Book Review: Donald Fagen's Eminent Hipsters

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When I heard about the new book written by Steely Dan's frontman and co-songwriter Donald Fagen I was expecting a paint-by-numbers rock biography. What I got was a cool collection of the formative influences of Donald's life.

Instead of giving us a chronological telling of the Steely Dan story, Eminent Hipsters is something completely different.

While the word "hipster" seems to be gaining popularity, especially in the trendy neighborhoods of Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Austin, the term actually comes from the whole beatnik scene of the 40's and 50's. So Eminent Hipsters paints colorful pictures of the hipsters that a young Donald Fagen looked up to and eventually emulate through the ultra-hip sounds of Steely Dan. Early radio icon Jean Shepherd is painted as a rebellious late night disc jockey that could be seen as an ancestor to shock jocks like Howard Stern and Steve Dahl.

The spaghetti western productions of Ennio Morricone could be seen as predecessors of modern compositions like a DJ Shadow track or an album produced by Quincy Jones.

He absolutely reveres the jazz giants of the 50s and that is something I could totally relate to (albeit with a different era of music).

Throughout the short stories, Donald comes off a completely likeable, funny and intelligent wordsmith, which is no surprise since Steely Dan's lyrics were often well-spoken slabs of sarcasm.

Another thing that Eminent Hipsters achieves is a sunny, happy nostalgia for Fagen's formative years. He calls anyone born after 1960 a "TV Baby," commenting on the fact that television became a major force in rearing the youth of America after 1960. He absolutely hates cell-phones and the whole "social media" trend of the past decade.

He tells his first-hand experiences of the turbulent 60s in detail, when he was a good student absolutely obsessed with the jazz underground.

Never the coolest dude in the crowd, Donald wouldn't really come out of his shell until Steely Dan was a multi-platinum band towards the mid-to-late 70s. The Dan's success is pretty much completely skipped over throughout the book.

The end of the book is a collection of tour journals dating from 2012 when he toured with Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs as The Dukes Of September. His neurosis, dark humor and pathos come flooding out of these recent writings.

He is a man lost in a world of "TV babies," and while he is at peace on stage when everything is grooving, that happiness is a fleeting moment.

You are left almost feeling sorry for one of America's most prolific and genius songwriters. I give it 4 Empty Lighthouses out of five.

Donald Fagen's Offical Website (Ironically a Facebook page)

Eminent Hipsters available now via Viking Press.