Inside Coachella: Donny's Southwestern Adventure Ends

Steely Dan singer hangs with Chelsea Handler, muses on the decline on the Empire

Donald Fagen leaves Coachella after hanging with Chelsea Handler, seeing some Dylan-esque performers.

Steely Dan performed at Coachella on Friday, and Donald Fagen has offered to chronicle his experiences in several installations of a tour diary. The following are his words, untouched and unedited:

Friday, April 17

Tonight we played our second and final set at the Coachella festival. I thought it went pretty well. I wasn't quite as nervous as last week, but, Christ, there were a lot of customers out there.

On Thursday night, I hitched a ride from L.A. to Palm Springs (near where the festival happens) on Irving's plane. Irving is my manager. He's always got a lot of irons in the fire, and he's fun too. Some 40 years ago, he called up and said he'd like to meet with Walter and myself. At the time, after a brief and less than stellar touring career, we'd decided to let go most of the original players and concentrate on making records in the studio. After a promising start, the record thing wasn't going all that well either. Also, we'd fired our previous manager, for all the usual reasons.

Irving turned out to be wicked smart and pretty darn adorable, which he is to this day. He said he didn't care if we were in a slump or if we toured or not, which wasn't what we'd come to expect from other music biz overlords. He said he just liked our stuff, and that he could triple our record sales if we let him have a crack at it. Or something like that. So we did, and he made good on his promise.

Aside from a couple members of his family and myself, Irving had invited another of his clients on the Coachella plane, the bright, amped-up comic, Chelsea Handler, who was soon in charge of. . .well, whatever there was to be in charge of: conversation, food, drinks, etc. She's also from Jersey, and, as she admitted, "pretty Jew-y." She seemed to be genuinely excited about the trip. She had her roommate with her, Shelly, her opposite, a demure, sensible-seeming tax lawyer. 

Like the previous Friday, most of the music I heard was in the c. 1965 Dylanesque mode, minus genius or anything like that. I've been hearing this stuff for more than a half-century and it's getting pretty dreary. Jeez, that's how I started out, more or less. I'm sure some of these guys don't even know they're doing early Bob. At least hip-hop, which is tough for me to listen to, has got a few genuine eccentrics with street energy and something to say. But wouldn't it be great to hear something as lively as, like, George Clinton, or Ian Dury and the Blockheads' There Ain't Half Been Some Clever Bastards

Maybe something awesome will turn up. Or not. As the Empire declines, so does culture, literacy, and almost everything else. Ironically, high technology, once thought to be the savior of civilization, has become our Alaric the First, our barbarian invasion. Increasingly, it looks like life in the future will be nasty, brutish and long.

Sorry. Fuck it. I'm in a beach hotel in La Jolla, where  Raymond Chandler used to live, write and drink, so I'm feeling kind of hard-boiled. Two nights at Humphrey's Half Moon Inn and then I'm home on a break until the end of June. Thanks to Rolling Stone for the pages. Y'all be good now.