Remembering Dan Fogelberg

Danf_lWhen I was growing up in Colorado, Dan Fogelberg‘s music was as inescapable as John Denver’s. Before he broke nationwide in the late ’70s and early ’80s with hits like "Longer" and "Hard to Say," Fogelberg was all over the radio in his adopted home state, where he lived and recorded in a remote mountain ranch, from which he issued the occasional oracular pronouncement in the form of an album, which I would soon hear gently emanating from 8-track- and cassette-players in car stereos and campsites wherever I went in Colorado. Like John Denver, he sang of his love of nature in soft-plaintive ballads. And like his contemporary, Jackson Browne, he also sang of the ruined dreams of the ’60s peace-and-love brigade as they crashed into the materialism and self-absorption of the Me Decade. The result was ideal music for the post-hippie Colorado of the ’70s, laid-back soft-rock balladry with a deep reservoir of melancholy. (My favorite song of his is still 1975′s "These Days," with its haunting, distorted, descending guitar line and it’s what-the-hell-happened-to-us refrain, "All I ever wanted to be was free.")

Even when he became the toast of pop radio, Fogelberg always seemed to me to be a loner, a man out of time. In an era when bouncy, cheerfully synthetic pop and hair metal ruled the airwaves, here was a guy singing acoustic music for grownups, songs full of wistful nostalgia like "Leader of the Band" and "Same Old Lang Syne" — and having them become hits. Later still, as he continued to do exactly the same thing, even as he fell out of fashion and radio went off in a thousand different directions, he seemed still further out of step.

In his twilight years, "Longer" popped up as a wedding processional in 2002′s About Schmidt. I suppose it was supposed to indicate the characters’ cornball taste, but to me, it made perfect sense. If you were a guy like Dermot Mulroney’s character, who grew up in Denver in the ’70s and was finally getting married well into your thirties, of course Fogelberg’s "Longer" would be a likely wedding tune. All those years later, having become an object of nostalgia itself, Fogelberg’s music had finally caught up with the nostalgia that was its subject. For me, at least, it took on new emotional resonance that it hadn’t seemed to possess when it was fresh — but of course, the music hadn’t changed; I had. I was surprised by how saddened I was this morning to hear of his death yesterday at age 56, because I had never recognized that his music, sentimental and old-fashioned as it was, had meant as much to me as it did. But I’m consoled by a line from his song "Ghosts": "Death is there to keep us honest and constantly remind us we are free." And that was all he ever wanted to be.

addCredit(“Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images”)

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  • Angela Langowski

    Thanks for the great write-up and remembrance of one of my fave singers of the 70s and 80s. I, too, was very saddened to hear about his death and very glad I got to see one of his last concerts (before being diagnosed) here in Colorado in 2003.

  • marebare

    I didn’t even know he was ill, so I was very saddened to see this headline. I’ve been meaning for some time to go on itunes and replace the old greatest hits cassette of Fogelberg that I had. Now I will absolutely have to do that. Thanks for the tribute… “leader of the band” is playing in my head.

  • Katie

    As soon as I read about his death this morning, I went right to iTunes and bought a greatest hits…I hadn’t realized quite how many of his songs I know. And of course today they all made me want to cry. He will be missed.

  • Mike Ankener

    My wife and I have been together for nearly 20 years and were particularly saddened by this news- the first dance at our wedding reception was to “Longer Than” by Dan Fogelberg. It’s one of my favorite songs to this day.

  • Hi

    Same Old Lang Syne kills me this time of year. I heard it in a Sams Club the other day and stood still until it ended.

  • dh

    Hi, I’m with you. Same Aude Lang Syne is perhaps the saddest song ever. But in a good way.

  • Lisa

    Okay, so here’s my Dan Fogelberg story. When I was in college in the late 80s, he came to campus for a concert. So, he’s singing along, and eventually got around to the song with the line “I don’t think I said I love you near enough.” The packed coliseum started clapping and yelling in agreement with the line. We don’t say we love someone near enough, now do we? Well. He stopped singing and started yelling at us for being rude and interrupting his performance. This tirade went on for about ten minutes. He did a few more songs, but eventually gave up and stormed offstage. We were afraid to clap anymore, so I guess he didn’t like the lack of reaction either.
    Don’t get me wrong — I still love his music. It was just so funny to have a singer yell at the audience mid-concert!

  • ks

    This is such a major bummer!!! To loose such a great singer/songwriter makes me so sad. My thoughts go out to his family and friends. I have been such a huge fan of his since High School and own all his music.
    I am a huge heavy metal fan but Dans music was so intense-how could you not fall in love with his talent for music???
    I will miss you very much!

  • Cherie

    I used to sing a lot of his songs with 2 guys in small clubs in Oklahoma City. I love Dan’s music, voice, and spirit. He will always be one of my very favorite singer / songwriters of all time. So sad you’re gone Dan, but your music will keep you alive!

  • Beth

    I’m 29 years old and grew up with my mom constantly playing Dan Folgelberg. My grandfather passed away in October and “Leader of the Band” was played at his funeral per my mom’s request. So sad that I lost 2 men in 2007 that played important roles in my life…

  • Chuck Gallagher

    The Leader of the Band has died. Prostate cancer took this young 56 year old singer/songwriter. It has been said that had it been caught earlier, Dan might have survived. As a prostate cancer survivor I was diagnosed at age 47 (quite by accident). Fogelberg’s diagnosis happened when he was 52 and by then it was in advanced stages. As a professional speaker ( http://www.chuckgallagher.com ) I have the opportunity to speak to groups nation wide. While my presentations don’t center around this disease, I use every opportunity available to encourage men to get checked early and often. A simple blood test done soon enough could mean the difference between life and death.

  • Chuck Gallagher

    The Leader of the Band has died. Prostate cancer took this young 56 year old singer/songwriter. It has been said that had it been caught earlier, Dan might have survived. As a prostate cancer survivor I was diagnosed at age 47 (quite by accident). Fogelberg’s diagnosis happened when he was 52 and by then it was in advanced stages. As a professional speaker ( http://www.chuckgallagher.com ) I have the opportunity to speak to groups nation wide. While my presentations don’t center around this disease, I use every opportunity available to encourage men to get checked early and often. A simple blood test done soon enough could mean the difference between life and death.

  • somehow

    Thanks for this. Though I don’t know much of his earliest “hit” stuff, I have always treasured Dan Fogelberg’s mid-80′s “High Country Snows” as a great great album. (Yes – album) In my top five all-time. I love the gorgeous title track pushed by aching steel guitar and the quirky, wonderful closing tune “The Outlaw”. I heard some snarky remark on tv today equating his work with “elevator music” by someone who didn’t know him and probably only read the words “soft rock” in the obit. That was just so wrong, in so many ways. I’m sad to hear he’s gone and give thanks for the music.

  • MCM

    His music was a big part of my life as a teen. I love it to this day. I had the pleasure of meeting him ~15 years ago, I was working in a hotel bar and he came in after a local concert. I almost didn’t recognize him, his aging biker look was so at odds with his music! At the time I felt like “don’t fawn over the celeb, he just wants to have a few drinks and wind down” so I didn’t tell him how influential he had been to me. We just chatted about nothing in particular. I always regretted not sharing how he had touched my life, now of course I regret it even more. A sad day indeed.

  • MCM

    His music was a big part of my life as a teen. I love it to this day. I had the pleasure of meeting him ~15 years ago, I was working in a hotel bar and he came in after a local concert. I almost didn’t recognize him, his aging biker look was so at odds with his music! At the time I felt like “don’t fawn over the celeb, he just wants to have a few drinks and wind down” so I didn’t tell him how influential he had been to me. We just chatted about nothing in particular. I always regretted not sharing how he had touched my life, now of course I regret it even more. A sad day indeed.

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