“Tonight You’re Still on My Mind”: Nostalgia and Parody in Donald Fagen’s The Nightfly

  • Nathan Seinen
Part of the Pop Music, Culture and Identity book series (PMCI)


Donald Fagen’s debut solo album The Nightfly (1982) takes as its theme the period of the late 1950s and early 1960s and is a partly nostalgic, partly sardonic recollection of the suburban society in which he grew up. The title track presents the character of the late-night DJ, as a tribute to the legendary figures who sparked the young Fagen’s interest in jazz and bequeathed to him the hip outlook, including social criticism and celebration of black culture. This chapter examines two related features of the album that reflect the hip perspective: the combination of a satirical treatment of mainstream Eisenhower-era society (in the lyrics) with a parody of contemporary rock ‘n’ roll, swing and other popular genres (in the music); and the development of the topic of the night, imagined as a space of freedom, a source of inspiration and a realm which invites encounters with the unfamiliar. Instead of the debauched and dangerous creatures of the night that had appeared on Steely Dan albums, The Nightfly presents a series of vignettes of suburban types (teenagers and their parents) in various nocturnal environments, as they contemplate the future, reminisce about the past, engage in flirtation and seduction, and confront menacing antagonists. Fagen’s narrator looks back historically, with both affection and irony, behind the façade of sanitized American life, finding youthful dreams that are swiftly set aside and adult temptations that can turn into deadly threats. I go on to suggest that the album contains an additional level of satire, directed against the widespread 1970s nostalgia for an idealized Fifties, which by the early 1980s had become associated with conservative politics.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nathan Seinen
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of MusicChinese University of Hong KongShatinHong Kong

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