Steely Dan are performing at Coachella this Friday and next, 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 3, 2015
Breathing barely, breathing the funky urine gas they use for oxygen. I’m on American Flight 181 out of JFK, like that, direct to LAX. Not a normal seat but a dandy little personal booth, that’s what they have now, like a phone kiosk. A touch TV screen, awesome seat maneuverability, good food (!), handy surfaces to put your coffee on.
I put down the crime paperback, too much effort. Technology wins, I fold out the TV monitor. Reading takes too much cerebration, too hard, a lot of work just to concentrate. Movies, the spectator can just be a jelly ball, that’ll work to kill the hours. . .
Let’s see: entertainment, movies, new releases. Foxcatcher, this looks like some adult shit. But no, another empty, one-joke flick, actors working hard for no particular reason. What Nabokov used to call poshlost, banality masked as high art. Selma, at least this one’s got some soul. MLK, his mighty heart, his eyes on the prize. Coming home from high school, I remember watching all this happen on TV, reading the paper, and later, film on Cronkite. Wait, no, no, not right off the bat, not again — those four angels blown up in the Birmingham church. Fucking horrible!
In the Sixties, I wouldn’t have been a good non-violent King person. I figure I’d have two opposing notions: do a hippie geographic, move to Maine, try to outrun evil. Or else come after those ignorant peckerwoods with a sci-fi disintegrator ray, waste ’em, no prisoners. I can’t imagine sitting on the asphalt waiting for a good ol’ head-beating or worse. On the other hand, what was my contribution in real life? Nothing. At school, Walter and I played a jazz gig for the NAACP in ’68 just before Memphis and the riots. Big deal.
Experiencing all this again, I’m inconsolable. I hope the pretty stewardess doesn’t catch me crying. Or especially, the old bitch stewardess.
I’m flying to the West Coast to do a shortish tour, about two weeks. The gigs were booked after we were invited to play at the Coachella festival as a token old-guy band along with AC/DC, whoever they are (I stopped following most mainstream radio rock soon after we put out our first Steely Dan record in ’72). Really, I’ve heard the name for years, but not sure what they sound like.
Saturday, April 4
Woke up at the Beverly Hills Hotel, that plush pink one at the treacherous intersection. Tonight we’re supposed to play a private party, the fiftieth birthday bash of a prominent film actor who in the last few years has become a colossal movie star. The event is taking place at what used to be an old airplane hangar in Santa Monica. Well, I don’t think he’d mind if I give you just his initials: R.D. Jr.
Walter and I usually don’t do privates. Too many drunks with their escorts, heckling or not paying attention to the music at all. But I’ve always thought R.D. was a smart, soulful actor, and when I met him backstage at one of our shows, he seemed like a decent sort, an honest fan. Also he was a childhood buddy of my late stepson Ezra when Libby, my wife, used to be a singer (and a single mother) in L.A. By the time we got together in the late Eighties, both Libby and I had lived several weird, wiggy lives in a variety of locations.
Easter Sunday, April 5
An off-day, stuporous by the pool. Those long flights can fuck up you up bad. There are two little girls swimming around with very realistic rubber mermaid tails over their legs. Is this an Easter thing? Maybe, in California. Later, in the coffee shop, a person in a really clean, white bunny costume walked in and gave everyone at the counter some candy.
I rarely stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I should, it’s pretty great. Years ago, Libby and I were seated at a table outdoors near old, feisty Lauren Bacall who was minding (I assume) her grandchildren. One of those large, loud bumblebees from the rose garden must have been bothering them, because Bacall called over a waiter and said, in that dark, scary voice, “There’s a bee. Kill it!” And he did.
Another time, in the Nineties, an obviously gay doorman came up to me and said, in all seriousness, “Congratulations for anticipating the faux-lounge music craze.” I know, it’s not the French Legion d’Honneur, but, OK, thanks, buddy.
Last night’s party? A lot of cozy green couches and curtains, leafy indoor trees. Because R.D. can no longer righteously alter his consciousness by artificial means, music and dancing were the thing. Also, some sort of performance, dressing up in clever costumes for each decade, like a Nehru jacket for the Sixties. I heard there were titanic movie stars floating around, but I was working, I never saw them. By the time we got onstage — after Duran Duran — there were maybe 30 revelers left, but they seemed to be having fun, dancing and yelling.
(To Be Continued)