dan fogelberg: 1951-2007

on the morning of december 9th, 1980, i woke up the way i usually did…the magnavox clock radio that sat beside my bed went off early, but it wasn’t set to “alarm”…it was set so that the radio came on. there was only one station that came in well enough that i could depend on it to be tuned in by the time morning came around, and that was WQLT in florence/muscle shoals, alabama.

they were an ABC affiliate, and this was the day when radio stations regularly carried network news on the half hour, whether it be RKO, NBC, ABC, whoever…and on this particular morning, the radio came on and i commenced my usual drill of lying there, listening to the radio while i waited for my wits to fall about me…until the news came on. that was my signal to get up and get my shit together and start getting ready for school.

but on this particular morning, the news was that john lennon had been shot, and had died the previous night in new york city.

then, straight from the news, they went without commercials or other interruptions, right into music.

they played “same auld lang syne” by dan fogelberg.

and for 27 years, that song has always reminded me of hearing the news that john lennon had died.

this year, i think i’ve been cured of that association.

now, you can think me “gay” (in whatever connotation of the word) for what i’m about to write. lump me in with whatever slobbering idiot you will. truth is, i don’t really give a fuck.

but this is the deal.

if a human life could be examined the way we examine the rings inside the trunk of a tree, there would be a lot of rings at the center of mine that dan fogelberg would be responsible for shaping.

i’m past the point of listening to any shit about what an easy-listening softball dan fogelberg was. if you really believe that, it just goes to show how truly little you know about him as a musician, a composer, a singer, an artist. you have my permission to stop reading now and move along, douchebag.

see, in order to truly understand this, you’d have to know things about me that only a select few people know.

you’d have to know where i grew up, how i grew up, what the circumstances were of my screwy, misinformed, weird adolescence…and how my tripping backwards into music managed to become my guidepost to somehow escape all that and come out bearing some blurry resemblance to normal.

there really wasn’t anybody else like me where i grew up. i was born into a family largely comprised of single-celled, small minded beings who knew only the dirt under their feet and their assigned duties and identities. their only real glimpse of the rest of the world came through the television, and – well, that was just the television. it wasn’t real, after all. picking cotton and weeding the soybeans and tending the garden and feedin’ the cows – that was real.

and then, that aforementioned clock radio showed up.

it was a christmas gift from my mother, and to this day i still don’t know why she got it for me. i didn’t ask for it. i guess it was largely maternal intuition.

up until that point, the only music i’d been exposed to was on my grandmothers’ radio and the occasional saturday night trips to church…to “the singing”, as they called them. i knew from sitting in the front of the pews and hearing those southern gospel bands up close that there was something going on when people played live that didn’t make it onto the radio, but as it was, i didn’t give it much thought. at that point in my life, batman and cop shows on TV were my focus.

but then, as you get older and it becomes less acceptable to escape into comic books, you instinctively look for other means…and that clock radio opened a huge, gaping door for me.

i’d twiddle the knob and stop on whatever struck my fancy – and after a while, it was all i did. i could take it anywhere, because it was small, and it didn’t require my full, physical attention, so i didn’t have to stop everything i was doing to listen to it.

to say it was my constant companion wouldn’t be singled out as an understatement by anyone in my family who saw me carrying that thing under my arm when i’d arrive at my grandparent’s house…and when we left to go home.

it was my window to a new world…all of a sudden, the t-shirts that the other kids were wearing to school made sense. the little snippets of nonsense that they would quote to one another suddenly had meaning – they were song lyrics. soon, i understood what music defined specific cliques in school…i knew which members of our county caste system seemed to identify with which kinds of music….

…all of a sudden, a lot of things made sense to me that were mystifying before, to a kid who had no idea how he was supposed to fit into this strange horde of people he’d been thrust into when he had to get on a bus and ride 40 minutes into town to start his junior high academic career.

so the radio…WQLT, WKIR, WLS, and many more….became my companion, my solace, my counselor, my confidant, my informant.

as such, i had begun to hear dan fogelberg’s music almost instantly from the time i’d gotten the radio. the first song i’d heard was “the power of gold” from the twin sons of different mothers album with tim weisberg…which didn’t really stick out from everything else i was hearing at the moment, honestly – largely because it was all so new to me at the time, and my tastes were just beginning to develop. all these years later, though, it still doesn’t rank among my favorites. later, though, i heard “part of the plan” (and figured out that dan actually did records without tim weisberg too!) and “once upon a time”. at that point, dan was still a name among the many that i was learning about as i navigated the landscape of pop music. the more i heard, the more i wanted to hear – of everybody. well, almost everybody. i heard plenty that i didn’t like, too. in fact, i’d dare say that i had my musical awakening about as late as you could possibly have it and still have it informed by radio without having your brain turned into spam. in a few short years, the disco craze would be upon us and the radio wouldn’t be so safe anymore.

but the summer that irving azoff’s epic “FM” movie (and yeah, let’s agree that i’m using the term loosely) came out, the soundtrack was all over the radio…specifically the steely dan title track and a couple others that floated to the top of the collective airwaves.

but one afternoon, i was lying on the bed in one of the bedrooms in my grandfathers’ house. well, not really lying on it, but lying across it, with my arms dangling off the side, drawing on a pad of paper that was laying on the floor directly under my head that hung off the side of the bed as well.

then….this….song comes on the radio.

“…there’s a place in the world for a gambler
there’s a burden that only he can bear….”

i stopped drawing and just lay there, listening and looking out the window at the tree branches of the giant oak tree that sat in the side yard at my grandparents’ house, and waited to hear who it was that created this song. and, of course, the song came and went without a word as to who it was. and, i was sure, i’d never hear it again. thankfully, i was wrong, but at the moment, i was pissed.

if you give two shits about music at all, you know that feeling. the feeling that stirs in the center of your head and your chest when you hear something that really resonates on some level…when something lifts your chin up and cocks your head a bit to one side and gently diverts your attention and draws you in. it’s different for different people, and sometimes i look around me and i honestly think that the people who care enough about music to actually feel that have dwindled down to a tiny tribe with its members scattered so far to the ends of the earth that they don’t recognize each other anymore. sometimes, the only way i’m really able to identify them is by the way they react to music…you can see it. you can see it if you know what to look for, anyway. that distant disposition that they take on when they hear it. that empassioned fire that takes command of them when they talk about it. and when something hits one of us in the chest, rest assured we take notice. like i said, if you know what to look for, you’ll be able to pick us out.

anyway…decades later, i remember that afternoon. just like i remember the first time i heard david lindley’s lap steel on “running on empty”, just like the first time i ran down the stairs to see where that song was coming from, the first time john gorka’s video for “houses in the fields” appeared out of nowhere on television…hearing the harmonies on the acappella intro to “carry on wayward son” in sixth grade, when we were all allowed to bring records for the last day of school and someone brought that 45 and played it on the classroom turntable (it was a harmony thing. even before i knew what to call it, it had its hooks in me)… the way i was literally unable to speak for a few minutes after the lights came up at my first rush concert…when i first heard joni mitchell’s “court and spark” album in its entirety. sitting right in front of dar williams at the north star bar the night that susan smith confessed to killing her children and hearing “when i was a boy” for the first time, with the image fresh in my mind of having just seen them pull the car out of the lake – on the TV behind the counter at lorenzo’s pizza on south street. hearing the song “half moon silver” by a still-unknown band called hotel and straining to hear the song through the static on the radio and being moved to tears by a piece of music for the first time and not really knowing how to react to myself for having allowed that to happen.

you’re probably getting the sense that i could go on and on, and you’d be right.

largely as a result of growing up when i did, my taste was all over the place. i loved the country music i heard on the radio in my grandfather’s truck, i loved the gospel music we heard in church when they’d have bands come in, and now, i was in over my head with rock and roll. and while there were “camps” at school, i never subscribed to that. i listened to dan fogelberg AND rush (as you may have noticed earlier). WKIR, my favorite radio station, would think nothing of playing heaven and hell by black sabbath and going right into two lane highway by pure prairie league, and then seque into 2112 and play something from the phoenix album right after that. being exposed to that was a gift that i’ve never stopped being thankful for. but as for my own musical aspirations, i had decided that i was a drummer. and i sank everything i had into it. i was smitten by the energy that went into it, and it came naturally to me. i’d watch other drummers on tv and try to figure out what they were doing. i built a ragamuffin drum kit out of buckets and scraps, and started pounding out rudiments as i could figure them out, playing along to the radio. as such, while my appreciation for dan fogelberg and crosby, stills, and nash and poco and the eagles and the like was tangible, i was on a mission. so i continued to hear his music on the radio and we got to know each other – well, gradually. he had released the phoenix album, which had the huge hit longer on it, but it also had wishing on the moon and beggar’s game and heart hotels and face the fire and along the road and gypsy wind and the last to know…there wasn’t a single wasted song on that album. not one ounce of filler.

he now had my attenion. i was still a drummer, but the thought of taking up guitar was becoming more attractive. not as a main instrument, because i was convinced that my true talents lay with the drums…but wouldn’t it be cool to be able to do that?

i soldiered on, undeterred…i bought my first drumset from my then-as-now friend, jeff letson, and began playing drums with his family’s country band. i started seeking out musicians at school and hanging with them. later, there’d be the various garage bands, and ultimately the band that was my pre-adulthood finest hour, the new hope guys – and, by the time i’d gotten to that point, i was already starting to work out the basics of getting through a song on guitar. we used to go back to my buddy jerry’s house after gigs and sit around and listen to music, and that’s the first place i heard dan’s souvenirs album in its entirety. (the same could be said for karla bonoff’s restless nights album and a couple of others…jerry also got my litle feat cherry, for which i will be eternally grateful.) as everybody else sat around talking, i fell silent and listened to the album – and that was it. i was at the record store the next chance i got.

when i was a kid, we had these marvelous inventions of cultural commerce called record stores. they were, if you can believe this, a place where people went to actually purchase music. in real, tangible form. with artwork and liner notes and all kinds of extra goodies. music came in sometimes loosely themed collections called albums, sometimes with more than one record in them…sometimes, if it was a really special album, it would come with a booklet or a poster or something else relating to the artist who created the music. albums were the absolute best means for delivery of specific music that have ever existed. why? well, because they were art as well as music. they were, in the pre-internet era, a combination of music delivery medium and marketing tool. there were liner notes with lyrics, and little “thank you”s that you’d scour for a hint of an idea about who this person was – there’d be additional pictures sometimes, things like that. and, if it was an artist you truly loved, you were hungry for that. because all you really got was the music and an occasional article in creem or hit parader and a sporadic appearance on the midnight special and…well, that’s what you got. that’s ALL you got.

and the mystique created by that lack of accessibility made them special. mysterious. enigmatic.

other things added to his enigma, as well.

when i was working at my hometown radio station, i found an album in a plain white jacket in the attic by a woman named florence warner. i would have ignored it, had i not read the songwriting credits on the record itself. the opening cut was a todd rundgren song, and there were two songs on the album credited to “d. fogelberg” – song from half mountain, which appeared on dan’s souvenirs album, and another song, called “the lady loves the river”…that never appeared on any of dan’s albums. to this date, i haven’t found it on any bootlegs or rarities tapes that float around the ether, it hasn’t shown up anywhere else…if not for that record, it well may never have surfaced at all.

then there was the internally concocted notion of The Missing Album.

i seem to have decided, at some point back then, that the leap from the organic, mostly acoustic and guitar-driven sound that encompassed the bulk of captured angel was simply too far afield of the orchestral majesty that surfaced on netherlands, and that there must have been, at some point, an album in between them. i couldn’t explain what happened to it, or even if it had ever been properly released, or if it had been recorded, turned in, and then rejected by the record label or something. i had no grounds for believing such a thing, but i couldn’t be dissuaded that there was an album out there, somewhere, that was a hybrid of those two albums. for the longest time, in fact, i would have dreams where i would hear a song from it…either on the radio, or i’d hear it coming from a room somewhere…and i’d wake up and i’d remember snippets of what i’d heard, but never enough of it to try to translate into something of my own.

eventually, though, i made peace with the fact that, indeed, there was no Missing Album…and the dreams subsided.

obviously, though, as i learned more about him, i became even more enamoured – this guy wrote the songs, he played damn near all the instruments on them…he played piano and guitar equally well – not like so many of the others who did one just to offset the other. he played steel guitar, he played 12 string, banjo, sitar, whatever he could get his hands on. he wrote synthesizer parts, string arrangements…and to me, that was a skill beyond my comprehension. i was a fledgling drummer who looked upon all that harmony and theory stuff with amazement. his instrumental prowess was staggering. to this day when i listen to his music, i can’t help but think from time to time about how old he was when he created whatever particular piece of music i might be listening to at the time.

all of the work that he’s best known for – up to and including his masterpiece double album, the innocent age, were created before he was 30. his most ambitious instrumental album, the collaboration with tim weisberg (twin sons of different mothers), was released in late ’77. he turned 26 in august of that year.

when you consider the compositional depth of that record, the broad palette of styles that record touched on – from neoclassical pieces like paris nocturne, bossa nova pieces like guitar etude number 3, the jazz inflections of intimidation, as well as cuts like hurtwood alley, tell me to my face and the single the power of gold…these songs were the work of a virtuoso musician. a 26 year old virtuoso musician, whose compositional skills were very sharp. and unlike most guitarists, his skills on piano weren’t secondary to his skills on other instruments, nor vice versa.

then, there was that voice.

he had that voice…that plaintive, soulful voice that made the hair on my arms stand up. and when he would layer his voice on those records the way he did after the bridge of “to the morning”…the way he did on “along the road” from the phoenix album…the way he did on that first encounter, at the end of “there’s a place in the world for a gambler”…the tag at the end of “long way home (live in the country)”…and, of course, all those layered, joni mitchellesque harmonies on captured angel…to this day, i rank dan fogelberg as one of the top five vocalists of all time when it comes to creating a harmony blend with his own voice. right up there with david crosby, with michael mcdonald, with todd rundgren…from day one, he earned that distinction.

his gifts as a lyricist and a poet were formidable, as well. his songs were both personal reflections on the human condition and the state of our interactions with one another, both romantic and interpersonal. he perhaps reached his peak as a lyricist on the innocent age, a self professed “song cycle” that was certainly his most ambitious work to that point. each song on that album is poignant in its own place within the structure of the record – it’s truly an album in the sense that it’s a collection of works that contain a thread from start to finish, each of which stand on its own merits.

and there isn’t a single wasted song on this entire album. he made a double album with no filler.

where fleetwood mac failed miserably just a year earlier, he succeeded beyond probably his own ability to comprehend.

in the lyrics of his songs, there was restlessness…lost loves, a sense of melancholy that can only come from romantic regret…although one senses various flavors of nostalgia tinged with regret interspersed through the innocent age:

“back at the start, it was easy to see
no one to hold to, nowhere to be
deep in the heartland, a sad memory
calls to me…

fretful horizons, worrisome skies
tearful misgivings burn in your eyes
yearnings unanswered reckon the wage
you pay to recapture the innocent age…”

in the sand and the foam and the following track, in the passage, he reflects on mortality:

“…pressed in the pages of some aging text
lies an old lily a’crumbling
marking a moment of childish respect
long since betrayed and forgotten
time stills the singing a child holds so dear
and i’m just beginning to hear
gone are the pathways the child followed home
gone…like the sand and the foam.”

“…the places dash and the faces dart
like fishes in a dream
hiding ‘neath the murky depths of long forgotten streams
the lines of life are never long, when seen from end to end
the future’s never coming…and the past has never been…

there’s a ring around the moon tonight
and a chill in the air
and a fire in the stars that hang so near…”

in his duet with emmylou harris, only the heart may know, romantic nostalgia and regret resurfaces:

“…silent sea
tell this to me
where are the children that we used to be?

at picture shows
where nobody goes
and only the heart can see

starry skies
soft lullabies
where do they go when their melody dies?

to a day
far, far away
that only the heart may know

friends we knew follow us through
all of the days of our lives
love we shared waits for us there
where our wishes forever reside…”

now, it could be noted that the deftness with which we wrote about matters of the heart didn’t simply surface on this album…in fact, it was the one thread that ran through all his work, from his first album in 1972 right up through the crowning moment of his most appreciated body of work, the innocent age.

i heard the songs on the radio. i sang along with them. and i bought his albums…the back catalog and all. at that point in time, i was still convinced that my destiny lay behind the drums…although i had taken up guitar recreationally. i still had a pretty broad palette, but most of my energy at the time was directed at the drums…i was largely convinced that there were too damn many guitar players, and that i was creating a niche for myself. i was pretty damn good, too, if i do say so myself.

in the year before i left my hometown forever, i went to two concerts at the mid-south coliseum in memphis. having been at the two of them changed my direction, and my life, from that point forward.

the first was rush, with british blues guitarist rory gallagher opening…

the second was dan fogelberg, solo acoustic, touring behind his just-released greatest hits album.

now, for the sake of illustration, it needs to be pointed out that i LOVED rush, with the same fervor that i would later hold for fogelberg…i gobbled up their albums, i practiced the drums along to them (to the extent that i could keep up), and i studied neil peart’s technique perpetually. i would sit in class, practicing the four-stroke rolls that i grew to associate with him on my desk…as gently as i could. (for the sake of illustration, the four stroke roll in question requires that each of your hands and feet land one right after the other, with both feet on the bass drum pedals. if i were to demonstrate it for you, you’d probably understand better than having me describe it. let’s just say that, for a drummer with even a couple years’ experience, it takes some time to master.)

anyway…point made. i thought they were the SHIT. they could do no wrong in my book. i thought them to be virtuostic, in the same way that i already considered dan to be virtuostic, but it was – quite obviously – apples and oranges. completely different styles of music.

so we went to see rush…HUGE crowd. lights went down, the crowd went nuts, and the opening strains of “spirit of radio” came thundering off the stage. every nerve ending in my body was at attention…i felt like the music was coursing through my veins. it was intensely loud, and i loved every minute of it. when i found the couple i came with at the end of the show, it literally took me a few minutes before i was able to speak…i was spent. the lights, the sound, the way they played everything perfectly and with total and complete precision…i had never seen anything like it.

we’d be coming back again, just a month or so before i was to leave for boot camp, though…to see dan fogelberg.

now, it was the same auditorium…again, filled with people. we got there early (it was just my buddy tommy and myself), and we took our seats…the lights went down, and dan came out and took a seat on a wooden chair in the center of the stage…when the applause died down, he started playing the chords of “once upon a time”.

i’d heard this song before, many times. but he was playing it on a 12 string guitar (tuned, i’d later figure out, to an open D voicing), and it just sounded HUGE. and when he opened his mouth to sing…

…they say a person’s voice never has the same power on record as it has when you hear them sing live. that night, i was a believer. during the opening song, i honestly thought for a moment that i heard people singing along in the audience for a moment, before i figured out that it was the delay from the front of the hall to the back.

that night, as dan switched back and forth from six string to twelve string, from steel string to classical guitar, from guitar to piano, i completely careened off the road that i was certain i belonged on. somehow, there was a magic in what i was seeing that i didn’t see when i was sitting behind the drums. the sheer beauty of his voice and his songs were never more evident to me than they were on that night when i saw him in that setting.

he played guitar etude number 3 from twin sons and he SANG tim weisberg’s flute part while he played the guitar part. he played the reach and incorporated the descending riff from the song into the strumming pattern on his twelve string guitar (which, i again learned after the fact, was due to being played in an open tuning that allowed for the execution of the riff as part of the strum pattern itself) – i was certain that someone was playing along with him offstage. he played the hits, but he also played a classical instrumental piece that i’d never heard before. he played “make love stay” from his greatest hits album, and played it in a way that outlined the arrangement of the song perfectly. up to that point, i’d believed that the parts of the songs were sculpted together in the studio…but watching him play them by himself, it was obvious that the parts that evolved in the studio grew organically from his original arrangements of the songs.

it was the only time i’ve ever heard him play the title track from the innocent age live. his voice filled up the coliseum, and i sat there and cried like a baby in the dark, hoping my buddy didn’t hear me.

there, in the dark along with several thousand other people in memphis tennessee, my course completely changed.

when i heard dan fogelberg that night, with just his instrument and his voice, i knew what i wanted to do. without question. i wanted to sing, and play guitar, and play in front of people.

but, it went deeper than that.

every kid who was watching the ed sullivan show in february of 1964 knows that part of it.

dan fogelberg made me want to pick up my pencil and put down all these random missives that plagued my thoughts and turn them into songs. he made me want to write. he made me want to channel all the wayward ideas and phrases that ricocheted endlessly through my brain into something that made sense.

as i nudged my way through adolescence, as i awkwardly navigated the transformation from preteen music geek to post-adolescent music geek who refused to grow up (despite the U.S. Navy’s best efforts to force the transition), his music was the north star by which i navigated my own feeble early attempts at songwriting. i bought my first four track cassette recorder at my first duty station, iceland (which i chose of my own accord, for two reasons – i couldn’t imagine being any further from home than there, and because the lovely diane kasper, whom i’d developed a crush on in school at pensacola, was headed there also)…many of my initial forays into recording myself were weak, warbly versions of dan fogelberg songs. indeed, it was during the year that i spent in self-imposed isolation on “the rock” that i found myself most immersed in dan’s music. i had gotten a walkman as a going-away present, and i had bought a “super saver” cassette with home free on one side and captured angel on the other before i left the states, and i wore it out there on my walks around the base. often i would find myself on the playground at the elementary school on the base, sitting on the swings and listening to music…any one of the many mixtapes i’d made for myself, or that old reliable super-saver. then i’d go back to my room and, when the absence of a roommate permitted, i’d record myself attempting to sing the harmony parts from along the road, over and over, striving to layer them and sing them in tune.

eventually, with practice, i became bolder…began writing my own songs, and recording them. and my love for dans’ music led me to jackson browne, and stephen stills, and so on and so forth. my horizons broadened, my talents flourished, i became more adept at guitar….iceland had proven to be incredibly fertile on a creative level.

his “high country snows” album came out while i was in iceland.

there’s actually a journal entry in one of my journals, detailing the moment that i heard “go down easy” for the first time on the radio. i had come home from a midnight shift and heard on our AFRTS radio station that they’d be “playing the latest from dan fogelberg in the next hour”. i stayed up an extra hour to hear the song, and was overjoyed. it sounded like a throwback to his earlier material – i didn’t know yet that the album was a bluegrass record, and didn’t mind in the least when i heard the entire album. it quickly joined my “super saver” tape and several others in my walkman rotation for my walks around the base at all hours of the night.

there wouldn’t be another dan fogelberg album for some time – not until exiles, when i had gotten out of the navy. i saw him twice when he toured for exiles, with wendy waldman opening…great shows, both the acoustic and electric components – on that tour, he played a song called “nature of the game” that just blew my mind…it was a stephen stills-like acoustic blues guitar piece, with some great acoustic guitar work in it, and i looked out for it on the next two albums, but it never materialized. no matter. he was still the master.

i had hoped it would turn up on his next album, the wild places, but that album was where my disconnect started.

many of his fans, myself included, found our interest waning in his instrumental experimentation with world music, or bluegrass, or the celtic themes that permeated his christmas album. indeed, he spoke about his frustration with fans who maintained that his best work was behind him…but he was also frank about the fact that while he once might have written four songs in a week, he now considered himself lucky to write four a year. in one of his last interviews, he remarked that he flirted with the belief that we’re born with a finite number of songs within us..some may get more than others, but he hinted at the notion that the well might have actually begun to dry up.

i found out that dan was ill just weeks after learning that he was supposed to come to reading as part of his fall tour a few years ago. i had been on the fence about going, as i had just seen his appearance on soundstage and was, quite frankly, disappointed. he sounded tired, his voice sounded thin…and i walked away from having seen that show with the impression that he was just phoning it in, which was an impression that i had gotten somewhat comfortable in getting, ever since the last time i’d seen him perform live, at the valley forge music fair some years earlier. from what i was able to find out, he’d been sick and had to cancel his previous night’s show in bloomsburg due to illness…and early in the show, someone in the audience yelled, “we missed you in bloomsburg last night, dan!”

it must’ve rubbed him the wrong way, because he didn’t say another word the rest of the night. one encore, “same auld lang syne” and out. lights up, show over.

i had gone with the kids’ mom and my buddy, todd…todd was still a greenhorn in those days. i have a picture somewhere of todd, resplendent in his mullet, standing next to dan’s tour bus that night. he came out back and got into a waiting limo and left, didn’t really say anything to anyone.

i bought the wild places when it came out…and made a special trip to the mall to pick up the accompanying concert film (which sparked a fight with the ex that made it difficult to enjoy it on the first viewing – but i eventually got over that). the following record, river of souls, was…well, let’s just say i didn’t receive it quite as well. i bought it and put it in the cassette deck in the van and drove around listening to it…and just got angry. i was angry at dan for abandoning what i felt was his identity to pursue – well, whatever direction this was. it sounded like synthesized, half-hearted attempts at world music. and it pissed me off. it sounded to me like a man trying desperately to cling to the wrong elements of what was left of his career…trying to give the label something that they could pitch to radio that would fit in with the rest of the dreck they were playing. i felt abandoned. i felt as though i’d been in this with him, for the long haul, and that myself and the rest of his longtime fans deserved better than this horseshit.

when the entire album had played through, i ejected the tape, cut the leader, and took it back to the record store for a refund for defective product.

i never bought another new dan fogelberg release after that. not the no resemblance whatsoever record with weisberg, not the christmas album (i’ve long harbored a belief that christmas records served two purposes and two purposes only – a means to cash in by selling titles to your existing audience, and a means to get airplay during the period from the week before halloween until new years’, when it’s impossible to get anything without a nod to the “C” word on the radio..), not the second live album, none of it.

when full circle came out, i didn’t rush out. i’d gotten accustomed to not rushing out, as i’d done for years before the river of souls debacle. but i had a twinge of optimism…that perhaps he’d learned a valuable lesson from his contemporaries, jackson browne and joni mitchell, and had perhaps considered returning to a sound and style that endeared him to his longtime fans in the first place.

well, the answer was – yes and no.

there were elements of what i’d loved about his music since i was a kid, but something was missing. i couldn’t put my finger on it as i stood there at borders with the headphones on, listening for some glimmer of hope within some of the tracks. some of the songs, like reason to run and reach haven postcard, came closest to capturing the spirit of his earlier work, but my personal consensus was that it just felt like too little, too late.

now, though, he was coming to town…to my town…and i was trying to decide whether to go or not. as time had gone by (and one can presume, as many other fans came to feel the same way i did about his career choices), he had gone from playing the mann music center to playing the valley forge music fair, to playing the keswick theatre…and now he was playing in reading, at the rajah theatre. i decided that i wasn’t going to base my decision on whether or not to go to the show on the substandard appearance on soundstage, and i’d go ahead and buy tickets when they went on sale.

but then the announcement came that dan was cancelling his fall tour, due to a diagnosis of advanced prostate cancer.

for those of you who don’t know, one of the things on the “to do” list before an artist goes on tour is to purchase insurance for the tour. in case a date has to be cancelled, or some other instance of liability comes up, the insurance covers any damages or potential liability that might arise from litigation or anything of that nature. in order for the policy to be issued, though, the artist has to go for a physical in order to get the policy. and when he went for the physical, that’s when doctors discovered the cancer.

the face that they put on the news initially made it look as though it was just a setback….that is, until dan’s mother margaret spoke to a reporter from the peoria journal-star about his treatment, and painted a more dire picture than official reports had, up to that point. apparently, dan’s mother hadn’t gotten the memo. the next day, there was a posting on the news section of dan’s official website:

DanFogelberg.com wishes to refute portions of an article which was published in the Peoria Journal Star on August 19, as well as other unauthorized reports circulating on the internet which contain gross misinformation and inaccuracies.

From Dan himself: “I wish to correct the misinformation which has circulated since the announcement of my illness. The quotes attributed to my elderly mother not only misrepresent the extent of my illness, but also the treatment involved.

First, let me assure all my fans and friends that ‘the reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated’. I am in no way receiving any experimental treatment at Harvard Medical. My early treatments have proven very effective, so much so that my wife and I have been able to enjoy our annual summer vacation in Maine. We will be returning to treatment on the west coast in the fall. I would again like to express my regret over the cancellation of my fall tour and thank my wonderful fans for all their prayers and heartfelt good wishes. I would also personally like to request that our privacy and the privacy of our families be respected. If there is any news that I wish to make known to the public, it will be posted here or released officially through HK Management.”

there were a couple of things about this that smelled rotten…first of all, what reason would dan’s mother have to be dishonest to a reporter? the quote attributed to her in the article was outlined as such:

His mother, Margaret Fogelberg, said the cancer has spread to his bones and that he is being treated at Harvard Medical School . “We’re all very hopeful,” she said in Thursday’s editions of the (Peoria) Journal Star. “But we’re also a bit leery.”

then, for quite some time, all information and/or news fell silent. for a year. then, almost a year later, the following post appeared on the official site:

August 13, 2005
A personal letter from D.F.

First, let me send everyone some very good news. In our first 14 months of treatment, we have succeeded in slowing the progression of my prostate cancer down to an almost negligible level. Jean and I are thrilled and incredibly relieved and finally feel like we can at last take a breath. While we understand that what we’re dealing with is a long term condition that will have to be dealt with, monitored and treated for probably the rest of my life, we are terribly encouraged to have come so far, so fast. It has certainly been the most trying experience of our lives and yet has proven to be one of the most illuminating as well.

I cannot adequately express my gratitude to all of the thousands of wonderful people who have sent us such incredibly moving and supportive e-mails via the Living Legacy web site. I am quite certain that the love and prayers that have been directed to us from all over the world have had a tangible and potent healing effect. It is truly overwhelming and humbling to realize how many lives my music has touched so deeply all these years. Each one of you who have taken the time and effort to reach out to Jean and I have helped immeasurably to uplift our spirits and keep us looking strongly forward during some very rough moments. I thank you from the very depths of my heart.

I currently have no plans to return to the concert stage or the recording studio in the foreseeable future, but who knows? At least for now, I prefer to keep my options open.

Again my deepest thanks and love to all,


very optimistic on the surface, and i don’t doubt for a moment that his sentiments towards his fans and his support system were sincere. but, as this brave face was being put forward, he had also put his house in colorado up for sale, for an asking price of seventeen million dollars, and had commissioned nashville vintage guitar dealer george gruhn to liquidate almost eighty of his personal instruments, including the self-professed “jewel of his collection”, his 1957 gretsch white penguin electric guitar.

those two pieces of information, in and of themselves, convinced me that momma fogelberg’s comments hadn’t been misrepresented. it really was worse than he wanted anyone to think.

news was impossible to come by. the site was stagnant. due to the fact that i’d posted an occasional blog about his illness, i was starting to get emails from news-seekers. i was just as desperate for information as the folks who were googling and stumbling over me were, but i didn’t know anymore than they did.

i knew, somehow. i knew that either he was going to recuperate and turn his back on public life altogether, or he was sailing in dire straits…and i was relatively sure that it was the latter….but i didn’t want to think about it. wouldn’t think about it.

on december 16th, i was playing at stillwaters’ in sandusky, ohio with dan may. in the middle of the set, i felt my phone vibrating in my left pocket – i reached down and hit the button on the side of the phone before it actually began to ring, to avoid having it interrupt the set.

it was the last show of our tour – it was at an intimate room, packed with people who had made it out in the midst of a snowstorm to see dan may. it was an acoustic show in a great space, with the atmosphere of a large living room filled with family. dan sang beautifully, and it was far and away the best show of the tour – filled with great moments.

when we’d finished playing, we held court for a while, showed our gratitude to the folks who’d made it out to the show, and got ready to start loading out, when i remembered that my phone rang during the set. i fished it out of my pocket…”1 new voicemail”. i played the message back.

“hey, tom, this is michael anthony smith….hope ohio is going well. just wanted to check in and see how you were doing…i don’t know if you heard, but dan fogelberg died this morning….”

i didn’t hear anything else he said. i went through the rest of the night in a bit of a haze…i kept a lid on my churning gut, as everyone was having a great time and i didn’t want to the the guy to bring the crowd down with this. when we got back to the house, i turned on my laptop and confirmed what MAS had left on my voicemail…it was really true. on his website:

“Dan left us on December 16 at 6:00am . He fought a brave battle with cancer and died peacefully at home in Maine with his wife Jean at his side. His strength, dignity, and grace in the face of the daunting challenges of this disease were an inspiration to all who knew him.”

later, his wife jean left a short note to his fans on his official site:

“Dear friends, I’m so grateful to all of you who wrote to Dan through The Living Legacy website with your stories of how his music touched your lives; with your uplifting words of encouragement; with your declarations of admiration and friendship.

Dan was a strong and private man, but even the mountain must tremble, and during the toughest times he gained solace and comfort from reading your letters and learning that his music had been a source of light in your lives.

Greatest of all though, was the feeling you gave him that his time here had served a purpose.

I hope you will find some peace in knowing that the joy and comfort you found in his music winged it’s way back to him through your words, prayers, and good wishes.

Thank you,
Jean Fogelberg”

in less than five hours, it will have been a month since dan passed away. i started writing this diatribe roughly a week after he died, and in the time since i’ve re-written it, lost a huge chunk of it in a computer crash, re-read it, decided not to bother doing anything with it, and lastly, talked into finishing it this past sunday night by the very friend who delivered the news to me that night in sandusky. last night and tonight, i’ve gone over it, read and re-read it, and have decided to go ahead and post it.

this feels like it may well be the most personal thing i’ve ever posted here…and if you’ve come here before and read some of the entries, you know that’s saying something. something like this runs the risk of coming across as infantile hero worship at best, stalker-like dementia at worst. but honestly, i don’t really care how it’s perceived right now.

i wish…i WISH…that i could react to this normally. in a way, it doesn’t feel like anything’s changed to me. he doesn’t feel any more “gone” to me now than he did a month, a year ago. i’ve thought about that, and the only rationale i can come up with for that is the fact that the enigma that always kept him from being human to me is still intact…intact to the point that someone telling me that dan fogelberg is dead is strangely akin to telling me that superman or santa claus is dead. even when his music didn’t connect with me the way it did in those early years, that alone wasn’t enough to knock him off the pedestal that i’d put him on as a teenager. even during his misadventures, he was still Dan Fucking Fogelberg. the fact that he was a victim of his own seclusion after all those years of living life either up on the mountain in pagosa springs or out on the island in deer isle, maine…that didn’t change the fact that he was a musical badass giant. and it certainly didn’t erase any of the rings in the middle of the tree that he was responsible for.

“when faced with the past, the strongest man cries….”

i know it’s been said over and over, by thousands of people, in the past three years, in ways that are pertinent to their own lives and experiences. i need to say it for myself.

thank you. thanks for being my lighthouse. for the inspiration, for the unintended guidance, for the body of work that you passed along to me and left behind.

for the rings in the tree that changed my life, i owe you more than i could put into words.

“…and if you ever hear me calling out
and if you’ve been by paupers crowned
between the worlds of men and make believe, i can be found….”

4 thoughts on “dan fogelberg: 1951-2007

  1. Tom, I thoroughly enjoyed the read. I was the keyboardist with Wendy Waldman on Dan’s Exile tour. Dan is truly missed. I was a fan from the beginning. He was truly brilliant and I still cannot believe he is gone but we still have his wonderful music.

  2. Thank you for your wonderful and so very personal story. I saw Dan Fogelberg only once in concert in the late 1980’s on Long Island, NY at a small theater in the round called Westbury Music Fair. It was an enchanting evening for me! I wish I had seen him in concert more.
    While soon out of High School, I have great memories of visiting a girlfriend and listening to the Phoenix album over and over.
    A few months ago, I heard Run For The Roses on the radio. It stopped me in my tracks as I said to myself, oh Dan, I miss you. And I started to listen to him on You Tube and other internet sites.
    And I am hooked again. And moved to learn more about his musical expertise. And happily captured with his words, music, layers of his voice, all the various instruments he mastered. Requesting his songs on radio stations. Loving his rock style guitar/ vocals and wishing more people would appreciate his music. The internet has gifted me with not only his music but his incredible lyrics, treasured views of live performances, interviews and hearing from others as well who appreciate, love and miss him. I hunger for more live performances, especially of Dan playing piano.
    Thank you for writing such a moving and personal piece. Wishing you continued success, rewards and blessings.
    Sincerely, Elizabeth Aitken Coleman

  3. I saw Dan live 3 times, Innocent Age Tour, Acoustic Solo concert, and Exiles tour. Without a doubt for me, he was a genius with melody, harmony, lyrics and performance. I get hooked again every couple of years and spend a couple of weeks scanning for his music on the web, listening to Innocent Age CD in the car at full volume, and being carried away by the musicality of it all. Some music ain’t music. His music is, and more than that I consider it art. It shall live on. He left us too early, but his I guess his work was done, and he joined the heavenly band. Can you imagine the upgrade when he stepped in? Whew. Hope to hear him live again one day. Peace.

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