BACK TO MY OLD SCHOOL
STEELY DAN PAL RECALLS BARD, TRIPPING WITH DONALD & JIMI
When a friend of a friend told me his mom had dropped acid with Steely Dan mastermind Donald Fagen when they were freshman at Bard College, I had to ask: “Can I interview her?” Fortunately, the answer was yes. He also said, “Don’t forget to ask her about Hendrix.”
The mom in question is Carol Abbe, a realtor in Western Massachusetts by day and jazz singer by night. While Carol isn’t specifically named by Fagen in his book Eminent Hipsters, which has a chapter on Bard, she is there in spirit. Discussing the students at his old school, he mentions “ a small contingent of droll, perpetually baked hipsters from the D.C. area.” Carol, who is from Northern Virginia, was evidently part of that cohort. Here’s most of our conversation.
MG: Hi Carol, thanks for talking to me. How about you just tell me your story?
CA:I went to Bard in the fall of 1965 after convincing my parents that this was the kind of college I wanted to go to. They were a little leery. Little did they know what it was going to be like. Donald was in my freshman class. He started dating one of my roommates and actually wound up marrying her at some point: Marcelle Clements who lives in New York and is also a writer. Timothy Leary was right down the road. There was lots going on. Lots of acid, lots of pot. So it was kind of an anything goes kind of place. Donald and I took acid for the first time together. We were supposed to take it with a group of other people. But I was in a dorm that was a little bit off campus and I had to wait for the bus and I got a little anxious, so I took it. By the time I got on the bus I was badly hallucinating (laughs). I finally got to his dorm room where a few other people were and we were all tripping our brains out, going, ‘What’s this I see? Nothing but polkadots!’ It was very hallucinogenic stuff.
MG: In Donald’s book Eminent Hipsters he talks about tripping before he even got to Bard.
CA: It was was my first trip. I thought it was for some of the others, too. I’m not sure about Donald. I thought it might have been his first.
MG: Are you in touch with him now?
CA: I thought about reaching out to him a couple of times because he plays nearby in Tanglewood but I was away when he came to town. But after he split up with Marcelle — they were married for five or six years — I sort of lost touch with both of them. I think they’re both back in New York.
MG: So was Donald funny?
CA: Oh yeah, he was quirky funny. He was a very sweet guy. I’m kind of a jazz buff and a singer, and he taught me my first blues chords and changes on the piano at a time I was a newbie. He was very sweet.
Chevy Chase was also at the school and my other college roommate was dating him briefly. Chevy was a nut on campus, he did a lot of slapstick stuff, silly humor. I remember driving across a Hudson River bridge and you had to throw your change into the little basket at the toll and Chevy kept missing and had to get out of the car. He did it many times, over and over until I got frustrated with him.
MG: Repeat until funny?
CA: Or irritating.
The summer’ 67 both my roommates and I decided for some god-awful reason we wanted to work in the City [New York] for the summer. We’d actually been working at Martha’s Vineyard as chambermaids and got kind of bored. So one of my roommates, Marcelle, lived in New York and we all went down. I got a job at Café Wha? working the late night set, which was from 8 to 4 AM or something ridiculous like that. At that time, somewhere somebody invited us up to Jimi Hendrix’s apartment. We all went up there and we were all again doing acid together. Jimi struck me as very shy. He started dating my roommate Marcelle at that time. I wound up leaving the city. It was too hot and I went back to the Vineyard.
At the end of that summer, I ended up dropping out of Bard. I planned on going to Europe for a couple of months. We had seen Jimi at one of the clubs in New York. We didn’t think of him as a big-name then when all of a sudden I’m in Copenhagen and I met some people and they said, “Oh you’ve got to come here see this guy at an outdoor concert." And I get there and it’s Jimi and I said, ‘I know that person!’ And they said, ‘No you don’t,’ and I said, ‘Yes I do!’ So I went up to him after the show and he was really out of it. He didn’t know where he was. He was already in a bad shape. They were feeding him drugs and taking him from country to country.
MG: Was Jimi living in the Village?
CA: I think the apartment was in midtown. In those days, it was never kind of clear who was staying where.
I didn’t go back to the States for quite a while. I wound up buying a car and drove to Afghanistan. I was one of those stupid people. I actually did that drive three times. I wound up selling my car in Afghanistan because I was supposed to go to NYU in January. I sold my car to a guy who was dealing in sheepskin coats and flew home, but I decided not to go back to school and I wound up in London. We were in an apartment that the Stones were in. We were hanging out with all kinds of people. The Who. Everybody was just doing lots of drugs and hanging out (laughs). I didn’t come back for five years. My son was born to his Swedish dad in Switzerland.
MG: Did you know Walter Becker at all?
CA: Yes, I did he was a couple of classes behind us. Donald and Walter were playing music together. He and Walter were playing on campus and diddling around.
MG: Did you have any idea they would make it big?
CA: I was surprised. Someone said to me, ‘Hey, have you heard this group Steely Dan.’ It kind of all happened when I was in Europe. So I missed all that stuff when they were getting famous. Marcelle actually wrote a book called The Dog Is Us, which is about this era, too. [Ed note: Steely Dan scholars may be interested to know she also wrote a novel about a woman in a rock band called Rock On.] But who knew? The same with Chevy Chase. Who knew he’d a be a star? He was kind of the handsome hunk on campus and a funny man, but he went down to New York and started doing stuff... About a third of class had graduated high school from the Music & Art [in New York City] so it was a very artsy place. There was a guy in my freshman class who had translated a medieval Spanish novel into English when he was 17. There were those kind of people. I was coming from Virginia, I was adventuresome, but not experienced.
MG: Can you see this happening now, just meeting up with famous people. Everyone is surrounded by publicists and bodyguards now?
CA: No. That was just the way it was. I can remember being in someone’s apartment in London and the hash had run out and people were scrounging for bits and pieces off the carpet. (Laughs) It is amazing as many of us survived as we did.