Back to Annadale
The origins of Steely Dan -- Donald Fagen returns to campus and revisits the origin of his old grudge
By Rob Brunner on Mar 17, 2006
On Halloween 1967, a party is raging inside Ward Manor, an Elizabethan-style mansion-turned-dorm at Bard College, in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. On a small stage set up in the corner of the common room, a band called the Leather Canary tears through the Rolling Stones' ''Dandelion,'' Moby Grape's ''Hey Grandma,'' and Willie Dixon's ''Spoonful,'' along with a few recently penned originals. It's a typical late-'60s student shindig — most of the audience is tripping on acid — but it's hardly an ordinary band. Behind the drums is Chevy Chase, familiar around campus as a gifted musician and good-natured goofball who's been known to drop his pants after losing late-night games of ''dare'' poker. Just in front of him is a long-haired muso named Walter Becker, one of the school's most accomplished guitarists. And the shy singer behind the electric piano? That's Don Fagen, decked out in a leather jacket with feathers attached to it (hence the band's name). Just a few years later, Chase will find fame as one of the greatest comedians of his generation. Fagen and Becker, meanwhile, will evolve into Steely Dan, score huge hits with songs like ''Rikki Don't Lose That Number'' and ''Reelin' in the Years,'' and create several of the most beloved and enduring albums of the 1970s. And in 1973, on their second LP, they will record ''My Old School,'' an angry kiss-off that, for reasons that have never been entirely clear, takes a very public swipe at Bard. ''California tumbles into the sea/That'll be the day I go back to Annandale,'' Fagen famously sings. ''I'm never going back to my old school.'' You can practically hear him sneer.
Almost four decades after that Halloween gig, Donald Fagen is back at Ward Manor, gazing around the very same common room. In many ways, this quiet lounge — its ornate wood-paneled walls and elaborately plastered ceiling unchanged after all these years — is where Steely Dan sputtered to life. Fagen and Becker both lived here, and they wrote their first, now-forgotten songs together on an old piano that disappeared from the corner years ago.
Read the whole interview in Entertainment Weekly HERE.