When Fagen arrived at Bard in 1965, he was shy and bookish, a kid from the Jersey burbs who smoked a bit of pot and played a lot of piano. ''Don sort of looked like a crow most of the time,'' says Chevy Chase. ''He'd walk around with this beak of a nose and he always wore black clothing and looked down with his hands in his pockets. People thought he was kind of weird and quiet. They didn't realize that he was really intelligent, a very funny, bright guy.'' A fan of bebop and Beat poetry, Fagen quickly fell in with a bohemian crowd. ''He hung out with some bizarre Bard students who were too dark and mysterious for some other people,'' says Terence Boylan, a friend and musical collaborator at Bard. ''They never came out of their room, they stayed up all night. They looked like ghosts black turtlenecks and skin so white that it looked like yogurt. Absolutely no activity, chain-smoking Lucky Strikes and dope. [Fagen was] immersed in an entirely Beat attitude. Very hip, very chip-on-the-shoulder, very jazz, very hat-down-over-the-eyes, saying, 'Hey, man, that's not cooool.'''
Today, as Fagen wanders around Bard, that lost world starts to come back. He stops in front of Stone Row, a series of Gothic-style buildings at the center of campus. Here is Fagen's freshman dorm, Potter, where he lived next to Lonnie Yongue, the leader of that boho Bard scene. Yongue would later show up in the 1973 Steely Dan tune ''The Boston Rag'' as a ''kingpin'' who goes on a two-day drug bender. ''Lonnie was king of Potter, that's for sure,'' says Fagen, gazing up at the imposing stone structure.
Bard was and still is an intensely creative environment, and Fagen soon found his way into regular jam sessions, which popped up all over campus. In Sottery Hall, Chevy Chase might be playing ''bad jazz'' with his singer girlfriend, Blythe Danner, while in a little practice room called Bard Hall, Fagen and Boylan might be rehearsing a 10-piece wall-of-sound version of ''Like a Rolling Stone'' for a class project. Fagen was already an accomplished pianist, and he started playing in a series of semi-serious and short-lived jazz and rock groups. At first, nothing really clicked. ''One of the problems in those days was finding a guitar player,'' he says. ''There were a few guitarists at school, but most still sounded like they were Dick Dale or one of the Ventures. They hadn't quite figured out how to play blues. They sounded sort of amateurish.'' One day in 1967, Fagen happened by a long-gone campus coffee shop, the Red Balloon. ''I hear this guy practicing, and it sounded very professional and contemporary,'' he says. ''It sounded like, you know, like a black person, really. And that was Walter. I walked in and introduced myself to him. I just said, 'Do you want to be in a band?'''
Fagen and Becker quickly forged the intimate collaborative relationship that would eventually form the core of Steely Dan. ''We had a lot of common musical background,'' says Becker. ''Donald and I had listened to the same jazz radio stations, we had all the same records, and there weren't that many jazz fans around at that time in our particular age group. Making rock & roll that was more sophisticated harmonically and more jazzlike was something that we had a common interest in.'' While at Bard, Fagen and Becker started concocting the distinctive jazz-rock sound that they've pursued over the course of nine studio albums together, including two recent comeback discs (2000's Two Against Nature, which won an Album of the Year Grammy, and 2003's Everything Must Go). Their trademark groove has evolved over the years, but it hasn't really changed much. Predictably, Morph the Cat sounds exactly like a Steely Dan record. ''On the one hand, it's not like I think it's any huge departure,'' says Fagen. ''I'm not that interested in revolutionizing music. But it happened the right way. I did the tracks in 10 days and that was it. It just worked.''