Insomnia-ridden, Fagen comes shuffling out of the Four Seasons around 2 AM, just like I hoped. The old guy looks like crap in a Miles Davis sweatshirt and grey jogging pants. I ease behind him and slip my gat into his lumbar region.
“Relax, Donald, everything’s going to be fine,” I growl, suppressing the urge to make a crack about the fella in the white night gown.
“Let’s you and me take a walk.”
I could feel him surrender like a man grabbed by Saddam Hussein’s security guards. Some tough guy. I got him headed up the street towards the corner, not a soul in sight. At the back of my cab-over I clicked on the cuffs. I’d expected more of him, like offering me some cash or maybe even busting a move to get away. Nothing. Some rock star. Some hero.
“Climb inside, pal, and face forward. Like I said, it’s gonna be all right.” In another 30 seconds the door was shut and I had the blindfold on him. So far, it was according to plan. He hadn’t seen my face at all. He flinched just a little when I slipped the blindfold over his eyes. Then I muscled him down into the dinette and strapped on the restraints, a belt around his chest and another just below his knees. He wasn’t going on tour again any time soon.
“Open your mouth, ancient mariner,” I said. “Open your mouth or it’s curtains, your last gig, man.”
“What are you gonna do?” he squeaks, sounding like when he tries to hit those high notes.
“Just open your mouth. Now.”
“Look, I’m not into…”
“Nah, not that, Don. It’s just a little something to calm you down.”
“Calm me down? My heart’s beating like a hammer.”
“Just make like the 2000 Year-Old Man and pray it don’t attack you,” I chuckled. Donald’s not the only comic on the block. “Look, it’s not drugs and it’s not sexual, okay?” Something in my voice inspired his trust and he let his mouth fall open. I slip a brown lump past the famous vampire teeth. A look of reluctant pleasure flashed across his face .
“It’s a Raspberry Ganache Twirl,” he muttered.
“I heard somewhere you’re into Godivas. Here…try this too.”
“Banana Tangerine Crunch,” he says after swallowing. He knows his Godivas all right. “What is this, the candy quiz from hell?”
I liked that. He was showing some spunk. “The questions are about to get tougher, Don. But here, have a slug of Kahlua. It’s good for your throat.” I poured him off a fat corner of the stuff and he sucked it down. Then I clamped a rag around his mouth to gag him, made sure he was secure and left him there in the camper. Ten minutes later we were headed north out of Seattle on Highway 99.
I had him on the video monitor on my dashboard, sitting there blindfolded and gagged. A dream come true. The average guy gets victimized by his heroes, you spend your life in a hole looking up at them. You think you’re on Joe Montana’s team. You’re not. You think Obama is going out on a limb for you. He’s just playing the averages and thinking about his legacy. Me, I was through adoring the Steely prince, done rambling on about how he was the ultimate dude, the musician’s musician.
I cut over to U.S. 525, then onto Mukilteo Road and along the shore to Harborview Park. No one was in the parking lot. I’d already cased it out. I parked the pickup and came around back and slapped on the substitute license plates. Then I climbed in.
I pulled out the Roland X450 synthesizers and set them down on the dinette table, one for Don, one for me. I had his synth Velcroed down just in case he tried to throw it at me. I adjusted his cuffs so he could reach a couple octaves apart with his hands. His torso was still belted down. All the dude could do now was play his axe.
I sat down across from him and fit the stocking mask over my head. Then I pulled off his blindfold and ungagged him.
“Here’s the deal, Donald,” I said. “Chick Corea opens an on-line music workshop. He does interviews. He cares about people. Chick is a gentle and sensitive man. You on the other hand push everyone away from you and insult your old sidemen. Meanwhile, you toss off these funky masterpieces and leave us groping in the dark. I mean, mathematicians publish their formulas, you know? Jack Nicklaus used to give clinics. But I for one am not going to let you take all this fine shit to the grave.” I leaned up into his grizzled old face. “So look,” I said…
“SHOW ME THE CHORDS!”
Silence filled the cabover. Fagen sat there staring at me. He cleared his throat.
“You mean you just want some chords…?”
“You got it, pal. I wanna know what the hell is going on in Planet D’Rhonda. And in “Great Pagoda of Fun. And Pixeleen. And what the hell are those descending chords in What A Shame About Me.
“And another thing: you created your Facebook page and no one gets to post there except you! What is that all about?”
“Maybe it’s about crazy fuckers like you,” he says. I was gonna slap him when he said that, you know, it crossed my mind, but I didn’t cause I’m not a crazy fucker. I knew exactly what I was doing.
I’d come for the chords.
At that moment, Don laid down some minor stuff with his right hand, a few dribbling triads. He looked at me. “I’ll show you some stuff, man. But there’s gonna be a price to pay. You didn’t need to do this.”
“Yeah and Edward Snowden could have just called the president: ‘Hey Barack, there’s something rotten in the NSA.’ Fagen, you’re just like them. You’re all laid up there in Kafka’s castle. Inaccessible. Off limits.”
“They won’t let you get away with this.”
“Nah, I got my ass covered. Got it planned out. By the time you’re loose, I’m on my way to – let’s just call it a tropical paradise. And you, you’ve got material for your next book, not to mention three or four new songs. Your fans will eat it up. You know, like, “He came in under the radar, when my back was turned around…”
Donald sketched out a limpid blues line that seemed to feed his spirit. “Okay, so maybe you get away with it. It’s still wrong fucking with me like this. The shock could have killed me. Anyway, it’s not about the chords. You could get those from a lot of dudes.”
“Major dudes maybe, but us minor dudes are out here just guessing! The cats that know, that really know, they don’t tell you. Or they want big bucks. Look, I just want to play the songs, run through the changes, man.”
He was staring at me with a look somewhere between fear and contempt. “It’s all online, man,” he said softly.
“Only the basics, not all the inversions, all those polychords and unhearable voicings.”
He dropped his eyes. I could feel him sizing me up. “The pleasure is in figuring it out,” he said, almost to himself. He looked tiredly up. “So what do you play?”
“Tenor. And flute. I gigged at Monterey once.”
“You’ve come a long way from that.”
“Don’t sharp-shoot me, man.”
“That was Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman, right?”
“Yeah. Didn’t you love that joint?”
“Yeah, excellent flick. Look, you got any more of that sauce?”
“I guess so.” I put the bottle down between us with a couple of fresh glasses and poured some for both of us. I needed it, maybe something harder.
Donald puts his down and sighs. “You ever go to UltimateGuitar.com? Or that Howard Wright guy in the UK? All the chords are there, man.” He flashed me a Humphrey Bogart grimace with those hellish canines of his that would have put Bogie to shame. Then he smiles. “Why do I get the feeling you don’t get out much?”
“Hey, I get around. I used to live in Japan. I had this gig there – solo show in a hostess bar – 6 nights a week. I covered Deacon Blues and a lot of stuff from Two Against Nature. I was happening, man. I even wrote some originals.”
“I hear those dolls are amazing.”
“I couldn’t talk Japanese. Pretty much kept to myself.”
“And that gig lasted…”
“Shit. And you didn’t get any?”
“I went out with one girl. I tried to touch her arm and she said my hands were too wrinkly.”
“That’s too bad. They are wrinkly.”
“But all your songs are about old guys who…”
“I wear custom gloves. Hand condoms. Cost a fortune.”
I felt tired. And down. I should have googled “donald fagen chords.” Now I had to go live in Brazil, which is nice, but it all seemed a little forced. I could have gone to Brazil and googled donald fagen chords and been free to come back if I wanted. But more than that, I realized what my real fear was. Suddenly there were tears in my eyes.
“What are we gonna do when you’re gone, Donald? Nobody writes like you, even if they know the chords. The delicious, elegant humor, all your soulful grooves. You captured the essence of New York ennui and tossed off California rock as a comic afterthought. And there’s the unremitting homage you pay to the lost art of arranging.
He stared at me. “Unremitting homage? Wait, I get it. You’re a writer!”
“I just have this little blog.”
“This little blog. This is why I hate writers. You’ve probably dreamed of interviewing me for 20 years.”
“Well, I guess if Rolling Stone had approached me…” This was getting out of hand. I shoved him back against the camper wall to shut him up. I had to finish the narrative, get my feelings out.
“Your voice, Don, your voice! You’re like a funky, fin-du-siècle Frank Sinatra with, like, a sprinkling of Jerry Lewis on top. You start out with that sardonic sneering arrogance. In middle age it evolves into ironic whimsy, and now gentle self-mockery. You reveal a pathos and fragility in your high notes, even as your funkiness and drollery and harmonic inspiration burn as bright as ever. You’re the most underrated cat on Planet Music, man. You magnificent motherfucker, there’ll never be anyone like you again. I love you man, you’re the incomparable coming-together of everything I’ve ever loved in music. But it’s a fucking wasteland out there, Don. Hippety-hopping self-aggrandizing rap thugs and white drama queens, that’s all we got. What are we gonna do when you die? You’re 67 now, man. You’re not jogging. I never read about you jogging!”
“I jog a little,” he mumbled. “In the tour bus.”
But his accommodating manner was just a ruse. When I hung my head in my hands and began weeping hysterically, Fagen made his move with the Kahlua bottle; he smashed it on the table and grabbed me by the neck. It all happened real fast. I don’t even remember if he was wearing his hand condoms. All I saw were the jagged edges of that Kahlua bottle four inches from my throat. Next thing I knew I was unlocking his cuffs.
“I’m gonna outlive you, peabrain,” he said, his canines glittering in the dim light of the camper. He went and got the gun and made me tie myself up. I don’t know how I did it, must have been the power of his charisma. Then he cinched me up tight and left me there. When the door slammed, I knew the jig was up. I kept thinking about how they got no Roland synths at Leavenworth.
I heard the motor turn over and next thing we were headed out of the parking lot. I figured he was headed for the nearest police station, but he kept driving, driving. I couldn’t see shit out the window. But after an hour or so, it looked like a lot of lights outside and I heard the sound of jetliners overhead. Now we were twisting around corners like we were in a parking structure. Finally he pulled to a stop. I heard him get out of the camper, then nothing.
It must have been half an hour later I heard footsteps approaching. The door swung open and Donald jumped in. Now he was cutting away the ropes with a utility knife. He got the cuffs off with one hand, training the gat right between my eyes.
“Get out, punk,” he says. He jams the rod into the waist of his jogging pants, covers it up and somehow, it stays there.
“Now walk,” he says. “I’ll tell you where to go.” I realize I’m in fucking JFK. He steers me to the Varig counter and hands me a one-way ticket to Rio.
“You’re a lucky son of a bitch. It’s leaving in 30 minutes,” he says. “You’re not on that flight, I press charges.”
“But what about my clothes? And my tenor.”
“Geez, you horn players drive me nuts. Don’t you have any friends? Tell ‘em to ship it to you in Rio. ”
“But I’m broke!”
“What, I gotta think of everything? Call the American Embassy. Use your Visa card. You’re a musician, right? Improvise.”
I felt him prod me in the back with my gun. “OK, Donald, you win I guess. And thanks, man. Hey– you’re the best.”
“I know that,” he says. “Now sign out, Zombie.”
Well, that’s my story. I got on the plane and wound up here in Rio. These days, I play mainly sambas and the new funk carioca stuff. I’ve been seeing this girl from Ipanema too. Sort of tall and tan. She looks straight ahead, not at me, so I have to walk in front of her facing backwards. Then sometimes I see Glenn Greenwald strolling around with his life partner and we discuss politics. It’s an OK life.
I never get any calls from Donald, but I’m waiting for some credits in the next album.