Donald Fagen’s Eminent Hipsters is one of those rare books that’s over way too soon. That’s probably cause it’s short — only 159 pages.
I found myself reading it the way I eat a particularly delicious macaroni and cheese — with tiny bites, in the ill-fated hope that it will last forever.
You probably know Fagen, if you know him at all, as the singer, keyboardist and co-founder of Steely Dan.
Along with Walter Becker, he wrote a bunch of great songs, including Deacon Blues — one of my all-time favorites!
That’s the one that goes…
“They got a name for the winners in the world
I want a name when I lose
They call Alabama the Crimson Tide
Call me Deacon Blues…”
I’ve heard that song a zillion times without really knowing what it’s about. You should read Eminent Hipsters if for no other reason than Fagen offers an explanation.
Fagen even looks like a grumpy guy…
The books starts with stories about the writers, musicians and DJs who influenced Fagen’s life.
Then, without warning, he launches into this hilariously grumpy diary covering the six utterly miserable weeks he spent on the road, as he rode from one end of America to the other.
It was all part of a `70s oldies tour, where aging Boomers, like me, bellowed things like: “Play Deacon Blues!”
You can’t blame him for being grumpy.
The dude’s got a darky funny way with words. Like this sentence: “The Internet, which at first seemed so fascinating, appears to be evolving into something even worse than TV, but we’ll see.” That’s from the intro.
Don’t feel too sorry for these geezers — they made a ton of dough touring Japan…
As he tells his story, he was a skinny, little nerd, who grew up in suburban New Jersey, obsessed with things that no cool kid could possibly give a shit about — jazz, science fiction and late-night DJs.
Obsessions that apparently remain: “I tried to grow up. Honest. Didn’t quite happen. I guess I’m someone for whom youth still seems more real than the present, or the half century in between.”
That’s also from the intro.
You know, maybe I should quote another part of the book just to show that I read it.
Okay, here goes. I’ll open the book and randomly quote the first thing I see…
“I guess the filmmakers couldn’t resist the idea that when Igor got to shag Coco, he was inspired to compose this wild, atavistic, new kind of music, in a sort of reversal of George Clinton’s slogan, `Free your mind and our ass will follow.'”
That brilliant sentence is from his mini-review of Coco and Igor, some dumbass movie about the romance between Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky that he watched one night in his room at the Henry Hotel in Dearborn, Michigan.
Hey, Mr. Fagen, break’s over. Start writing. I’m ready for the sequel.
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I’m sitting on the throne, reading a book about the Beatles, when I see something that makes me shout out loud…
“Holy, shit! Please Please Me is about cunnilingus!”
A few words of explanation…
I’m reading A Hard Day’s Write, a book my wife bought at a Barnes & Noble remainder sale. As the title suggests, it’s a compilation of short essays about each songs the Beatles wrote.
Special shoutout to Steve Turner, the author.
A wonderful read, its a perfect example of what famed literary critic, Milo Samardzija, calls a “shithouse read,” in his brilliant literay essay entitled, Shithouse Reader.
In case you’re wondering, yes, that’s the same Milo, who’s my partner in this vast blogging enterprise.
In his essay–required reading in university literature courses throughout the world–Milo writes: “Early on I discovered that I could not move my bowels unless I had something to read. There seems to be a direct connection between my eyes and my ass, a sort of optical/lower intestinal tripwire that, once engaged, releases the fecal floodgates.”
He goes on to write: “The secret to good bathroom reading material is that the books have be easy reads yet compelling, with passages that you want to read over and over again.”
I’m telling you, the man’s the second coming of Leslie Epstein.
Anyway, the Beatles book has a prominent place in my bathroom, taking the spot recently filled by Michael Jordan’s 50 Greatest Games, which is about the 50 greatest games Michael Jordan ever played. As you may have guessed.
Oh, those Beatles…
But back to Please Please Me…
Emboldened by my discovery, I run to the bedroom, where my wife’s doing yoga.
“Did you know that Please Please Me is about cunnilingus?” I ask.
“Really? she says.
“Yeah. Actually, I guess you could say it’s about oral gratification in general.”
There and then I start reading the relevant passage from Turner’s classic…
“Please Please Me was one of those innocuous sounding pop songs with a subversive subtext. Some critics have seen it as a plea for equality in sexual pleasure. Robert Christgau, music editor of the Village Voice, has more controversially claimed that it’s about oral sex.”
“Wow,” says my wife. “I never thought about it that way…”
“Who did? Except for Christgau, that horny bastard. But it makes sense, if you think about it.”
And I recite from memory, as any Beatle fan can do.
“Last night I said these words to my girl
I know you never even try, girl
Come on, come on, come on, come on
Please, please me, woah yeah, like I please you…”
“What he’s saying is–do to me like I do to you,” I say.
As impressed as she obviously is by my literary prowess, I can see she wants to return to her yoga. So I call Milo, speaking of horny bastards.
“Milo, do you know Please Please Me? is about cunnilingus?”
Long pause. Then he says: “Nothing wrong with that.”
Like I said–the man’s a literary genius.
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A few days ago, a bracing wind whipped through Chicago, and I awoke one morning to find a big-ass branch in my backyard.
Obviously, it had blown off a tree while I lay sleeping.
My wife told me to drag the branch out to the alley because she didn’t want it cluttering up her backyard.
But, I said, no–I want to conduct a science experiment.
Now, I know you’re thinking–damn, Benny Jay, you’ll say anything to avoid doing a little yardwork.
Okay, maybe there’s some truth to that. But way down inside, I think I’ve got a little Louis Pasteur trying to break out.
Anyway, I told my wife…
“Let’s see how long it takes that big-ass tree branch to disintegrate.”
“Oh, no,” she said. “You can’t just leave that thing in my backyard.”
“Why not? It’s biodegradable.”
Great word, biodegradable. Very scientific and environmentally-friendly.
Cleary, my wife was impressed.
“Okay,” she said. “You can keep it there for the winter.”
Just call me a great scientist…
So the big-ass branch sat in my backyard for several days.
And each morning I’d give it the once over, dutifully reporting to my wife on its condition. I’d tell her important scientific stuff, like…
“The branch’s still there!”
“Still a branch!”
“Man, who knew science could be so fun!”
And my wife would say other scientific things right back to me. Like…
If I didn’t know better, I’d say she was starting to develop her own interest in my science experiment. Just call her Madame Curie.
Alas, yesterday I went to the backyard to check in on my experiment and what did I discover?
The big-ass tree branch was gone! The yard man had carted it away when he came to rake the leaves.
I guess he didn’t recognize an important scientific experiment when he saw one.
I was devastated. Imagine if some Parisian janitor had tossed out Louis Pasteur’s petri dishes.
“Fils de pute–va te faire foutre!” as Louis might say.
“Oh, well,” said my wife.
As you can see, some of us are taking it harder than others.
With Thanksgiving here, the time’s come to give a special Third City thank you to just a few of the many who’ve done so much for us this year.
So without further ado, thanks to….
Nickel Bag Bernie, one of our valued advertisers, for keeping the editorial staff happy at all times. See you in the parking lot, Bernie.
Madame LeFarge’s Whorehouse, another valued advertiser, for the group rates.
Swami Sam, the Skokie Yoga King — Sam doesn’t do much for us, but he’s done wonders for the ladies.
Dr. Frankie “Disco” Lopez, our primary physician, for making sure we never run low on our meds.
Dr. Matt Farmer and El Dragon, our esteemed attorneys, for squashing all those cease-and-desist orders and keeping us out of jail. By the way, the good news is that Milo’s DNA test came out negative!
The Lovely Mrs. Milo for refraining to hire a hit man to get rid of her loving but somewhat erratic husband.
The Triple A Bail Bond Company of Gary for bailing Milo out of jail after that Labor Day escapade with Mrs. Shimkus in Skokie.
Mr. Shimkus for dropping the charges against Milo.
Elmore Stiglitz & Sons — Gary, Indiana’s most reliable bookies — for the easy-payment plan. Our next check’s in the mail!
The Corporate Factory Farms of America for the two-headed, 20-pound Cornish Hen. Can’t wait to pop it in the oven!
The Chicago Bulls and Bears and Cubs and Sox for winning all those championships last year….
That actually came true this year for the Cubs.
As always we’re thankful for the great Pam Grier!
Denzel Washington for being the next Paul Newman.
Paul Newman for being the first Paul Newman.
Our sensational crew of superstar writers, photogs, computer geniuses, podcasters, and actors who give it all to The Third City.
And, finally, our loyal readers — all 109 of you, or 110, when Milo’s sister is sober enough to navigate a keyboard. Thanks for reading and don’t forget to make your checks out to cash!
Peace, thy most precious gift.
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One day last week, a painter showed up to paint the living room.
To prepare, my wife and I cleared out chairs, couch, coffee table, books, paintings, lamps and the rug. Rolled it up and placed it in the hallway.
Well, the painter finished. Good job, I might add. The chairs, couch, coffee table, paintings, and lamps are back. Books to come. No hurry there.
But the rug? Now, that’s a problem.
It’s still where the painter left it. In the hallway, blocking the passage way.
I figured to get to it. But you know how it goes. One day leads to another and suddenly I realize half a week’s gone by and the rug’s still in the hallway blocking the passage way–like a giant log clogging a creek.
It’s driving the dog batty. She’s like–“You gonna move this thing or what?”
She doesn’t actually come out and say that–not being able to speak and all. More like she’s thinking it.
It reminds me of the time years ago when my cousin started this bold renovation project in his bathroom only to run out of steam, leaving a crowbar hanging out of the wall.
It gave me something to look at when I was using the facility.
Anyway, the rug’s become such a crisis that my wife and I felt compelled to talk about it just before she went off to work.
“We have to move it,” she said.
“But I can’t lift it by myself and you can’t lift it with me cause you’ll ruin your back.”
“Ask Eric to help you.”
Eric’s this nice young man in the neighborhood.
“I hardly know Eric, I can’t ask him to help me move this rug.”
“Then ask Milo…”
“Are you kidding me? Milo just had brain surgery. Carrying this rug might finish him off.”
“Okay, then ask Sam.”
Sam’s our super strong neighbor.
“Sam can handle it. But where would we put it?”
“In the alley…”
“It’ll just sit there, pissing off the neighbors…”
“No it won’t–someone will take it.”
“Who’s gonna take this ugly-ass rug?”
“Okay, fine, put it in the basement…”
“Then it will just clutter up the basement…”
“Okay, let me think about it.”
With that, she left for work, stepping over the rug, as she headed out the door.
As you can see, talking about moving a rug is not the same as actually moving it. But it’s a start.
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On Tuesday, I set sail for a distant south suburb called Richton Park with Danielle, a photographer, to interview and take pictures of the basketball coach at Rich East High School.
Long story, so let’s move on…
Our means of transportation is the commuter train on Metra’s Electric District line. So we don’t really set sail so much as we ride the rails.
But setting sail seems the best way to adequately convey the challenge of this journey–as Richton Park is a long way from my comfort zone on the north side of Chicago.
I know–I gotta get out more.
On the trip, we’re having a rip-roaring time talking about this and that. And the next thing you know, I see the Richton Park station sign fading into the distance.
That’s right–we miss our stop and find ourselves at the University Park station over three miles from Rich East High School.
“No worry,” I say. “We can catch a cab. There’s always cabs waiting at commuter train stops.”
At this point I should mention–I’m a Boomer and Danielle’s a Millennial.
Danielle downloads Uber…
We walk from the track to the station, a vast parking lot. But there’s not a cab in sight.
That’s when it hits me: Cabs have gone the way of pay phones, hotel keys and other artifacts of my Baby Boomer existence.
“We can order an Uber,” Danielle suggests.
“You know how to do that?” I ask.
She smiles as Millennials do when they come face-to-face with a fossil.
“Sure,” she says.
Decision time. On the one hand, I’ve been known to rail about Uber driving cabbies out of business.
On the other hand, we’re over three miles from Rich East and I don’t know what else to do.
Raising the white flag of surrender, I say: “Okay.”
And snaps her picture of the coach…
As I watch her dowload the necessary link, I’m overwhelmed with appreciation. Say what you will about Millennials, but it’s good to have one around, when you’re stuck in a parking lot three miles from your destination.
“Done,” says Danielle. “It’s going to be a Jeep Cherokee. You’ll have to have to help me cause I don’t know what they look like.”
Finally, I’m useful. I may know nothing about Uber, but I know a Jeep Cherokee when I see one.
The Uber driver turns out to be a super-friendly woman who found her way to Chicago’s south suburbs after immigrating to the USA from Nigeria.
She says Uber driving pays the bills while she gets her degree in nursing.
I guess Uber’s not so bad, even if it did drive cabs out of existence.
And with that I make my belated peace with a world that’s forever changing.
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In my effort to make sense of the senseless, I read Nicholas Kristof’s column called A 12-Step Program for Responding to President-Elect Trump.”
“Traumatized by the election results, many Americans are asking: What now?” writes Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times. “Here are steps that any of us can take that can make a difference at the margins.”
He gets off to a good start by saying we shouldn’t “acquiesce in injustice” and we should “gird for battle on issues” we care about. Then, he asks us to pledge…
“I will avoid demonizing people who don’t agree with me about this election, recognizing that it’s as wrong to stereotype Trump supporters as anybody else. I’ll remind myself that no side has a monopoly on truth and that many Trump supporters are good people who want the best for the country. The left already has gotten into trouble for condescending to working-class people, and insulting all Trump supporters as racists simply magnifies that problem.”
That’s where he lost me.
For one thing, I’ll stop demonizing them when they stop demonizing me.
Trump won because he fired up his supporters by unapologetically demonizing anyone who dared to disagree with him. Just like his supporters did to Obama since 2008.
Remember how they demonized Obama? Said he wasn’t eligible to be president cause he wasn’t born in America. Said Obamacare was a plot by the government to take away civil liberties. Said Obama wanted to take away their guns and take religion out of Christmas and so forth.
There wasn’t a grain of truth to half of this bullshit. But they said it anyway.
You’re not going to win many fights, if you’re blindfolded…
And now we’re supposed to stop demonizing them because–what? It’s not nice to demonize the people who’re demonizing you?
That’s like making a boxer fight blindfolded. You can’t win, if you’re the only side playing by the rules.
And the Hitler metaphors? We’re not supposed to be scared over the obvious historical parallels because the other side might get offended? Tell you what–I’ll stop with the Hitler/Mussolini metaphors when Trump and Stephen Bannon denounce white supremacists.
And the bit about “many Trump supporters are good people who want the best for the country.”
Mr. Kristof, please. Name three prominent Trump supporters who are good people. Rudy Giuliani? Chris Christie? Bannon?
You can’t do it anymore than I can.
I happen to be friends with two Trump supporters. One voted for Trump cause Democratic politicians fired him from his city job.
Fair enough. But listening to him bitch about Democrats is like listening to a barroom drunk complain about his ex-wife. It may be entertaining, but it’s not about what’s best for the country.
The other guy–a millionaire–voted for Trump cause he hates paying taxes. His vote was about what’s best for him, not the country.
And the thing about “condescending to working-class people”? Man, you’re not condescending to someone when you take them seriously enough to say what the fuck are you doing, man!
This is political correctness of a different kind. You don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, so you act like what they did makes sense.
It’s one thing to try to get along with people you disagree with. It’s another thing to bury your head in the sand.