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May 5 2011




Last week, the extraordinary singer Phoebe Snow died from complications of a severe stroke she had last year. Phoebe and I were pals ever since my wife, Libby Titus, persuaded her to come along on a New York Rock and Soul Revue tour in 1991. We had a number of things in common. We were close in age; we both had an early passion for African-American music, i.e., jazz and R&B; and we were both of the genus North Jersey Jewish Hippie. Species: Neurotic. Also, we each had a sense of humor that was way over on the dark side.

I really liked to make Phoebe laugh because she was my best audience. A lot of people (more every day, it seems) respond to my humor with incomprehension, if not actual abhorrence. With Phoebe, though, it was as if she was a long lost cousin who shared the same family history and the same inside jokes.

Born into an artistic family, Phoebe was exposed to music as a child, everything from tin pan alley to Delta blues. By her teen years, she had become expert at folk and blues guitar. Gifted with a phenomenal voice, perfect pitch and a four-octave range, she developed a completely original style, soulful and austere. She’s probably best known for her early compositions including the1974 hit Poetry Man. The following year, when her daughter Valerie was born with serious brain damage, she famously elected to let the career slide and devote herself to her care. She gradually started performing and recording again and, when Valerie died in 2007, she attacked her grief by throwing herself back into working life.

In the 90s, when she began to study operatic technique, she started to use the full power of her voice to subvert her earlier style by indulging in a kind of willful excess: she channeled the force of her uncontained emotion into an array of screeches and squeals. At the end of a ballad, she knew she could secure a standing ovation with one of her wild, extended improvised cadenzas. She loved playing for the crowd.

Like a lot of ultra-talented singers, Phoebe was subject to bewildering mood swings. She had a rocky childhood, and the fact that she could wipe out everyone else on the stage with one number didn’t make her any less insecure. She was the most energetic hypochondriac I’ve ever come across, searching out alternative doctors and gurus, traveling to Mexico to receive sheep embryo injections, all that stuff. Certainly, she had to deal with some bona fide ailments. But her frequent disquisitions on her medical condition left no doubt that she felt herself to be a prisoner inside her own body, a predicament she usually bore (in public, anyway) with cheerful stoicism. Some years ago, she was staying at our house in the country where we had to rehearse something or other. One morning, she came down the stairs, smiled, pulled up her shirt to expose her abdomen and announced in her knife-edged contralto, “Mold Spores”! For her, that was fun.

That said, when Phoebe bopped in the door, her authenticity and sweet nature always made the room feel just a bit cozier, and anyone who ever saw her perform knows what I’m talking about. She was a mighty spoonful of soul, and I’ll miss her.

-Donald Fagen

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by Donald Fagen

Acute Tour Disorder (ATD) is characterized by a cluster of anxiety and dissociative symptoms that develop in response to traumatic events that occur while being employed as a member of a rock concert touring band. Symptoms usually arise some time during the first month of the tour and continue until its conclusion, at which time the onset of PTD (Post Tour Disorder) almost certainly follows. ATD is a related to other disorders brought on as a result of severe vocational stress such as Combat Stress Reaction (a.k.a. Shell Shock).

Causes and Symptoms
Acute Tour Disorder is caused by exposure to traumatic events which occur during a tour. Curiously, the majority of these events are regarded by the participants as being consistent with occupational norms. These include:

- Confinement in vehicles, hotels, dressing rooms, etc,. with the same group of people over long periods of time

- Daily relocation to a new venue such as a sports arena, a “rock palace”, a casino concert hall or a “summer shed”

- Nightly performances in front of large, rowdy, often intoxicated crowds

These are all, in fact, stressors that can produce a broad range of symptoms including:

Anxiety Symptoms
Panic attacks
Inability to focus
Anger problems (“Stage Rage”)
Bizarre ideations
Replay of traumatic events (flashbacks)
Physical restlessness
Muscle pain and twitching

Dissociative Symptoms
Emotional numbness
Severe depression
Memory loss

Other Symptoms
Inability to carry out and prioritize tasks
Morbid fixations on minor problems
Physical and mental exhaustion
Sexual dysfunction

In addition, high levels of psychic pain and physical discomfort often lead to secondary problems such as substance abuse, television trance and compulsive, sometimes deviant, sexual behaviour.

Because the patient suffering from Acute Tour Disorder rarely seeks help until the the condition has resolved itself into Post Tour Disorder (i.e., until after the tour is over), the diagnostic history is brief. Opportunities for diagnosis usually present themselves after a severe functional breakdown or when some overt behavioral abberation is brought to the attention of law enforcement and/or medical professionals. After an examination of the patient’s history has ruled out diseases that can cause similar symptoms, diagnostic criteria can be set as follows:

* The patient presents six of the above symptoms
* Onset of the symptoms was in the first six weeks of the tour      
and show no signs of reduction

Treatment for ATD usually includes a combination of antidepressant medications and short-term psychotherapy.

The prognosis for recovery is influenced by the intensity and duration of the tour and the patient's previous level of functioning. Prompt treatment and appropriate social support are major factors in recovery. If the patient's symptoms are severe enough to interfere with normal functioning and last longer than one month, the diagnosis may be changed to PTD. Patients who do not receive treatment for ATD are at increased risk for additional symtoms characteristic of PTD: narcolepsy, major anxiety/depressive disorders and concomitant behavioral abberations.

Of course, the best way to avoid ATD is a real-world transformation, such as a change of vocations. With this choice, however, unknown factors come in to play, often linked to the withdrawal of attention from audiences, crew and industry flaks, i.e., a steep and sudden reduction of narcissistic supply. In theory, prompt professional intervention might reduce the likelihood or severity of ATD.

-Donald Fagen


After years

of arduous research . . .


Jakob, a Danish fan, has finally traced Donald's genealogical line back to - surprise! - Lucius Brutus, the leader of the revolution that established the Roman Republic in 509 B.C. and an ancestor of the more famous Marcus Brutus of "Et tu, Brute?" fame. As proof, Jakob submits this photo of the bust of Lucius Brutus in the Capitoline Museum, Rome.
Lexi Says



on J.D. Salinger

Like a lot of melancholy teenagers of my generation, I fell in love with Franny Glass. I figured she wouldn't have been nearly as high-maintenance a girlfriend if she were with me, a sensitive and understanding fellow-seeker, rather than that douchenozzle Lane Coutell.

Some readers seem to think that Salinger's work (what we have of it up till now) never addressed the concerns of the real "adult" world. We shouldn't forget that, in the years when Salinger's stories were appearing, American society—i.e., the men who came back from the war and their families—was suffering from an ugly, prolonged case of stress disorder. The fear-based, conservative, conformist adult world wasn't a club we wanted to join. When we got to observe the overeducated, hyper-sensitive Glass children struggle to find some other way to live, we felt a little less lonely.

Okay, it wasn't art pour l'art. On some level, Salinger obviously dug being a mentor, a Socrates, always with the message. And yet, as with all the best writers, his gentle revelations were all in the telling, in a style that was never less than artful and clean. I've missed his cool, intimate voice since the day he decided to skip town. And what ever happened to my girlfriend Franny? Maybe, now, we'll find out. 

—Donald Fagen


My Uncle Dave

My Uncle Dave was really funny
He’d call me Colonel and Bub and Honey
He’d make me laugh when I was a kid
He had a gremlin brain – he did!

Something about Dave he would never divulge:
He had iron in his head from the Battle of the Bulge
Asleep on our couch like a washed-out zero
The neighbors never knew he was a big war hero

He wore thick glasses; he dug Kurt Weill
He learned to play the flute: he was versatile
His life was okay, but not that nice…
I’m hope he’s content up in Gremlin Paradise

Sipping a sugary Jewish wine
With Pirate Jenny - his Valentine

-Donald Fagen


D.F. on Ray Charles

Ray Charles: 1930-2004

     No exaggeration: with the death of Ray Charles, we come to the end of American culture as we have known it. By alchemically combining elements of the sacred and the secular - basic country blues, club blues, country and western music, black gospel, the bebop of Charlie Parker and the canon of American standards - Brother Ray, musically speaking, solved the mind-body problem.
     Ray’s first models were the slick, popular trios of Nat Cole and, especially, Charles Brown. After a brief period of mimicry, Ray shook off  Brown’s twee,  club-style delivery and found his own confident physicality that combined the Chicago cool of Cole with the passion of the black Baptist church. In otherwords, he decided to be Ray Charles. This could not have been that obvious a move for an ambitious black entertainer in 1952. At any rate, Ray brought the soul out of the closet.
     At a recording session on November 18, 1954, Ray famously hijacked a gospel tune and, as he used to put it, “replaced God with a woman.” The result, I Got A Woman - followed by Drown In My Own Tears, Hallelujah I Love Her So, What I Say and so many others - rescued a generation from the deadly, neurotic suppression of feeling that had afflicted the nation after the second World War. Two years later, I Got A Woman appeared on Elvis Presley’s first album. Elvis wasn’t the white Ray Charles, though. Tennessee Williams, maybe, comes closer.
     The Ray Charles Effect was not limited to popular music. Ray’s big and small bands (Ray did the arrangements, singing each man his part) had a huge influence on the direction jazz was to take in the fifties, a movement the unimpressed French critic Andre Hodeir used to call the “funky hard-bop regression.” Horace Silver, Count Basie’s “atomic” band, Charles Mingus, every funky artist on Bluenote, they all owed Ray Charles. Quincy Jones was a Seattle teenager when Ray moved to that city in 1948:
     “Ray showed up, and he was around 16 years old [actually, Ray was at least 18 by then] and …he was like God, you know! He had an apartment, he had a record player, he had a girlfriend, two or three suits. When I first met him, you know, he would invite me over to his place. I couldn't believe it. He was fixing his record player. He would shock himself because there were glass tubes in the back of the record player then, and the radio. And I used to just sit around and say,  ‘I can't believe you're 16. You've got all this stuff going.’ Because he was like…a brilliant old dude, you know. He knew how to arrange and everything. And he… taught me how to arrange in braille, and the notes. He taught me what the notes were, because he understood.”
     Ray’s soul revolution ran parallel to, and interacted with, the civil rights movement of the 50s & 60s. In the more militant 70s, the funk of James Brown and Sly Stone took over to provide a more obvious soundtrack. Ray’s attempts to jump on the funkwagon were half-hearted. The new black sound was colder and right up in your face, based, in fact, on a smaller division of the beat.*  James Brown, Issac Hayes and Barry White seemed less interested in pleasing a woman than in collecting body parts. In contrast, Ray’s sage interpretation of America the Beautiful (1972) was at once a taunt, a healing gesture, and a blind man’s dream of the Promised Land. Perhaps a eulogy as well. Ray’s work, even in decline, was always wiser, subtler than that of the new breed. It was music for adults.
     For me, though, and a generation of suburban boomers, Ray was the Professor of Desire, and Georgia On My Mind - square-ass backup singers and all - just may have been the most beautiful three minutes and thirty-nine seconds in all of twentieth century music.


* Not unlike the complex relationship of bop to the jazz that preceded it.