Eminent Hipsters

( 6 )


A witty, revealing, sharply written work of memoir and criticism by the cofounder of Steely Dan

Musician and songwriter Donald Fagen presents a group of vivid set pieces in his entertaining debut as an author, from portraits of the cultural figures and currents that shaped him as a youth to an account of his college days and of life on the road.

Fagen begins by introducing the “eminent hipsters” that spoke to him as he was growing up in a bland...

See more details below
Paperback (Reprint)
BN.com price
(Save 20%)$16.00 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (18) from $7.99   
  • New (13) from $8.80   
  • Used (5) from $7.99   
Eminent Hipsters

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
BN.com price


A witty, revealing, sharply written work of memoir and criticism by the cofounder of Steely Dan

Musician and songwriter Donald Fagen presents a group of vivid set pieces in his entertaining debut as an author, from portraits of the cultural figures and currents that shaped him as a youth to an account of his college days and of life on the road.

Fagen begins by introducing the “eminent hipsters” that spoke to him as he was growing up in a bland New Jersey suburb in the early 1960s, among them Jean Shepherd, whose manic nightly broadcasts out of WOR-Radio “enthralled a generation of alienated young people”; Henry Mancini, whose swank, noirish soundtracks left their mark on him; and Mort Fega, the laid-back, knowledgeable all-night jazz man at WEVD who was like “the cool uncle you always wished you had.” He writes of how, coming of age during the paranoid Cold War era, one of his primary doors of escape became reading science fiction, and of his invigorating trips into New York City to hear jazz. “Class of ’69” recounts Fagen’s colorful, mind-expanding years at Bard College, the progressive school north of New York City, where he first met his future musical partner Walter Becker. “With the Dukes of September” offers a cranky, hilarious account of the ups and downs of a recent cross-country tour Fagen made with Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald, performing a program of old R&B and soul tunes as well as some of their own hits.

Acclaimed for the elaborate arrangements and jazz harmonies of his songs, Fagen proves himself a sophisticated writer with a very distinctive voice in this engaging book.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Steely Dan keyboardist, front man, and co-founder Donald Fagen is not your typical self-promoting rocker. Thus, it is no surprise that his autobiography is not a chest-thumping reprise of triumphant tours and sexual conquests. Instead, it records the coming-of-age of a young Jersey guy, which he credits to an odd assortment of influences, including but not limited to Ray Charles, Tina Turner, Philip K. Dick, Blake Edwards, Jack Kerouac, Harry Mancini, Jean Shepherd, and the Boswell Sisters. Sometimes quoting from his own early journals, Fagen recaptures the excitement of youth with a candor all its own. Editor's recommendation.

The New York Times - Janet Maslin
…sly and idiosyncratic and unpredictable…Eminent Hipsters is as bleakly funny about the aging rocker's plight…as Steely Dan always has been about its perversely chosen subjects. If you'd like to know what the lyrics to their song Deacon Blues were really about, and whether it has to be played at an Alabama tour stop just because it mentions Alabama, take comfort: Mr. Fagen's cranky new incarnation is just as thornily entertaining as his cranky old one.
Publishers Weekly
In these entertaining sketches, Steely Dan keyboardist and front man Fagen pays tribute to the “talented musicians, writers, and performers” from beyond the suburban New Jersey of his youth. In one chapter, Fagen recalls his early fascination with now-forgotten jazz singers the Boswell Sisters. He singles out Connie—whose career was affected in some measure by an early brush with illness (likely polio)—and praises her last recording, saying that she sounds like a “toned-down Wanda Jackson or Brenda Lee.” Fagen sends a kind of love letter to Henry Mancini, telling the composer of the theme from the television show Peter Gunn—a theme whose first notes every neophyte guitarist tried to learn back then—that his music continues to be young and fresh. Fagen vivaciously recalls his college days at Bard, meeting his future Steely Dan bandmate Walter Becker, and playing at a Halloween party with Walter and actor Chevy Chase on drums. In 2012, Fagen, Michael McDonald, and Boz Scaggs toured as the Duke of September Rhythm Revue; during the months of the tour, Fagen kept a journal, included in these pages, that’s filled with irony, sarcasm, humor, anger, and flat-out honesty about what it’s like to be on the road playing to houses filled with aging hippies: “Tonight the crowd looked so geriatric I was tempted to start calling out bingo numbers. By the end of the set, they were all on their feet, albeit shakily, rocking.... So this, now, is what I do: assisted living.” Agent: Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
Praise for Eminent Hipsters

“[An] excellent. . . and satisfying memoir.  This is less about Fagen’s career than about his tastes. . .He writes insightfully about music, films, and books. . .with this remorseless, hilarious book, Fagen reveals himself as a first-class grump. . . Eminent Hipsters is also a convincing testimonial to the honing effect of a lifelong devotion to the culture of misfits, weirdos and cranks.”—Rolling Stone
“Fagen is utterly charming when he describes other performers. . .he defends TV and film composer Henry Mancini from charges of fuddy-duddyness. . . his essay on Connie Boswell is the kind of top-notch, incisive cultural critique you ain’t gonna get from the likes of Keith Richards.  Just like the lyrics he penned for the Dan, Fagen’s writing here is charged with a zingy, acerbic intelligence.”—Slate.com
“As you would expect from someone who has been one of the most consistently sardonic voices of rock, Fagen can write.”—GQ.com

Library Journal
Fagen is cofounder of the literate jazz-pop-rock band Steely Dan, and his first book is a wry compendium and "art-o-biography," as he coins it, consisting of pieces that illuminate the musical, literary, and cultural influences on the young Fagen and a hilariously cranky tour diary from 2012. His appreciations of Henry Mancini, the Boswell Sisters, jazz clubs and radio, sf, and the comedy of Jean Shepherd are all tempered with reminiscences of growing up in suburban 1950s New Jersey. Fagen's portrait of his college years at Bard in the piece "Class of '69" superbly evokes a time and place and serves as a capsule memoir of the college experience. In the lengthy diary from a tour with Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs last year, Fagen comes across as an avuncular misanthrope as he describes mostly offstage moments filled with dreary hotels, long travel, frustrating audience reactions, shabby venues, and the resultant anxiety (along with some musical joy) that all of these things bring. VERDICT Rather than a straightforward memoir, this collection provides music fans a distinctive perspective on an artist's inspirations and life, written in a sardonic and uniquely entertaining voice.—James Collins, Morristown-Morris Twp. P.L., NJ
Kirkus Reviews
Not really a rock memoir, but rather a book as distinctively peculiar and edgy as one might expect from the co-founder of Steely Dan. The literary debut by keyboardist Fagen, a former English major who has written pieces on popular culture for magazines, opens with essays concerning his formative years as a skinny, anxious nerd immersed in jazz and science fiction, rebelling against 1950s suburbia as a self-described "subterranean in gestation with a real nasty case of otherness." He writes of radio hipsters and jazz clubs, of the "mendacity on the part of adults that was the most sinister enemy of all." Fagen ends this section with a reminiscence of his years at Bard College, where his underachieving bohemian classmates included Walter Becker, who became his musical partner. And that's pretty much it for Steely Dan, since "that's another story," one that perhaps he is saving for another book. Instead, the second half is what he understatedly calls his "grouchy tour journal from the summer of 2012," when he teamed with Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs as the Dukes of September, performing their own hits and older R&B for an audience he appears to dislike. The younger ones are "lazy, spoiled TV babies" who have "ultimately turned us into performing monkeys." Other fans are the same generation as the headliners: "Mike, Boz and I are pretty old now and so is most of our audience. Tonight, though, the crowd looked so geriatric I was tempted to start calling out bingo numbers." On another, there "were people on slabs, decomposing, people in mummy cases." Some of this is acerbically funny in a self-lacerating sort of way, and some of the essays, particularly the one on hero worship and disillusionment ("I Was a Spy for Jean Shepherd"), are very incisive, but much of it is a downer. It's characteristic that the author knows what his readers want--the story of Steely Dan--and refuses to give it to them.
The Barnes & Noble Review

Quiet as it's kept, the early '70s were not the dark ages of rock'n'roll. They were its economic heyday. Pop music is too big to shrivel up artistically overnight, and with the record business booming more confidently than it ever would again, the magic of venture capital was juicing durable artists of enormous potential and profitability. Think Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman, Bonnie Raitt, John Prine, Linda Ronstadt, all creating music of substance as they embarked on long career paths about whose quiddities we are free to quibble, and all flowering between 1970 and 1975, before punk and disco rendered them pass? without tempting them to find another line of work. In Rod: The Autobiography and Eminent Hipsters, early-'70s arrivals Rod Stewart and Donald Fagen bear witness to their own artistic choices and the career opportunities that ensued in what no one will be surprised to learn are very different books. Credited to Stewart alone, Rod is a straight-down-the-middle celebrity memoir presumably put on paper by the only person name- checked in its 97-word acknowledgments section, "wonderful editor and confidant" Giles Smith of the London Times. Written entirely by the auteur himself, Fagen's slim Eminent Hipsters is memoiristic only in passing. Its first 85 pages sequence 10 previously published critical essays to trace a rough chronology of a "rotten little bookworm's" early life: Boswell Sisters, Henry Mancini, science fiction, Jean Shepherd, '60s jazz clubs, jazz DJ Mort Fega, Ennio Morricone, Ray Charles, Ike Turner, four years at Bard. Although only the Charles and the Morricone flop totally, these pieces tend slighter than I'd hoped from a very bright guy who can write, and I didn't look forward to the 2012 tour diary with which Viking lards them into a book. But that diary proved an exceptionally sharp and entertaining inside overview of life on the road.

Stewart predated Fagen by a few years. A Scottish plumber's son born in London in 1945, he was singing for his keep before he was 20, hit the States fronting the Jeff Beck Group in 1968 (at an enthusiastically received Fillmore show where I booed his every overstated white-blues affectation), released his first solo album in 1969, and was propelled into stardom in 1971 by a long, chorusless reflection on May-October romance called "Maggie May." A Jewish accountant's son born in 1948, Fagen is an escapee from the Jersey suburbs who hooked up with his equally jazz-obsessed partner, Walter Becker, at Bard. After college the two worked as contract songwriters and then as backup musicians for the biracial Jay and the Americans (who came back briefly in 1969 with a Drifters remake after going Top 40 five times in 1965). Shortly thereafter, they named a band for William Burroughs's favorite dildo and began Steely Dan's unlikely chart run with "Do It Again," a devilishly catchy 1973 hit about self-destructive obsession.

I know it's hard for those who weren't there to understand, but both Stewart and Fagen were counted art heroes in an era when prog, boogie, country-rock, and singer-songwriter mawk were vying for next big thing status. Stewart's Every Picture Tells a Story and Steely Dan's Can't Buy a Thrill and Pretzel Logic are great albums straight up. Moreover, both were accounted "hard" before that word was taken over by the metal that was also rearing its head-"hard" meaning merely not soft like all that other crap. Steely Dan were hard by virtue of their concision, their cynicism, and Fagen's unshowy vocals, Stewart by virtue of his simple eagerness to rock — in the dynamically Band-like band who backed his solo sessions and especially on his job fronting raucous road dogs the Faces, who broke up only when the Stones poached Ronnie Wood and whose running-around-and-falling-over box set should be heard by anyone who thinks Five Guys Walk into a Bar is as evocative a title as I do.

Everybody but the millions of fans who attend Rod's shows thinks he was never again as good as solo on Mercury and clowning around with the Faces pre-1975, and I agree. True, I'd say something similar of every other artist named up top while granting that, Mitchell excepted, the drop-off was somewhat more drastic with Rod. Whether the same applies to Steely Dan, however, is a trickier question. Steely Dan were and remain perfectionists, chord-obsessed jazz nuts who in 1974 made what seemed a rational economic decision-they quit the road to turn out better and better records, because records were where the money was (and also because they're neater). Commercially, their coup was 1978's Aja, which apotheosized the sonically opulent AOR aesthetic at a level of difficulty glossy rivals like Supertramp and Journey couldn't approach — and which won them a jazz-lite following that makes their original fans very nervous, because we're not suburban cornballs and want everyone to know it.

Stewart, meanwhile, recorded a lot and toured a lot, sporting his rooster haircut and peacock finery all the while. Soon he came to symbolize corporate-rock sellout via two number-one singles: 1976's seductive "Tonight's the Night," where rather than Maggie May showing her age Rod's sex object is a "virgin child," and the deal- killer, 1978's flat-out disco "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" Because I had nothing against megahits and considered punk's disco problem small-minded, I liked these records. But I never thought either matched up to "Maggie May" or "Every Picture Tells a Story" or "You Wear It Well" or Jimi Hendrix's "Angel" or especially Mike D'Abo's "Handbags and Gladrags," which won me over to Stewart in 1970 by protesting the generation gap from a granddad's p.o.v. And by the '80s, Stewart's few keepers were covers.

Rod doesn't admit it got this bad, but you don't have to squint to see it happening. I only wish Stewart had told us why he got into music to begin with. Fagen had a swing-singing mom and club- hopping cousins and explains how an adolescent jazz snob might turn to rock in college if enrolled there from 1965 to 1969. Rod the Mod is a football-mad youngest child transformed utterly by Bob Dylan's debut album for reasons he may not even grasp himself, just as he doesn't seem to understand his vocal knack except as a "quirk of fortune," on the one hand claiming with kinship the ductile Sam Cooke and on the other responding to a request to clear the frog from his throat by exclaiming, "Oi, that isn't a frog. That's my voice." Nevertheless, the reckless abandon of the long and terrific Faces chapter makes his long subsequent career seem like a natural fact. For once we meet a rock star who not only loves performing, preferably with a drink or two to loosen him up, but loves touring.

Admittedly, he also loves making more money than most mortals would know what to do with (hint: collect enough "pre-Raphs" to decorate all four of your houses. And he loves many, many fabulously beautiful, unfathomably long-legged blondes (and one redhead) — three of whom he marries, three more of whom he might well have married, four of whom bear him seven children (plus the one he gave up for adoption when he was 18), and every one of whom is a warm and genuine human being, you bet. He also did coke for 30 years without buying a line, and steroids for his voice until he was saved from that perdition by the invention of the earpiece monitor. And somewhere amid all the showbiz drama, the songwriting that never came easy got lost altogether. The best he could manage was the occasional generalized bestseller like his fatuous rewrite of Dylan's "Forever Young," a major comedown from, say, the anti-gaybashing tale "The Killing of Georgie," which somehow went Top 30 in 1977.

But if you're thinking the punks were right about his sellout after all, not so fast. I hate the rich more than you do, but I didn't emerge from Rod hating Rod Stewart. Instead I admired his persistence, enthusiasm, and chutzpah, its latest manifestation a much-mocked series of mega-selling 21st-century Great American Songbook albums that I praised back in 2005 for marking pantheon standards as rock with that Cooke-smitten croak rather than "interpreting" them. I also admire his blokedom — quite a lot of this book is about football, the sport he's not just followed but played into his 60s, and the subculture where he finds his best pals. The least appealing of his blondes is social climber Alana Hamilton, who, Stewart notes with cocked eyebrow, regularly inquired as to the rest of the guest list whenever they were invited out. Warm and genuine human being though she may be, he doesn't seem to have come out of that one craving more of the same.

One reason I ended up so impressed by Stewart's cheerful cheek was the contrast it provided with Fagen's sour puss. Don't misunderstand me — the man's mordant dolor has always been tonic at its best, and one virtue of Eminent Hipsters is its glimpses into the elective affinities of a 65-year-old cynic who has a life even so. His terse recounting of his stepson's suicide, for instance, leaves no doubt that he bleeds like you or me. Still, for me the most striking essay wasn't the most informative, which would be the one connecting science fiction, L. Ron Hubbard, and something called General Semantics. It was the sketch of radio raconteur Jean Shepherd, who, with his voice "cozy yet abounding with jest," inspired me as he did so many teenage "nonconformists" in the Greater New York of the late '50s and early '60s, and who Fagen followed all the way to a petulant late-'65 lecture by a Shepherd turned "aging diva," whose " 'hipness' was revealed as something closer to contempt."

Contempt is the great peril of mordant dolor, and the foremost virtue of Fagen's tour diary is how he sometimes indulges, sometimes sidesteps, and sometimes transcends it. This was not one of the Steely Dan tours Fagen and Becker reinstituted in 1993, major profit- takers that induced them to record two more albums decades after falling back exhausted from 1980's stillborn Gaucho. But Fagen — accustomed to a level of affluence well below Stewart's and well above most people's, less savvy economically than he once thought, and a musician to his bones in the end — has also toured intermittently in a de facto r&b band co-led by fellow old-timers Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs. The latest edition, dubbed the Dukes of September Rhythm Revue, spent the summer of 2012 zigzagging in six buses and two trucks between what Fagen emailed his nasty little manager were "dumps" — amphitheaters, arts centers, hotels, resorts, music sheds, music tents, pavilions, bandshells, and ordinary theaters in greatly varying states of refurbishment. Having reported that Scaggs and McDonald often sack out on their respective buses to economize, he also devotes much literary attention to sleeping accommodations that too often become insomnia accommodations as he sinks into ATD — Acute Tour Disorder.

In his affection for touring, Stewart is the exception. Hating touring is state-of-the-art. But few have diagnosed its symptoms — including, among others, panic attacks, stage rage, flashbacks, memory loss, paranoia, diarrhea, and the inevitable insomnia — with Fagen's gimlet eye. Nor does Fagen's cynicism help him cope — as a grouchy old man in autumn plumage, he seethes with contempt for "TV Babies," subliterate young casuals oblivious to "In the Midnight Hour" who use their infernal Internet skills to purloin the laboriously perfected tracks to which he sacrificed his youth. I'm grouchy enough myself that I often sympathized. But that was possible because the contempt proved anything but unmitigated. Fagen isn't in it for the money — not exclusively. A part of him loves performing. He's not a blithe spirit like Stewart; he's neurotic as hell. But as a musician he always loves it when the band grooves, a miracle impossible to predict, and as an artist who against all odds believes art requires "a certain level of empathy," he usually loves it when the audience has a good time, a less technical matter.

Touring is hard. ATD would seem an inevitability. But it's more complicated than that, and richer. "Every night in front of an audience, no matter how exhilarating, is a bit of a ritual slaying.... On some level, you're trying to extinguish yourself. Because, corny and Red Shoes–y as it may seem, that's what you are, and they need it."

Career paths do differ. Cynicism more pathological than Fagen's looms for some. But it says worlds for pop music's vitality that two men as different as Rod Stewart and Donald Fagen could find it so sustaining for so long.

Robert Christgau is a critic at All Things Considered, writes for the National Arts Journalism Program's ARTicles blog, teaches in NYU's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, and has published five books.

Reviewer: Robert Christgau

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143126010
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/28/2014
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 210,629
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Donald Fagen

Donald Fagen was born in 1948 and grew up in New Jersey. He is a graduate of Bard College, where he met musician Walter Becker, with whom he formed Steely Dan. His writing has appeared in Premiere, Slate, Harper’s Bazaar, and Jazz Times. He lives in New York City. Visit donaldfagen.com.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

**This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof.**

In the Clubs

I started going to jazz clubs in New York when I was twelve or thirteen, first with my older cousins Mike and Jack, and then later on my own. I remember seeing the mighty Count Basie band at a matinee at Bird-land, with the great Sonny Payne on drums. When the whole band pumped out one of those thirteenth chords, you could feel the breeze on your face.

Once upon a time, the jazz club was a mythic place that signi­fied urban romance, free-loving hipsterism and the Dionysian rites of the Exotic Black Man: in short, the dread possibility of ecstasy. As a survivor of many nights in actual jazz clubs, I can testify that the image was only partly correct.

Like most of the finer things in life, jazz is an acquired taste. As a suburban youth, I would often ride the bus up the New Jersey Turnpike through the industrial wasteland that must be crossed before the island of Manhattan is won. The combined sum of several weeks’ allowance would be burning a hole in my pocket. After docking at the dependably sinister Port Authority terminal, I’d take the AA train to Waverly Place in the West Village, which by then had pretty much completed its transformation from bohemia into Bohemia Land. Tourists nursed espressos at the Cafe Wha? and the Cafe Bizarre. At Figaro’s coffee shop on Bleecker and MacDougal, I’d order a burger and listen to my heart pound as I watched the exquisite, joyless waitresses slink around the room in black leotards. An epigraph on the menu read “Where the Beat meet the Elite.”

By the early sixties, jazz, having already been displaced as America’s dance music of choice by rock and roll, was facing another crisis. College kids, after a brief flirtation with bop and cool jazz, had chosen “folk” music as their official enthusiasm. Unlike gnarly post-Parker jazz, guitar-based roots music was totally accessible and irony free, and almost anyone could play it in some form. Moreover, the leftist anthems of the Depression were easily adapted to become the official music of the early civil rights movement. New clubs featuring Dylan, The Tarri­ers, Judy Collins, Richie Havens, and the like were pulling in a huge share of the business. Nevertheless, the Village was still the best place to hear jazz in its last glorious incarnation.

At the Village Vanguard, my distress at being the youngest person in the audience would dissolve as soon as the music started. In the early sixties, gods stood on that tiny stage. A lot of them drank J&B and smoked Luckies, but they were gods just the same. Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane were still youngish, fearless and working at the summit of their creativity. The proprietor, Max Gordon, once he got to know my face, used to seat me at the banquet next to the drum kit and give me a flat bar Coke. The cover charge was, like, seven bucks.

One of my favorites was bassist/composer Charles Mingus, who’d always bring along his demonic drummer, Dannie Rich­mond. Every time Richmond started banging out that triple time, the vibration of his sizzle cymbal would move my glass toward the edge of the table and I’d have to push it back to the center. I remember Mingus halting a tune in midgallop to lecture us on race, politics, cheating record companies and hypocrisy, both black and white. Watching this tempestuous artist at work, I found the extramusical events just as exciting as the music. I have to admit cringing, though, when Mingus, on one of his rougher nights, started screaming “Uncle Tom!” at old Coleman Hawkins, who was sitting at the bar. Hawk just gave him a world-weary smile and took another swig. Once, when I complimented pia­nist Jaki Byard after a set, he actually sat down at my table and graciously answered some questions about the music.

As the premier club in New York at that time, the Vanguard attracted a crowd that was a mix of serious fans and tourists. Of course there would always be the young preppie in a blazer sit­ting with his date, attractive in a little black dress. Imagine a split-screen: On the left, the kid’s eyes are wide, his face is flushed; he’s transfixed. He can’t believe he’s finally in a real jazz club twelve feet away from the great John Coltrane, who’s blowing up a hurricane.

His date, on the right side of the screen, is in hell. Although she’s heard her boyfriend talk about jazz, this is her first real exposure. She’s been in this tiny, smoky, smelly room for almost an hour now, nursing screwdrivers and being forced to listen to four Negroes create a din that sounds like nothing imagined on God’s earth. She’s got her head in her hands down on the table because it hurts, a real pounder behind the eyes. Most humili­ating is the fact that her boyfriend has forsaken her for a black man who seems to be using his silver horn as a satanic instru­ment of masturbation. The two sides of the screen merge when she finally pulls on her date’s arm and demands to be escorted out. In the clubs, this classic scene can still be glimpsed today, always interesting, always poignant.

Two of the most mind-blowing musicians I got to see at the Vanguard were both patriarchs of early jazz who were still active in the sixties. Earl “Fatha” Hines had been a member of Arm­strong’s original Hot Five and, during the thirties, had been the main attraction at Al Capone’s Grand Terrace Ballroom in Chi­cago. As if that weren’t enough, the band he’d led in the forties, the one that included Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Gene Ammons and Wardell Gray, was the first big band to feature bebop players and arrangements. Hines’s gold lamé jacket, leg­endary smile and many-ringed fingers had the same effect on me as I’m sure they had on the crowd at the Grand Terrace. And then he began to play. I pretty much knew what to expect: he still played clean and swinging. I suppose it was my romantic imagi­nation, but the music seemed to be enhanced by a sonic glow, an aura earned on its journey across an ocean of time.

The same could be said of the music of Willie “The Lion” Smith. In the twenties and thirties, Willie had been one of the mighty virtuosos who developed Harlem “stride” piano. In the sixties, Willie was still sharp and strong, a past master who seemed to have walked straight from a Depression rent party into the present, complete with cocked derby, milk bottle glasses and clenched cigar. He’d worked up his act into a semi­nar in jazz history, alternating pieces from his repertoire with stories about the musical life of Harlem, the cutting contests, the gangsters and the nuances that defined the styles of his con­temporaries James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, Luckey Roberts and Eubie Blake. He had a special affection for his protégé Duke Ellington, whose works he generously performed.

Claiming that his father was a Jewish gambler, Willie pep­pered his tales with Yiddishisms and made a point of wearing a Jewish star. Though the jive was fascinating, the real fun began when he commenced his abuse of the Steinway, his phe­nomenal left hand pumping like a locomotive as the right fili­greed the melody. After knocking out his version of “Carolina Shout,” Willie’s comment was “Now that’s what you call . . . real good.” But he could be lyrical too, as he was on his own “Echoes of Spring.”

One more thing about the tough, road-hardened African American entertainers from the twenties who had to be heard without the benefit of microphones, men like Willie, Earl Hines, Coleman Hawkins, Ellington’s band: they could play REALLY LOUD!

Bill Evans at the Vanguard was always a gas. Those familiar only with his studio recordings don’t realize what a spry, funky hard-charger he could be on “up” material in a live setting. When he played quirky tunes like “Little Lulu,” he could be funny, too. Of course, even then, he rarely shifted out of that posture you see in photos, doubled over at the waist, head inside the piano as if trying to locate a rattly string. By the late seventies, I noticed that this quintessential modernist had developed an odd, loping shuffle in his right-hand lines, as if he was regressing to an anti­quated rhythmic style dating back to Willie Smith’s day. What was up with that?

Real fans and serious hipsters remember Slug’s Bar on Third Street between avenues B and C. The neighborhood was dicey but the sounds were happening. Some nights, the audience would be just me, eyes darting around nervously, and maybe two heavily medicated patrons nodding at their tables. Cedar Walton, Jackie McLean, Art Farmer and Jimmy Cobb were among the regular performers. In 1972, trumpet star Lee Mor­gan’s girl shot and killed him out front.

Around 1965, the folk/rock club Cafe au Go Go started a Mon­day night jazz policy. These were jam sessions featuring top players who happened to be in town. The one I attended was one of the best all-around nights of jazz I ever saw. The rhythm sec­tion alone—Wynton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Willie Bobo on drums—began the set. The other players—Hank Mobley on tenor, Dave Pike on vibes and Curtis Fuller, I think, on bone—fell by as the night went on. Jamming on standards and blues for over two hours without a break, Mobley and Kelly were monstrous: hard-swinging and composing in the moment. It was the shit and I knew I was lucky to be there.

When the civil rights movement became more militant in the mid-sixties, the music followed suit. In those years, a lot of jazz was motivated by righteous political fury, or directed toward a spiritual catharsis. The clubs, overwhelmed for the moment by the rock revolution, began to close. The Five Spot, the Half Note and, finally, Slug’s, all gradually vanished. The Village Gate managed to survive only by switching to rock and Latin sounds.

In the eighties, the jazz scene returned, “healthier” than ever. You’d go to hear acts in nifty, wholesome “club environments” and “art spaces.” No smoking, of course, no nodding junkies, no heavy boozing—in fact, no vice of any kind except, perhaps, the crimi­nally high cover and drink charges. The clubs that presented the top mainstream acts all had a suitably mainstream look and were very strict about reservations. One night in the eighties, I took some friends to Michael’s Pub, then home to Woody Allen’s Mon­day night gigs, to see a piano trio. The atmosphere was tense and the maitre d’ was rude—there was no romance at all.

We split before the set started. Bring back Slug’s! 

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2
( 6 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2013

    I reluctantly read this book since I despise the word "Hips

    I reluctantly read this book since I despise the word "Hipsters" and the way
    it is used today.  But in this context it is the true meaning of the hipsters,
    the cool cats, blues, jazz musicians.  I enjoyed the chapter of the jazz greats  
    and anyone who knows Anita O'Day, I would presume to admire.  There were
    some good chapters regarding all the musicians and his school days and life in
    NJ was a bit comical.  The author coined a derogatory term "TV Babies" for his
    audience and fans.  His contempt for these TV Babies was palpable.  
    Gosh Darn I missed this label by one year!  All and all the book irritated me and
     am so unnerved by this book!    Mr. Fagen last diary entries show a man who should
    stay off the concert circuit if he isn't happy anymore.  I've read other Author musicians
    memoirs and to be honest loved the fact that he had respect for his audience.  I won't say his name
    his initials are KR! 

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2015


    Story contest. Hi

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2014

    Eminent Hipsters by Donald Fagen

    I was so looking forward to reading this book but am sorry that I did. Other than a few chapters that described influences in Fagen's life, the book was very depressing. I recently saw Steely Dan in concert and loved listening to songs from my college years. Sadly after reading the book, I learned that Fagen has great contempt for nostalgic people like me! Actually, he has nothing nice to say about anything!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)