Dan Fogelberg: An Appreciation

3 07 2014

Dan Fogelberg - A Living LegacyI first wrote this the night Dan Fogelberg passed away. December 16, 2007. An artist, whose art still inspires.

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My writing on this blog is usually of a more hortatory nature.  These reflections are personal.  I am saddened this evening as I’ve just gotten word that Dan Fogelberg—an artist of rare and exquisite musical gifting—has passed away after a three year bout with prostate cancer.  Dan was 56 when he died this morning in Maine, his wife Jean at his side.

I am a musician—in fact, a musician long before I ever stepped into the ministry.  Dan Fogelberg’s music has molded me as a musician probably more than any other musician living or dead.  He played both the guitar and the piano beautifully.  He had a lilting voice and an artist’s soul.  He was discovered as an art student in Champaign IL playing in clubs.  Dan had a way with poetry and lyrics that remind us all just how powerful the spoken word is, especially when set to music.

I first gravitated toward Dan’s music with the Phoenix album, which gave us a number of memorable moments, among them “Longer” and “Face The Fire,” Dan’s powerful rebuke of our dependence upon nuclear power in the aftermath of the accident in 1979 at Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Harrisburg, PA. Dan was never shy about weighing in on political matters with his gifts.  He was adamant–as am I–that there are better ways to go about settling our international differences than by killing one another.

But it was when I first heard Dan’s moving tribute to his father—Lawrence Peter Fogelberg—that I became a fan for life.  “Leader Of The Band” has been for me the most powerful piece of non-religious music that I have ever known.  His father was a jazz musician and orchestra conductor (teaching band in high school).  His mother was trained in opera.  Dan paid tribute to his parents by thanking his father for his gift of music and his mother for her gift of words.  What they passed on to their son has enriched me for nearly 30 years.  The Innocent Age, the album that gave us “Leader Of The Band” was a double album when released in 1981.  It is called a “song cycle” and is a masterpiece.  Fans of the writings of Thomas Wolfe (Of Time And The River) will be very much at home with the material on The Innocent Age.  And so will many others.

I’m reminded of a story I heard about Dan when he was young and moderately successful.  He was living in a house on Lookout Mountain in Laurel Canyon, outside LA.  He rented a grand piano at his home.  His photographer and friend Henry Diltz remembers one day hearing some of the most incredibly beautiful music he’d ever encountered floating through the canyon, all night long until dawn.  He asked his girlfriend, “Who is this guy?”  Dan had been at it, with discipline and beauty, all night long.  That was Dan.  Vintage Dan.

I was privileged to see Dan in concert once—in June,1985, Pine Knob Music Theatre in Clarkston, MI.  The temperature that evening was in the 40 – 50 degree range.  Dan came out in that cold, drizzling evening—Pine Knob is an outdoor venue—and played for over two solid hours, first solo and then with the Chris Hillman Band.  He’d just released High Country Snows, an intelligent foray into bluegrass, which he loved.  It was an outstanding show, one of the best I’ve ever seen.

The world is a little colder, a little lonelier, a little less friendly this evening.  I leave you with the lyrics to “Leader Of The Band.”  Dan, you will be sorely missed by this middle-aged troubadour.  Thanks for the music and the memories.

Leader Of The Band
An only child alone and wild, a cabinet maker’s son
His hands were meant for different work
And his heart was known to none
He left his home and went his lone and solitary way
And he gave to me a gift I know I never can repay
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

(Chorus)
The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument and his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man
I’m just a living legacy to the leader of the band
My brothers’ lives were different for they heard another call
One went to Chicago and the other to St Paul
And I’m in Colorado when I’m not in some hotel
Living out this life I’ve chose and have come to know so well
I thank you for the music and your stories of the road
I thank you for the freedom when it came my time to go
I thank you for the kindness and the times when you got tough
And, papa, I don’t think I said ‘I love you’ near enough.
(Chorus)
I am a living legacy to the leader of the band

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