129: Donald Fagen
Just when you think you know all there is to know about Donald Fagen, he surprises you. There are legendary stories, traded like playing cards in chat rooms, fanzines, and merch lines. Along with his musical partner, the late Walter Becker (who passed away in 2017), Fagen has influenced countless musicians, producers and songwriters by setting the gold standard in record production and arrangement with his band Steely Dan. This is known. There are the solo records, including The Nightfly, which was nominated for seven Grammys and which continues to be one of the best sounding records ever made nearly 30 years on. This is known.
Much is known about Donald Fagen and his work, it’s true. But much is still left to be revealed. Stage fright, a general aversion to appearing on television (he and Becker lacked the large heads and “swaths of cheek” that they felt necessary to really make it on the small screen), and nearly 20 years with no touring created a mystique that endures to this day, despite the fact that they’ve toured regularly since the mid 90s.
So Donald can surprise you. He does it not by telling you what happened, but rather what he thinks about it. Or more to the point, how he thinks about it. He tells you that Steely Dan has “more in common with punk than with the confessional California singer songwriters” that they were often compared to. He tells you why Stravinsky was a precursor to funk music. He tells you what’s postmodern about his music, why making his first solo record was so personally disruptive to him, how he falls asleep, when he decided to finally grow up, and who he never wants to see again.