Monday, December 17, 2007

Dan Fogelberg

"Love when you can, cry when you have to,
Be who you must that’s a part of the plan.
Await your arrival with simple survival
And one day we’ll all understand, one day we'll all understand..."

I was listening to the radio last night before going to bed, and the news came across the wire that one of my childhood heroes had shirked this mortal coil. I set my book down and listened as they let me know that Dan Fogelberg had lost his three year battle with prostate cancer. He was 56 years old.

Dan was one of the early folk "troubadours," white guys with guitars and sentimental sensibilities writing love songs and singing to hippie hearts across the land. Along with Dan, Jackson Browne and James Taylor stole my heart, and through high school I spent hours upon hours locked in my room listening with headphones and working out the harmonies to their songs.

So this morning finds me sad... wallowing in a somewhat guilt-ridden, bad fan, self-indulgent retrospective of 1976-1984 me. Pondering what was, what sucked, what was great, and how much a part of my life his music was.

I remember staring at the cover of the album "Souvenirs" for hours when I was like 12 or 13. I'd bought the album from a used record store in Huntington NY (I bought lots and lots of used records there -- Linda, what was the name of that store?) I remember pulling the album out of the record store rack and looking at it.

On the cover was this beautiful young man with long, flowing, gorgeous dark brown hair. He was holding a quill, which had been dipped into the ink by the wrong end and I thought it whimsical and silly, but somehow profound in some weird way. Why would someone do that? Doesn't he know that you're supposed to use the other end in order to get ink onto the page? What was the message there? He was looking right into the camera, and right at me, with deep, dark, soulful eyes. I thought he was so beautiful and pretty much fell in love with him right there in the record store. I didn't know anything about his music, but I remembered thinking that a dollar was worth the investment of finding out what this man had to say.

I was hooked instantly. As each album was released I enjoyed everything he had to offer. Most especially was the album he did with Tim Weisberg called "Twin Sons of Different Mothers." I hadn't really heard anyone combine folk guitar with jazz flute, and the songs soared into my heart. I would listen to him constantly.

In 1983 or 1984 I remember going to see him in Madison Square Garden with my best friend Rob. We missed our train on the way out and behaved ridiculously on the platform singing alternate lyrics to "Illegal Alien" by Genesis. "It's no fun, waiting for a train to Penn Station! I tell you it's no fun, waiting for a train to Penn Station!" We got there just as the show started and the lights went down as we walked in, and they ripped into "Power of Gold" and I almost cried and laughed and fainted all at once. It was one of the best nights of my life, filled with a lot of laughter and good fun with Rob. Just thinking about that night and how vividly it is etched into my memory gives me the chills as I sit here and type.

When I left for college, the album collection came with me but Dan didn't make a frequent visit to the turntable. My tastes began to change towards REM and 10,000 Maniacs and Talking Heads. I bought "High Mountain Snows" when it came out in 1985, and the record store in Huntington gave me the promotional poster that they had hanging up behind the counter.

That was pretty much the end of my 10 year dance with Dan's music. At the time (1985), I didn't have much interest in where he was going musically, had little or no good exposure to bluegrassy folk or "cross country," and it didn't sit well with my rock and roll hunting soul. I remember seeing the cover of "The Wild Places" and thinking "what is up with this guy now? What's with the indian headband kind of thing? Kind of a poseur, eh?" And then went to dance to "Stop Making Sense" and David Byrne's big, huge, weird sweaty suit video. MTV changed what I was watching and listening to, and I don't think Dan Fogelberg got much play from them.

Little did I realize at the time but Mr. Fogelberg had planted seeds in my soul that would later turn to great love for bands like Roger Clyne and the Arizona Peacemakers (and the earlier Refreshments stuff Clyne and his cohorts were slinging. Dan gave me cross country before it was cross country... funny how that works).

I progressed through some punk, a lot of grunge (Lord, so much of it) into Barenaked Ladies, Ben Folds and Guster. I managed a coffeehouse in the late 80s/early 90s and so many folk troubadours walked across my threshold, some better than others (Richard Shindell, Peter Mulvey, Ellis Paul) that my heart latched onto them because of the love of the white boy with guitarness that Dan Fogelberg had planted in my soul.

When I was growing up, and through college, a lot of people laughed at me for liking Dan Fogelberg so much. Dan Fogelpoop. Dan Fogelburp. Whatever. I loved him and defended him against those who ragged on him for harmonizing with himself (in three parts, mind you) and for being a hack songwriter (I mean, come on... fishes? Dude. The plural of fish is not fishes. It is fish).

I go back and listen to a lot of the early stuff, like "Phoenix" and "Windows and Walls," and a lot of it sounds dated, very folk in the early 80s/late 70s without that kind of lasting California sound appeal that a lot of the Eagles pre-hotel California stuff has. But to me, it is still good even if it sounds dated. It is still part of the soundtrack of my life.

And I smile when I think about Weird Al Yankovic harmonizing with himself as Dan Fogelberg in "Leader of the Dan." You know you're someone when Weird Al latches on to one of your hits and makes light of it.

Now he's gone, and because I wasn't paying attention and didn't realize he was even suffering, I feel that much more guilty for abandoning him and his career when he still meant a lot to me. I'm sure that his "true" fans, the ones who stuck with him all these years, let him know how much he meant to them.

I wish I had taken the chance to reach out to him and thank him for his role in my life, for keeping me sane through high school, and for teaching me that pure, clear harmonies and beautiful guitar work are not "hack."

In my mind's eye, he's still that young man in that rocking chair who doesn't know how to use a quill to save his life.

Thank you, Dan. Godspeed.

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