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World Show more World. US Show more US. Companies Show more Companies. Markets Show more Markets. Opinion Show more Opinion. Personal Finance Show more Personal Finance. Could it be true that the strolling blues "Chain Lightning", from their album Katy Lied , was actually about two old Nazis surreptitiously meeting in a Uruguayan square to mark the 40th anniversary of Hitler's rise to power? Oh, and can pretzel logic be taught? The book isn't telling.

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The one Steely Dan song discussed at any length here is "Deacon Blues", and then only in the context of a tune Fagen worries about not rehearsing for a concert in Alabama. Crowds there used to yell for it because it contains the line "They call Alabama the Crimson Tide". They don't yell for it now. Instead, Eminent Hipsters is partly a chance for Fagen to go reeling through the years of his nerdy, nervy youth in suburban New Jersey to consider "how the stuff I read and heard when I was growing up affected stretched, skewed, mangled my little brain".

Eminent Hipsters by Donald Fagen – review

You may, as a Dan fan, care to spot the songs in his reminiscences. Even if you don't, you will hear his voice — that sardonic dry white whine — distilled in just about every sentence. For the young Donald, an upbringing in a New Jersey housing development was more or less a prison. Or, as he puts it: "I'd been framed and sentenced to a long stretch at hard labour in Squaresville. But whereas most would leave it at that, he elaborates the thought with a modern twist: "say, Mark Twain after he'd been dating Elaine May for a year and a half".

Later on, as the 50s swing into the 60s, he crossed the river to discover jazz clubs, notably the Village Vanguard where "gods" strutted the stage — Miles Davis, Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, Monk, Mingus. By then he had another DJ on the brain, Mort Fega, "laid-back, knowledgeable and forthright, the cool uncle you always wished you had" and clearly a precursor of Fagen's own late-night jazz DJ from his debut solo album The Nightfly What makes this tour of the pantheon so refreshing is that Fagen, for all his cynical patter, retains the steady, unfakeable rigour of the true enthusiast.

He takes his old idols seriously, and wants us to understand why they mean so much.

The book reaches its hero-worshipping apogee in his consideration of Ray Charles , about whom he makes two extraordinary claims. When, in , Charles hijacked gospel and "replaced God with a woman", the resulting music, according to Fagen, "rescued a generation from the deadly, neurotic suppression of feeling that had afflicted the nation after world war two".

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Who knew? And he's not finished.


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Hang on to that near-hallucinatory moment of transcendence, because the second half of the book brings us crashing right down to earth. Fagen remembers himself at college as "a first-tier nerd, and pitifully lonely".

Book review: Eminent Hipsters - The Scotsman

Now, a year-old band-leader on a tour bus, he's a first-tier grump — and pitifully lonely. Away from his long-suffering wife Libby he frets and moans about almost anything — aches and pains, quitting smoking, the inadequacy of painkillers, altitude sickness, hotels with grungy swimming pools and smelly bedsheets, the rotten acoustics of old concert halls, his inability to get a wink of sleep. First they're too old.