‘Eminent Hipsters’ Review

By Alan Light
The New York Times

Eminent Hipsters
By Donald Fagen
Viking, $26.95.

Eminent Hipsters isn’t a memoir, but rather two projects stuck together: a series of essays Fagen (best known as half of Steely Dan, a band rarely mentioned in the book) calls “a kind of art-o-biography — that is, how the stuff I read and heard when I was growing up affected (stretched, skewed, mangled) my little brain,” and a tour diary from a 2012 jaunt with the Dukes of September, in which he starred alongside Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs.

Fagen’s look back at the heroes of his early years — the musicians, D.J.s and science fiction writers who give the book its title — is a smart, spiky depiction of the “nail-biting paranoia” of ’50s suburbia, and the power that underground visionaries like the singing Boswell Sisters or the radio hosts Uncle Mort and Jean Shepherd held for “a first-tier nerd” who felt he had been “framed and sentenced to a long stretch at hard labor in ‘Squaresville.'”

The Dukes diary, though, comes off bitter and mean. It’s no surprise Fagen can get off a good one-liner — “Asking me to play golf would be like asking me to drive over to the town dump and separate all the wrongly placed bottles and cans from the regular garbage” — but his nonstop kvetching about subpar hotels and venues and his dismissal of some fans as “moldering, bloodless vampires” quickly turn this 70-page section into an ugly slog.

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