I feel like I’ve been researching this book for a year…largely because – well, because I’ve been researching this book for a year.
This week has been “open every document on all your old hard drives” week, and I’ve found some great stuff…a song I forgot that I’d written, a handful of saved AIM conversations with old friends, and…this article that I saved from the days after Dan Fogelberg’s passing in 2007.
A great story loves to be told, and this is a great story.
At Woodruff High School, Jill Anderson had a typical teen romance: on-again/off-again with the same boy over several years.
He’d write a lot of poetry and share his insights with Jill. But as they went to separate colleges, things cooled off. They tried to stay in touch, but he moved out West and she headed to Chicago.
And that might’ve been the sum of a sweet memory, if not for a chance reunion one Christmas Eve at a Peoria convenience story – one music fans know well.
Jill’s old boyfriend was Dan Fogelberg, who memorialized their convenience-store encounter in “Same Old Lang Syne.” Since the song’s release in 1980, Peoria – as well as the rest of his fans worldwide – has wondered about the “old lover” referenced in the song. Fogelberg never would say, and only a handful of people knew the ex-girlfriend’s identify.
Jill, now Jill Greulich of Missouri, feels she can finally share the story.
“It’s a memory that I cherish,” she says.
She says she had kept publicly mum because Fogelberg was such a private person.
“It wasn’t about me. It was about Dan. It was Dan’s song,” Jill says.
Further, though she and Fogelberg only rarely had communicated over the past quarter-century, she feared that her talking about the song somehow might cause trouble in his marriage. But in the aftermath of his death – he passed away of prostate cancer Sunday at age 56 – she has been sharing her secret with old friends in Peoria.
“I don’t want this to overshadow Dan,” Jill says. “When I heard the news that he died, I was very sad.”
She and Fogelberg were part of the Woodruff Class of ’69. They would date for long stretches, break up, then get back together.
Often, they would head to Grandview Drive, take in the vistas and listen to the likes of Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills & Nash. Fogelberg often would pen poetry, some of which he gave to Jill.
“I still have some of those in a drawer at home,” she says.
After high school, Fogelberg went to the University of Illinois in Urbana to study theater, while Jill attended Western Illinois University to major in elementary education. They stayed in touch, even continuing to date for a while. But the romance ended for good when he left the U of I early to head to Colorado and pursue his music career.
After graduating college, Jill relocated to the Chicago area, where she worked as an elementary teacher and flight attendant. Not long after college, she married a man from that area, and her connection to Fogelberg faded to memories.
But on Christmas Eve 1975, Jill and her husband visited her parents, who still lived in the Woodruff district. Also at the home were some friends of the family.
During the gathering, Jill’s mother asked her to run out for egg nog. Jill drove off in search of an open store.
Meanwhile, a few blocks away, a similar scenario was playing out at the Fogelberg home, where Dan Fogelberg was visiting family for the holiday. They needed whipping cream to make Irish coffees, so Fogelberg volunteered to go search for some.
By happenstance and because almost every other business on the East Bluff was closed, Jill and Fogelberg both ended up at the Convenient store at the top of Abington Hill, at Frye Avenue and Prospect Road. She got there first, and Fogelberg noticed her shortly after arriving.
They bought a six pack, sipped beer in her car and gabbed away. “We had some laughs,” Jill recalls.
As two hours flew by, Jill’s family and friends grew worried.
“We were like, ‘Where is she?'” says a laughing Eileen Couri of Peoria, one of the friends at the gathering that night.
When Jill returned, she simply explained that she had run into Fogelberg, and the two had caught up with each other. No big deal.
Five years later, Jill was driving to work in Chicago. She had on the radio, and a new song popped on. First, she thought, “That sounds like Dan.”
Then she listened to the lyrics, about two former lovers who have a chance encounter at a store. “Oh my gosh!” she told herself. “That really happened!”
They would not discuss “Same Old Lang Syne” until years later, during a conversation backstage at a Fogelberg concert. Two parts of the song are inaccurate. Blame Fogelberg’s poetic license.
Jill does not have blue eyes, but green. In fact, when they dated, Fogelberg called her “Sweet Jilleen Green Eyes” – a combination of her full first name and his twisting of a song title by Crosby, Stills & Nash.
Fogelberg explained that he took the easy way out for “Same Old Lang Syne.” As he told Jill, “Blue is easier to rhyme than green.”
Also, her then-husband was not an architect but a physical-education teacher. Jill doubts Fogelberg knew what her husband did for a living. She thinks Fogelberg probably just thought “architect” sounded right for the song.
But those are minor details. The heart of the song hangs on its most chilling line: “She would have liked to say she loved the man, but she didn’t like to lie.”
Still, even decades later, she declines to discuss that line of the tune.
“I think that’s probably too personal,” she says.
But the song had no impact on her marriage. By the time of its release, she had divorced.
“Somebody said he waited until I was divorced to release the song, but I don’t know if that’s true,” Jill says.
In 1980, the same year of the song’s release, Jill married Chicago-area native Jim Greulich. Eventually, they would move to a St. Louis suburb, where she now teaches second grade.
A few of her school associates have known her secret about the song. So has Fogelberg’s mother, who still lives in Peoria and exchanges Christmas cards with Jill.
This week, Jill sent e-mails to a few old pals in Peoria, lifting the lid off the “Same Old Lang Syne” mystery. One of the e-mail recipients was Wendy Blickenstaff, a Woodruff classmate of Jill’s and Fogelberg’s.
“I had a big suspicion” it was Jill, says Blickenstaff, now the head counselor at the school. “I’m happy for her. It’s really cool. … That’s a memory that she treasures.”
Jill agrees. Yet her memories of Dan Fogelberg stretch far beyond “Same Old Lang Syne.”
“I’ll always have a place in my heart for Dan,” she says. ” … Dan would be a very special person to me, even without the song.”