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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

The authors that inspired Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen

Steely Dan have previously been described as the “perfect musical antihero for the 1970s”. They were formed in 1971 by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, although in 1974, they became a recording-only band and retired from live performances for some time.

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Fagen and the journalist took a walk about Chicago and discussed what it’s like being a star. During that time, Fagen also opened up on some of his favourite books and even nipped into the city’s branch of Barnes and Noble to browse through some of his most profound literary loves.

It appears from the off that Fagen is something of a sci-fi fan. He picked out a copy of Ray Bradbury’s The October Country, the iconic author’s 1955 macabre collection of 19 short stories. Of the book’s cover, decorated with a lovely display of autumnal brown leaves, Fagen said: “Nice cover. Better than a picture of a girl who looks like Charo being chased by a lizard,” for whatever reason.

From there, Fagen claimed he was somewhat out of touch with the contemporary science fiction scene but noted two of its greats. He said: “I don’t know most of these guys in this section now. And I don’t like fantasy. I love Philip K. Dick. This guy [William Gibson, who wrote Neuromancer is a] big Steely Dan fan. And this guy [Robert Heinlein, author of  Starship Troopers is a] big fascist — sci-fi guys are either liberal or very conservative.”

Fagen then paid his respects to one of the greatest American authors of all time, Vladimir Nabokov. He had grown frustrated from not seeing an awful lot of proper literature in the shop and said, “Where’s the, you know, books?”. But upon arriving at the shelf with all the Nabokov books, he brightened up.

Of whether people enjoy Nabokov, Fagen said: “Nabokov, this is a good test of someone, whether or not they like Nabokov. Walter [Becker of Steely Dan] and I loved Lolita. My mother had a copy and insisted she never got through it. Pale FireWalter and I were inspired by that, this false document, annotated, the annotation having nothing to do with anything. It’s hilarious.”

Indeed, Nabokov’s Lolita is considered a true classic of American literature. It features some of the most beautifully poetic prose of the 20th Century but is also considered highly controversial because of its subject matter of paedophilia and sexual abuse.

Donald Fagen’s favourite authors:

  • Ray Bradbury
  • Phillip K. Dick
  • William Gibson
  • Vladimir Nabokov

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