy, spoiled TV babies” who have “ultimately turned us into performing monkeys.” Other fans are the same generation as the headliners: “Mike, Boz and I are pretty old now and so is most of our audience. Tonight, though, the crowd looked so geriatric I was tempted to start calling out bingo numbers.” On another, there “were people on slabs, decomposing, people in mummy cases.” Some of this is acerbically funny in a self-lacerating sort of way, and some of the essays, particularly the one on hero worship and disillusionment (“I Was a Spy for Jean Shepherd”), are very incisive, but much of it is a downer.

It’s characteristic that the author knows what his readers want—the story of Steely Dan—and refuses to give it to them.