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Book Reviews

What I’m Reading: Bowie, Croce and Fagen….70’s Icons with feet of Clay..but that’s Ok

Eminent Hipsters- Donald Fagen’s Meaningful Memoir of Madness

As many fans of Steely Dan already know it has been hard to break the facade of the Becker and Fagen persona. Both seem private and aloof and have gone about their musical careers without any impulse to divulge any personal information. Fagen’s 2013 book goes a long way in rectifying this matter- although Fagen conveniently skips over the entire Steely Dan saga. With ‘Eminent Hipsters’ we now have our real glimpse into the mind that composed such classics as ‘Do It Again’, ‘Aja’ and ‘Pretzel Logic‘ (with Steely Dan) and 4 of the best solo albums ever issued. Without doubt I place Fagen right up there as one of the funniest fucking people on the planet. Sort of Mort Sahl meets Andrew Dice Clay.

His honest appraisal of the absurdity of touring as a rock star at the age of 61 and his “candid” take on who is actually coming to see him (and his “buddies” Boz Scaggs and Mike McDonald- then touring as ‘The Dukes of September’) is priceless witty sarcasm at its best. Pesronally I have always cringed at the sight of all these super old bands from the 60s and 70s touring so extensively, as if they are still important and their music was that good….get real aging old men with Peter Pan complexes: you are ridiculous and sad…your songs were great and are worth hearing once in while….on the radio!

Now if these classic rock bands are a joke of their old selves and incarnations (I just saw that the band Boston was touring….must be a great show…their lead singer died about 10 years ago…hahah)..what can we say about the sad souls that march down to see them….let’s let Donald descibe them in his July 8 entry (p.110) “The crowd at the Orpheum was the oldest yet. They must have bused in people from nursing homes. There were people on slabs, decomposing, people in mummy cases.

The “younger” crowd (ie.born in the 60s) or as Fagen calls them “TV babies” don’t escape Fagen’s wrath either, especially the ones that insist on annoyingly holding up their smartphones during the concert. “The TV Babies have morphed into the Palm People. For example those people in the audience who can’t experience the performance unless they’re sending instant videos to their friends. Look at me, I must be alive, I can prove it, I’m filming this shit.” (p.140)
Aside from the sarcasm Fagen also demonstrates a more personable side as he desribes the influences that shaped his childhood including the ‘talk-radio’ of Jean Sheperd on WOR-AM, the jazz radio shows of Mort Fega (WEVD) and Ed Beach (WRVR) and his college age experiences with LSD and G.Gordon Liddy (‘good times’). What comes across is a warmth of understanding that can only come across in the printed word….Fagen himself has managed to pierce through the facade that kept us from really understanding what “Steely Dan” was all about. What we see is one of the most honest voices in an industry that has smothered itself in smugness and absurdly high ticket prices. As Fagen himself might say “thanks for coming to the show…..now go get a life!!!”
I Got A Name: The Jim Coce Story by Ingrid Croce and Jimmy RockScreen Shot 2015-03-18 at 10.24.22 AM
This Jim Croce biography is an odd sort of writing. Obstensibly a poignant memoir by his widow (with help from her current husband) ‘I Got A Name’ traces the life of Croce through his relationship with his wife Inge Croce (nee Jacobson), herself a competent guitarist and vocalist.
While we do get the details of the blue collar Jim Croce who worked terribly hard and long just to get a recording contract- we also get the abusive Croce who seemed to become consumed by his rapid success at the expense of his marriage. Unfortunately we all know how it ends and despite now having perhaps a more “complete” picture of Croce’s personality we are left wanting to know a bit more. Croce blazed through the record charts over the course of 1972 and 1973 and toured non-stop with an acoustic guitar in his hand…he was the real-deal as they say and perhaps his widow wanted his fans to not just embrace they myth…but the hard reality of trying to balance “success” with life. Croce was the 70s version of Buddy Holly….eerily in how he died and magically in the songs he wrote that speak to us in a powerful melancholic (and sometimes fun) way.

Bowie: the Biography by Wendy Leigh
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I really hate books like this one….you know..the ones that turn your hero into a self-indulgent, sex-crazed, bi-sexual-drug fiend….all right I know that Bowie was all of those things…and I shouldn’t be shocked that someone wants to write a pulp bio full of lurid details and observations, but if you want details on the important recording sessions of ‘Young Americans’, ‘Station To Station’ or ‘Low‘- keep looking- or if you want to find out how Bowie’s early ’90s masterpiece ‘Black Tie, White Noise‘ (which included the killer cut ‘Jump They Say‘) bankrupted the label that put it out- you won’t find it here. In fact “the biography” as it is named fails to even mention the years of 1988 to 1997 in Bowie’s life or recording career. Oopsie. It does however contain a rich history of Bowie’s social life and his indulgences….and having said that- it is well written and flows smoothly from one chapter to the next….perhaps they should just re-title it “the rock star biography”….or Bowie: The Coke Spoon Years….. or Bowie: The Naughty Diaries of Major Tom….Bowie has in many ways been the most prolific and important artist in the post-Beatles era…he deserves a greater musical appreciation than this sex-scapade volume can offer.