Welcome back: Steely Dan, “My Old School” (1973)

Bard_College_-_IMG_7987

Above: Bard College, Annondale, NY.

gvsu library

Above: Mary Idema Pew Library, GVSU, Allendale, MI.

Donald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan attended Bard College in Annondale-on-Hudson, New York. I attended – and now teach – at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan.

Aside from seemingly similar town names, the schools don’t have a lot in common. Bard has an enrollment of about 2,500; GVSU has about ten times as many students. Bard was founded in 1860; GVSU was chartered in 1960. Bard is private, while GVSU is a part of the state system in Michigan. Musically, Bard has given us Richard and Robert Sherman, known to fans of Disney musicals, in addition to Steely Dan, a band that featured student Chevy Chase as an original member. GVSU to date has given us the Crane Wives, but give them time. Additionally, there are no oleanders in bloom at the start of school here. Ragweed is far more prevalent.

As fate would have it, I was pulling onto campus today – the first day of classes – to the strains of the Steely Dan song, singing “Allendale” each time that “Annondale” appears in the lyric. It doesn’t make a lot of sense in its context: the song is about a desire not to return to the alma mater, and I look forward to the return each fall. (California has not, in fact, tumbled into the sea, and I have once again returned to Allendale.)  In the same way people make New Year’s resolutions and make personal goals each January 1, many academics use the first day of school as New Year’s Day.  You’ll see most offices being cleaned, lunches being brought, and extra walks taken.  By the dark of winter (and the 100+ inches of snow in Allendale), you’ll see piles of unread journals, take-out containers, and buses moving between buildings. At least for today, it’s a new beginning.

The song wasn’t a Top 40 hit, stalling at number 63. But it is a staple of classic rock/classic hits formats nationwide, and it’s certain that you’ve heard it. We’re not introducing anything lost or obscure today.

You can see an interesting lip-synched version from back in the day here. I prefer the longer version from the Countdown to Ecstasy LP, which can be found here.

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