Fascinating book review/overview of one Donald Fagen, of the band Steely Dan, whose memoir Eminent Hipsters was released:
Author Seth Stevenson goes beyond simply reviewing the memoir to talking about being a fan of a now aging musical artist…and the feelings entailed in this as well as the artist’s interactions with his fans.
Though I’m no fan of Steely Dan and their music (there may have been a time long ago when I could tolerate -perhaps even appreciate- their music, but the seemingly constant overplaying of Steely Dan hits on the radio have long ago burned me out of any desire to hear any of those songs ever again), I nonetheless am fascinated with the article.
I’ve long been fascinated with the way fans view their favorite artists and the levels of “hero worship” sometimes given. I realize I’m not making any huge, earth-shattering revelations when I say this, but the artists we admire are people just like us. More talented, certainly. Perhaps more outgoing. Perhaps more driven.
But human nonetheless.
I love the music of Jim Morrison and The Doors. However, almost everything I’ve read about Jim Morrison the person makes me cringe. I do note, however, that a large part of the mystique built around Mr. Morrison’s life revolve around his -let’s put it kindly- indulgences and therefore its hard to judge him unless you were there and saw it yourself. Sinner or saint, Jim Morrison was a very talented musician, and in the end that’s all that matters to me.
So with his review of Mr. Fagan’s memoir, Mr. Stevenson, who clearly loves the works of Fagan and Steely Dan, relates his difficulty in realizing his idol is…human. And aging. He notes his discomfort in reading Mr. Fagan’s journal entries at the end of the book, which state the following:
In the final chapter of his new quasi-memoir, Eminent Hipsters, Fagen reprints the personal journal he kept while on that Dukes of September tour. It paints a less electric portrait of his night at the Beacon, concluding with a harrumph: “Hometown gigs are a drag.” Fagen was still reeling from the suicide of his wife’s son, about a week before. He was cranky onstage, thrown off his game by all the “friends, relatives, doctors, etc.” dotting the crowd. Much of the rest of his tour diary is consumed with complaints about health problems, travel snafus, and the spotty acoustics in the venues. Some representative lines:
“Ah, waking up in Tulsa on a midsummer morning with a wicked sinus headache.”
“I guess some Snapple leaked onto my MacBook Pro keyboard so that now some keys are sticky and make a disturbing sucking noise.”
“I’m hoping that Richard can get someone to do a CAT scan of my kidney. It still hurts.”
I’m amused by Mr. Stevenson’s passage and the notes he reprints because though they may surprise and (perhaps) depress Mr. Stevenson, these entries are probably representative of exactly the type of things that go through many artist’s minds. Creating works of art is…work. Performing in front of crowds, while fun for the crowds, is also work. Nowadays many musical concerts are carefully planned and choreographed and therefore feature precious little spontaneous actions on the part of the performers. If this is the case and the artist performs them many, many, many times in their current concert tour, the artist must at some point view the concert as something done on “auto-pilot”.
You hit your notes and you sing your songs and when it is over you get off the stage and on with your life.
So it isn’t surprising the artist may view a particular show through the prism of things that went wrong…both within the show and outside the show (sinus headaches, sticky MacBook keyboards). And if the show went smoothly, then the artist did what s/he set out to do and its on to the next show.
Bumps in the road are inevitably more memorable than smooth sailing.