Eminent Hipsters from Amazon.com.
Over ten years ago I wrote a short mystery novel called Pithed: An Andy Farmer Mystery. The protagonist is a middle-aged high school teacher who, in one scene, comes to adopt a rescue dog his son brings home during a free weekend from college. The dog's name is Becker, named for one-half of Steely Dan, but since Andy prefers the name Steely Dan that's what he ends up calling the dog. What does this have to do with my reading Donald Fagen's book? Not much - it's just that I usually preface these reviews with some kind of relevant anecdote, and this is the best I could do. Either that, or I could complain about having misplaced my copy of Fagen's Morph the Cat CD after only one listen. At least this way I've plugged a book, and I could use the money.
Anyway, I've had Hipsters out from the Virginia Beach library for about two months. It would come up for return and I'd renew it. It traveled with me during Christmas break, when I chose to read Doctor Sleep and a few books for my Pulitzer bucket list instead. No slight on Fagen, but there's something about the winter weather that takes the piss out of me. I don't want to do much of anything, and as I'd just come off a long writing jag I suffered a deeper exhaustion. This past weekend, facing yet another e-mail from the library, I picked up Hipsters and finished it in a day and a half.
This is not exactly a memoir. There are vignettes where Fagen recalls life as a teenager in New Jersey as an underage patron of jazz clubs, as a fan of subversive late-night radio, and as a hapless victim of G. Gordon Liddy's zeal. Most interesting is his piece on Jean Shepherd, which Slate reprinted in December. Like Fagen, I'd been aware of Jean Shepherd before A Christmas Story, yet this essay is not unlike peeling back a scab. Fagen's disappointment in his discovery of Shepherd as a grouch unhappy with the direction of his career is palpable, and perhaps a reminder that meeting our idols isn't always a good idea. What's especially interesting is to read the second half of this book, a day-by-day journal of Fagen's tour with Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald, to see how Fagen exhibits similar curmudgeonly behavior. He plays to audiences that either look as though "they'd been bused from nursing homes" or are comprised of "TV Babies," anybody born after 1960 waiting patiently for "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" and likely leaving disappointed. I should take offense at Fagen's alleged derogatory term, but I have to smile at the imagery he paints and can almost smell the Ben-Gay.
Eminent Hipsters might disappoint Steely Dan fans looking for something more substantial about band history. I liked this book because I can relate somewhat to Fagen's youth and middle-aged frustrations. I stole many a night listening to "subversive" radio (only for me it was Dr. Ruth, not Jean Shepherd) and enjoyed music and books beyond my years. There are no eminent hipsters in my history to speak of, but I suppose that means I'm due to become one.
Kathryn Lively is an author of mystery and romance. Her latest novel is Killing the Kordovas.