Before Matt Taibbi was a heroin-addicted, horse semen-throwing expatriate editor of Moscow’s eXile (and way before he was a coffee-throwing, Vampire Squid-coining, National Magazine Award-winning journalist) he was just a mopey kid at mopey kid-paradise Bard college. Although he did always have a thing for the Russians.
In the September issue of the new, Jay Fielden-edited Town & Country, Mr. Taibbi reflects on his undergraduate years in the hopes of answering the question, “Is Bard the New Brown?”
“ It’s a tender piece for Matt, I would say. I think we’ve found his softer side,” Mr. Fielden told WWD‘s Amy Wicks before it was published.
The piece comes to no definitive conclusion about the status of limousine liberal schools, but it does reveal a mushier, still-forming Mr. Taibbi.
“Back then, when I wasn’t plunging into deep bouts of terror/depression about what I was going to do with my life, I was taking long walks through the campus and this outlying wilderness. I knew by heart all the trails that cross the incredible rambling waterfall behind the alabaster-white Blithewood Mansion, all the winding and muddy paths down to the river (at certain times of year there are spots down there where you will always find deer), all the best trees to sit under while I read the books by Tolstoy and Gogol and Chekhov that were my escape at that time.”
Obsessed with Russian literature, Mr. Taibbi was admitted to an exchange program, only to back out mid-agoraphobic breakdown. An influential professor forced him to go.
“So I went, and that trip changed my life. I would end up living in the Soviet Union and postcommunist Russia for 10 years and becoming not a novelist but a journalist, describing a society in total, violent upheaval, a place that couldn’t possibly have been more different from the relative serenity and peace of Bard College. But what carried me through that experience was a fascination with the country and its people that began in my Bard days and was nurtured by my teachers there.”
Journalism is glad for it! The thing is, Bard has gone really soft since Mr. Taibbi’s time there. It got state of the art labs, a Frank Gehry building, and incoming classes of celebrity-born or wealthy international students. Alumni stopped being ashamed to come back. Angst dissipated.
After documenting all of the above, what says our generation’s Hunter S. Thompson?
“I don’t know how I feel about this. Bard was a huge part of my life. Its unique and hauntingly odd atmosphere is still with me all the time, and I know many of my classmates feel the same way—they have an emotional connection to this place, which seemed cut off from the normal world and made just for us not-yet-normal kids. It was a strange little hidden paradise that is now no longer hidden and perhaps also not all that strange anymore. But that might not be such a bad thing after all.”
Any other ending would be a disservice to the model-gorgeous Bardians and bold faced alumni the piece features. But Mr. Taibbi, who sold a new book “crime, finance, and the new class divide,” to Spiegel & Grau earlier this month, told The Observer he truly thinks shiny, smiling students are at least a mixed blessing.
“As interesting and as idiosyncratic as it was back in the day, most of us, if we had the chance would have preferred to be happy, motivated, successful, going-somewhere kids,” Mr. Taibbi said. But then would he have been the aggro journo we know and love?
Mr. Taibbi will resume throwing bombs, this time at the SEC, in the next issue of Rolling Stone.