Leader of the band
A personal good-bye to Dan Fogelberg
Published December 2007
In 1974, when I was in junior high school, my father, who was a morning radio personality, brought home a record he wanted me to hear called "Souvenirs" by a singer-songwriter I hadn't heard of, named Dan Fogelberg. My dad brought home records a lot, but this one looked more interesting than many of them. First thing I noticed about the album was the rustic artwork (Fogelberg's own paintings graced the inside). Next thing I noticed was the remarkable talent he'd managed to recruit for the record: Joe Walsh produced it, and people like Graham Nash and a bunch of Los Angeles-area studio musicians I recognized from other albums of that era were on it. I figured it was worth at least a listen.
By the end of that day, after spinning "Souvenirs" from beginning to end four or five times, I was hooked. Fogelberg's sublime, introspective countrified folk-rock struck an immediate chord with me. It was sweet and melodic, but also powerful and passionate. The songs, from his lost love laments to his paeans to the mountains and the Midwest (he's from Illinois, I'm from Iowa), cut to the heart.
The definitive '70s sensitive singer-songwriter, Fogelberg quickly established himself as a mainstay on FM album-oriented radio, and I followed his every career move. I purchased every album, saw him live whenever possible, and even went back and bought his first record, 1972's "Home Free," which is beautiful. When he broke through with major commercial success in the early '80s with the release of his double-album masterpiece "The Innocent Age," which included such songs as "Same Old lang Syne" and "Leader of the Band," I proudly told folks that I'd been a fan of his music before he was this popular.
Fogelberg is the reason I bought my first acoustic guitar in 1974. The first songs I learned how to play on that guitar, which is tattered but which I still own for sentimental reasons, weren't Beatles songs or Led Zeppelin (that came later), they were all from the "Souvenirs" record, including "Part of the Plan," which was Fogelberg's first radio hit, and "There's a Place in the World for a Gambler," a pensive epic that to this day remains my favorite song and one that I play now whenever I perform live.
I kept jamming on acoustic, as a passionate hobby, mostly, for the next couple decades, periodically gigging at a small club or coffee house, sometimes solo, sometimes with a partner or a small band. When I was diagnosed with stage IV non-Hodgkin's lymphoma cancer in 1996, the music stopped for a while. I didn't listen to music much, and didn‘t play at all. But when I went into remission after a clinical drug trial in 1999, and our first daughter was subsequently born, the music came back. I started listening again, to Fogelberg and others, and when I picked up my acoustic and started playing, the songs just started flowing out of me. I wrote one song after another, and before I knew it I had enough for a CD, which I recorded and released.
With each successive CD I recorded, I got a little more ambitious until I decided to recruit some of my music heroes to play on my record with me. I eventually landed a national record deal with 33rd Street Records and a minor second career was born. But Fogelberg, the artist with whom I really wanted to record with most of all, announced in mid-2004 that he had advanced prostate cancer. So I waited, hoping and praying that he would get well. I dreamed that one day I might get a chance to record with him or perhaps even write a song with him. It was totally presumptuous of me, of course, but that's what dreams are all about.
But that dream died when an old friend and songwriting buddy sent me an email this past Sunday afternoon telling me that Fogelberg had died. I was stunned, and deeply saddened. The man who made such beautiful music these past 35 years, and inspired me to make my own music, died at his home in Maine after a long and courageous battle with advanced prostate cancer.
Since I heard the news, I've been playing a lot of those old Fogelberg tunes I learned when I was a kid, and my wife and daughter have been singing them along with me (they love his music, too). The songs are even more bittersweet now, of course, just as "Imagine" became after John Lennon died. As I sing Fogelberg's songs now, I recall where I was when I first learned each one, and I am reminded, again, just how much great music he gave us all.
The joy, sadness, beauty and majesty in his brilliantly crafted tunes have lifted me throughout my life. And I know I'm not alone. There are millions of people out there who've been touched by one or more of his songs. Dan Fogelberg was a gifted artist whose music has made this world a little more livable and lovely, and those songs will live on. Fogelberg's quiet courage and grace in the face of cancer were an inspiration to me, and I'm sure to a lot of other cancer patients and survivors as well.
I never met or even spoke to the man. But I will miss him, terribly.