Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Tribute To Dan Fogelberg

It's hard to live through the passing of one year into the next without thinking of Dan Fogelberg.

One of our most gifted singer-songwriters, Fogelberg was perhaps best known for "Same Old Lang Syne," a tune about a guy who runs into an old girlfriend in a grocery store on Christmas Eve. The song made it to No. 9 on the U.S. pop charts in 1980 and remains a staple around the holidays.

Fogelberg died just a little more than a year ago, on December 16, 2007, after a battle with prostate cancer. He was 56 years old.

Thanks to a string of hit singles and well-received albums, Fogelberg enjoyed major commercial success. But he seemed to fall through the musical cracks a bit. He was not as beloved as Paul Simon, James Taylor, or Carole King. He did not enjoy the mass appeal of John Denver. He was not as critically acclaimed as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, or Jackson Browne. But I would argue that Fogelberg deserves a place in the pantheon of American singer-songwriters.

Here at Legal Schnauzer, we've been thinking about Fogelberg a lot lately--I guess for several reasons. I heard "Same Old Lang Syne" over the holidays, and that prompted me to get out The Innocent Age, Fogelberg's two-disk masterpiece from 1980, and play it from start to finish several times. That served as a reminder of Fogelberg's prodigious musical skills.

Also, I've long identified with Fogelberg's backstory. He is probably most associated with California, where he recorded much of his music, and Colorado, where he lived for many years. But like me, he is a child of the Midwest; Fogelberg grew up in Peoria, Illinois. In fact, a great tune from one of his early albums is called simply "Illinois." During my University of Missouri years, I remember hearing of Fogelberg before he became known nationally with release of the hit single "Part of the Plan." Much the way REM first became a phenomenon in the Deep South, Fogelberg first became appreciated in his native region.

Finally, when you blog on a regular basis, you gain a heightened appreciation for the power of words--and those who use them well. Fogelberg was a master with words; I would argue that he was one of our best lyricists ever. Consider these lyrics from "Nexus," the opening track on The Innocent Age:

In a spiral never-ending
Are we drawn toward the source
Spinning at the mercy

Of an unrelenting force
So we stare into the emptiness

And fall beneath the weight
Circling the Nexus

In a fevered dance with fate

Here is a performance of "Nexus" from an acoustic solo concert:

Or consider the evocative lyrics of "The Reach." Fogelberg truly paints pictures with words:

It's Maine and it's autumn
The birches have just begun turning

It's life and it's dying
The lobstermen's boats come returning
With the catch of the day in their holds
And the young boys cold and complaining
The fog meets the beaches and out on the Reach
It is raining

Here is a live performance of "The Reach:"

For an Alabama flavor, here is a video of "Only the Heart May Know," a gorgeous duet that Fogelberg performed with Birmingham native Emmylou Harris:

Finally, Fogelberg makes masterful use of imagery in the lyrics to "In the Passage:"

The places dash and the faces dart
Like fishes in a dream
Hiding 'neath the murky banks
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

Here's a fan's tribute to Fogelberg, set to "In the Passage." Enjoy


Matt Osborne said...

Fogelberg (may he rest in peace) also has the distinction of being the only musician ever to be sued for sounding like himself.

legalschnauzer said...

I think you might have Fogelberg mixed up with John Fogerty (another of my favorites) who headed Creedence Clearwater Revival. Fogerty was sued by the head of CCR's label for essentially plagiarizing himself--which you would think might be hard to do. Fogerty, thankfully, is very much alive and producing great music. Here is a link to info about his case:

Matt Osborne said...

Oh my! I stand corrected. Yes, I mixed them up completely. Sigh... That's what I get for blogging after a day at the sweatshop.