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Flashback: Steely Dan's 1969 Marijuana Bust at Bard College

Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, who passed away on Sept. 3, met at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY in 1967, four years before they formed Steely Dan. Their second album, Countdown to Ecstasy, includes the song, "My Old School," which hit the charts (No. 63) in 1973. It's about the day they were busted for marijuana at Bard.

Here are some of the lyrics:

"I was smoking with the boys upstairs when I
Heard about the whole affair."

"That'll be the day I go back to Annandale"

"I'm never going back to my old school."

"It was around 5 a.m., a Thursday in May 1969, when a swarm of sheriff’s deputies descended on Bard, sweeping through dorms and off-campus residences, including this small house, where Fagen lived with a roommate," journalist Rob Brunner wrote about the incident in 2006. 

Bard bustees Donald Fagen and Walter Becker

”They went up and down the halls, knocking on doors,” says Terence Boylan, a friend and musical collaborator at Bard who was in his room at the time. ”Toilets were flushing everywhere to get rid of any pot that you had. I threw mine out the window. All you had to do was say to the cop, ‘What are you doing?’ They’d say, ‘That’s it, resisting arrest.’ Somebody would say, ‘What the hell is going on?’ ‘Oh, profanity! Arrest him.”’ Fagen, Becker and Fagen’s girlfriend, Dorothy White, were all arrested.

Fagen recalled:

”These were the days when there was a ‘war on longhairs,’ as they used to call it, and Bard’s in this kind of rural district. They picked up about 50 kids just at random. There were a few warrants, and one was for me, which was based totally on false testimony. They handcuffed our hands behind our backs and put us in a paddy wagon and took us off to the Dutchess County Jail. They took all of the boys, about 35 of us, most with really long hair, and shaved our heads. I remember some of them were crying. I don’t think any of them had seen their head for three or four years. It didn’t make that much difference to me. But it was scary, you know? To hear the cell-block door slam shut, the whole business with the handcuffs and the paddy wagon. I’d never been arrested or put in jail before.

”I asked them to bail my girlfriend out. She had nothing to do with this and was just visiting me. And they refused to do it. So when graduation time came I protested by not going. My case had already been dismissed—they had withdrawn the charges, actually. So I was sitting on a bench in front of Stone Row with my father and lawyer, just watching the graduation. A lot of the students were also angry because apparently the school had let an undercover policeman be planted in the building and grounds department. Their cooperation with the investigation was despicable.”

About "My Old School," Fagen added:

”I don’t know how serious we were [about never returning], but at the time both of us were very pissed off at the school, that’s for sure.”

In 1985, Fagen accepted an honorary doctorate at Bard. "What finally made you relent and go back to Annandale?" Brunner asked,

"Well, you know," Fagen said with a smirk. "I’m not one to hold a grudge.”

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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, editor-in-chief of Freedom Leaf, co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness, and the former editor of High Times.