In this week where the days are the longest, life is a little darker tonight. Dan Fogelberg died last Sunday morning after a long battle with prostate cancer. He was 56. The note on his website reads:
Sunday, December 16
Dan left us this morning at 6:00am. He fought a brave battle with cancer and died peacefully at home in Maine with his wife Jean at his side. His strength, dignity, and grace in the face of the daunting challenges of this disease were an inspiration to all who knew him.
I feel like I grew up with Dan Fogelberg. The first record of his I remember was Souvenirs, which came out the month after I started to Baylor. What better words for a teenager on the cusp of college than
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
(“Part of the Plan”)
My across the hall dorm neighbor had an earlier album, Home Free, which was another revelation. Then Fogelberg released five more records between my freshman year and my seminary graduation:
- Captured Angel (1975)
- Nether Lands (1977)
- Twin Sons of Different Mothers (with Tim Weisberg) (1978)
- Phoenix (1979)
- The Innocent Age (two records) (1981)
He gave me the soundtrack for some very pivotal years in my life, mostly marked by searching. Listening back through those songs tonight, I still resonate with the hope informed by an underlying melancholy that runs like a river through his music. He made my heart ache and strain to reach for the heights he described:
once in a vision I came on some woods
and stood at a fork in the road
my choices were clear yet I froze with the fear
of not knowing which way to go
one road was simple acceptance of life
the other road offered sweet peace
when I made my decision
my vision became my release
When I was in CPE and particularly broke, all I could do for my family one Christmas was make cards and try to give them something with my words. I borrowed some from “Leader of the Band” to try and reach out to my father at a time when the distance was palpable.
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 that you got tough
and papa I don’t think I’ve said I love you near enough
The grace he offered his father in the song helped me begin to see a different path to take.
Dan Fogelberg also helped me know I was in love.
On one of my first dates with Ginger, we were driving between Fort Worth and Dallas and she said, “What’s the purse song?” I asked to repeat the question, which she did, and without to much time passing, I said, “Oh – Dan Fogelberg’s ‘Same Old Lang Syne’: ‘I went to hug her and she spilled her purse/ and we laughed until we cried.’”
Right then I knew something special was happening.
I saw him in concert once, before that night with Ginger. He played solo at Reunion Arena in Dallas; I had tenth row center seats – or should I say seat: I went by myself. A grand piano, a guitar, and a small table that held a glass half-filled with whiskey were all that graced the stage. He came out and played for nearly three hours, making it seem as though we were sitting in his living room. When he got to “Same Old Lang Syne,” he moved to the piano and began talking about the 1812 Overture. He went on to demonstrate that the opening notes on the piano are the same melody: da da da da da da da dum dum dum. “Stuff like this cracks musicians up,” he said, laughing harder than the rest of us. Then, when he sang, “I said the audience was heavenly, but the traveling was hell,” we cheered like crazy and he laughed again.
One of his best moves was to sing a duet with Emmylou Harris (also something I wish I could do): “Only the Heart May Know.” The song is a dialog between someone looking back on childhood and those things he remembers. He asks questions of them and they respond.
Silent Sea, tell this to me:
Where are the children
that we used to be?
At picture shows
where nobody goes
and only the heart can see.
In the bridge they sing, “Friends we knew follow us through all of the days of our lives.” How amazing it is to look up and look back and see someone’s fingerprints all over your life because of the songs he wrote. Like Madeleine L’Engle, Dan Fogelberg is someone who befriended me and helped keep me alive in ways I didn’t understand until much later; maybe even tonight. I’ll never meet him, but, thanks to the songs, he’s not completely gone.
and if you ever hear them calling out
and if you’ve been by paupers crowned
between the worlds of men and make-believe
I can be found
Even though I know how to get there from here (that’s a place I go quite often), I must say, “Goodbye, old friend — and thanks.”
P. S. – I couldn’t pass up this concert clip.