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Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen And ‘Eminent Hipsters’

Steely Dan frontman Donald Fagen talks “eminent hipsters” and the cultural outliers that shaped his sound. He joins us.

Rock icon Donald Fagen looks back on a lengthy and ongoing career in his new memoir 'Eminent Hipsters.' He co-founded the classic rock group Steely Dan with Walter Becker in 1972. (Penguin Books USA)

Rock icon Donald Fagen looks back on a lengthy and ongoing career in his new memoir ‘Eminent Hipsters.’ He co-founded the classic rock group Steely Dan with Walter Becker in 1972. (Penguin Books USA)

If you want to know what aging rock stars are thinking on stage when they’re still touring at 65, be careful about asking Steely Dan frontman Donald Fagen.  He hates an awful lot of it.  Feels like a performing monkey, he writes.  Daydreams about a fire in the hall.  Sees a crowd so old he wants to call out bingo numbers.  Yikes!  Steely Dan was giant in the 1970s.  Jazz-pop with a lineage of inspiration that Fagen lays out in a new memoir.  The “eminent hipsters,” he writes, that lit up his world.  Earl Hines, Charles Mingus, more.  Up next On Point:  Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen on the life, and “eminent hipsters.”

– Tom Ashbrook


Donald Fagen, Rock And Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Multiple Grammy Award-winning musician, songwriter, and, essayist. Co-founder and lead singer of the band Steely Dan. Author of “Eminent Hipsters.” (@SteelyDanSays)

From Tom’s Reading List

The Telegraph: “Eminent Hipsters” by Donald Fagen, review — “As you can tell from this, the 65-year-old American, a proud snark in his youth, has matured into a rabidly grumpy old man. But thankfully age has not stripped him of his keen wit and nose for elegant prose. Rock stars are not necessarily sensitive wordsmiths or deep self-analysts by nature – their life stories, documenting a rake’s progress through narcotics and women, tend to be tossed off as record sales dwindle. In his usual contrary fashion, Fagen has decided instead to create a collage of writing made up of critical essays (some previously published) on the cultural heroes or ‘eminent hipsters’ of his youth, combined with his recent tour diary.”

Grantland: Donald Fagen Exposes Unbridled Contempt for Fans in “Eminent Hipsters” – “He’s smart, he’s witty, he has impeccable taste in pretty much everything, he’s extremely cranky, he seems a little lonely in the world, and he’s likely far more vulnerable than he lets on. You’ll learn as much about him as you will from listening to his records. But the nectar of hatred served up by Eminent Hipsters is too sweet not to taste.”

Slate: Reelin’ In the Years – “Perhaps it’s always a mixed bag when we access the inner thoughts of our childhood idols. We don’t want them humanized. Don’t really want to know about their quotidian concerns, their insecurities. ‘Gods do not answer letters,’ John Updike wrote of baseball deity Ted Williams, who refused to acknowledge even the applause of his own fans. Yes, contemporary pop celebrities take to Twitter each time they buy a new pair of sneakers. But ‘twas not ever thus. Twentieth century rock gods, in particular, ascended to pop-culture Olympus on the wings of their unreachable, unknowable cool.”

Read An Excerpt From “Eminent Hipsters” by Donald Fagen


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  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    Donald, thank you for pouring your heart and soul into your art and going places, all over the map, experimenting with music inways that other musicians neither imagined nor dared to go. I’m still listening to you works

  • HonestDebate1

    I’m a huge fan of the Dan. I saw them in ’94 and again when they toured with Michael McDonald. Absolutely wonderful! It’s really hard to pick a favorite album, maybe Katy Lied. His solo work is also impeccable. “Maxine” is a work of art, most of the material is.

  • Jasoturner

    Hi Donald! I was a huge fan back in the 70s. One question. Katy Lied always sounded a little “off” to me, like a layer was missing, even though the production was quite good. Were you guys trying different recording technology or something? I was always curious about whether I was imagining this.

  • Steve__T

    Thanks for the Memory’s

  • Rob Dunlavey

    Can you comment on Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention? Seems like you’ve shared some similar concerns and reactions to American culture 1960s-70′s. Thanks for the program!

  • katznkatz

    OMG!!!!! I love you guys!!! You saved me. I came of age buying your albums, listening to EVERY SONG and singing along with you. I Danced the night away and still Reeling in the years!! My parents moved me out of my childhood home to a crappy border town in So. NH. I hated them for taking me away from everything I knew. I hated high School and did not really ever connect with the “locals”. I could always connect with your music, and lyrics. YES I am DYING TO BE STAR!!!!!!!!!! ROCK ON!!!!!!

  • Miriam Warso Weil

    What role did Bard College play in Steely Dan’s genesis?

    • HonestDebate1

      I remember the 35 sweet goodbyes.

  • HonestDebate1

    I have a friend who worked at the Hit Factory. He told the story about a tech at the studio where “Gaucho” was recorded. He had come in to calibrate the machines but left the tape rolling after the test leader and erased much of the work. When he realized the mistake he left town and was never heard from again. My friend says they came to him to see if there was anything that could be done to salvage it, but no.

  • Mari McAvenia

    Great to know that Donald Fagen and I hold Ray Charles in similar high esteem. Thought I heard a kind of pining whine in Mr. Fagen’s voice that touched down deeply, like Richard Manuel’s and Michael McDonald’s. Donald, you’re a god of song in my book.

  • robfiasco

    i missed half of this. when will it air again?

    I actually got into Steely Dan after watching the Yacht Rock web series.

    • robfiasco

      I see it’s posted now. Thanks!

      Odd that he mentions the “tv babies” yet that’s how I discovered the band. He does make a good point though.

  • HonestDebate1

    I don’t know if it’s a term they made up or for real but they used to claim to employ the mu major. I think it’s adding the second to a major chord. Their use of bass notes that are not the root is cool to. For instance they will play a simple C major triad against an F note in the bass. I suppose you could call it a F major 9 chord but they way they voice it a C/F is more accurate. That was a big eye opener to me back in the day. They are not afraid of 13 chords either but again the voicings are unique.

    That’s an interesting point about Show Biz Kids, it’s certainly translates to today even if unintended. When I saw them with Michael McDonald in Charlotte that was a song he joined them on. It was funky. I actually found that very performance on Youtube.


    • Ron Pulcer

      HonestDebate1, thanks for the video. The rhythm on Show Biz Kids in that case is a little different than the original recording, but cool. You’re right about the C/F chord. I found it in the music to Doctor Wu. In the same song, they have a D11 chord which in that voicing is really a C/D. In the music to Haitian Divorce, there’s an F13 chord, with the flat-7th = Eb in the bass in that voicing, but they don’t use the “/Eb” in the notation. Not sure how much of the notation is from the artists (Steely Dan) and how much is interpretation of the book publisher.

      Anyways, I had enjoyed reading Ted Green’s Chord Chemistry book in the early 1970s, so Steely Dan’s chord voicings and sound always fascinated me.

  • hopeful61

    Huge fan. Grew up with Steely Dan, remember getting the “Aja” album for Christmas, later discovered “Royal Scam” and the masterpiece solo album “The NIghtfly”. His later record “Morph the Cat” is also brilliant. They don’t make rock stars like Donald Fagen anymore, sadly….

  • erinsdad

    Aja on the CD player, a glass of Jack on-the-rocks, mid-range Sennheiser cans, reclining in the worn out La-Z-Boy – - The best possible way to spend 40 minutes.

  • govinda56

    Tom, great interview as always…..but you didn’t ask about the guitar solos in their music!! In the first albums they were everything!!

  • the anti-Emily

    Everybody’s status update and posted YouTube videos all scream, “Look at me, look at me” (look at my PMC: Personal Media Channel.” To clear things up for the casual reader, I have to make a point that humans have not had a very clear record of giving a F*%^ about large numbers of people. Most people restrict their capacity for caring, if any, to family, friends, and members of their cultural tribe. We have also have always had narcissists.

  • PeaceBang

    It’s still somewhat early to hand out this award, but I’m going to give Donald Fagen the Contemptuous Boomer of The Year Award. Congratulations, Don! You’re a prophet in your own mind, sir. I haven’t hooted derisively that much and that hard in a long time.

    • the anti-Emily

      I don’t think he’s anywhere as insightful as he thinks. It’s cute that he thinks he’s making a difference.

  • Jasoturner


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