Dan Fogelberg

Dan Fogelberg

1951 - 2007

My first introduction to Dan Fogelberg came at my aunt’s wedding. One of my aunt’s friends—who was a dead ringer for Morticia Addams—was there to sing. Not only was she beautiful, but she could sing. The song she sang was “Longer Than.” However, because of some sort of timing glitch, when she was done they still weren’t ready for the wedding to start, so Morticia ended up singing the song several times. I remember thinking it funny at first, but then (having nothing else to do), I started listening to the lyrics. It really is a great wedding song.

Longer than, There’ve been fishes in the oceans
Higher than, any bird ever flew
Longer than, there’ve been stars up in the heavens
I’ve been in love with you

The imagery is simple and majestic, which is the way the music works too. The song should be nine kinds of cheesy but somehow never is.

A few years later, I somehow got locked into “Leader of the Band.” It’s funny how the more specific a story is the more it relates to people. None of the details correlated to my life yet I still felt like crying every time it would come on. I don’t know why, but even today, I would get choked up in a car if “Leader of the Band” came on the radio. Kids never know how to tell their parents what they REALLY want to say, and to see Dan get it right was an inspiring thing. There are so many great lines in the song, but this may be my favorite stanza:

A quiet man of music
Denied a simpler fate
He tried to be a soldier once
But his music wouldn’t wait
He earned his love
Through discipline
A thundering, velvet hand
His gentle means of sculpting souls
Took me years to understand.

A “Thundering velvet hand.” That’s just pure poetry. I’m not sure there is a more emotional song in the world to me.

Except maybe “Same Old Lang Syne.” In my defense, this one is more the circumstances. It was 1995, and I had to drop out of college. I was confused, not understanding what was happening, and generally a wreck. I remember as if it were yesterday packing up my last bag and walking out of my dorm room to get in a friend’s car to head to the airport. On the radio was Fogelberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne.”

In the song he runs into an old flame on Christmas Eve and they spend the evening in his car, catching up over a few drinks. It’s a beautiful song and yet it’s so sad, and there is something almost pathetic about the two. They both have lives, they are not looking to trade them to recapture that “spark” they once had, and yet….

We drank a toast to innocence
We drank a toast to now
And tried to reach beyond the emptiness
But neither one knew how.

I don’t even know how to describe it, although I understand a bit what he’s talking about. It’s like this feeling that there should have been more, that the past can’t have meant that much at one point and now just fumbles through your fingers. Can our lives have been that meaningless that twenty years later a great love can have no more effect on us than a sad faint longing?

But I digress. I remember keenly the very last line, because it happened literally as I was walking out the door of my dorm room, which for all I knew could have been for the last time.

Just for a moment I was back at school
And felt that old familiar pain
And as I turned to make my way back home
The snow turned into rain –

At that moment, a slow sultry saxophone comes on to play the familiar notes of “Auld Lang Syne.” It is beautiful, poignant and very sad, which fits the song, Fogelberg’s music, and definitely my life at that moment. As long as I live I do not know if I will ever come up with as an effortlessly melancholy line as “the song turned into rain.”

Music should not be all doom and gloom, but sometimes we need the bittersweet sadness, and for those times in my life, I am thankful for Dan Fogelberg. Rest in Peace, Dan, and may you eventually find cheer.

[This post is borrowed from my blog. You can read the original post here. If you would like to hear these three songs, I have the videos posted over on Monkey Barn here.]

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