We haven’t yet had a chance to peek at Eminent Hipsters (Viking) by Steely Dan frontman Donald Fagen, but it’s definitely one January Magazine art director, David Middleton, is keen to pour over. And why? He’s a fan of both Steely Dan and clever, nerdish writing. It sounds very much like Eminent Hipsters will improve the reader’s knowledge of the former while delivering loads of the latter.
As Telegraph music editor Bernadette McNulty remarks in her review, Fagan’s “‘art-o-biography,’ much like his music, is nerdishly clever, entertainingly original and even a moving reconfiguration of the memoir format.”
And the book does sound like a nerdfest of the musical order (and we mean that in a good way):
The early scholarly bombardment of the essays feels partly designed to shake off the casual browser, rhapsodising over obscure, cult figures of the 20th century, including jazz singer Connie Boswell, science fiction writer AE van Vogt and radio DJ Jean Shepherd. Fagen’s fanboy discussions are worth sticking with, though, as he teases out fascinating nuances and connections. He perceives in Boswell, born in the same year as Frida Kahlo, and also disabled, a similar impulse in her singing to “pull apart” her source material, “reorganise its parts and reshape it into something richer than the original”.
It’s interesting to note that McNulty is not of an age that she listened to Steely Dan as they were coming up. As a result, she had to acclimate her ear:
The sound baffled me at first – with its closeted atmosphere, noodly jazz structures, and slightly reedy, elliptical lyrics it sounded like the Eagles reimagined by Woody Allen – but there was also enough to intrigue me and, ultimately, enough to keep me going back to songs for which, like jazz or wine, you eventually develop a taste.
The full review is very sharp, and it’s here.