This post originally was supposed to be about two artists, Dan Fogelberg and Emmylou Harris, specifically two of their albums that I had heard little of but listened to during my final evening outdoor audio adventure of the fall. But “a chance meeting in Middle Earth,” as Gandalf the Gray would say, turned it into a Fogelberg solo.
That chance meeting was the result of last weekend’s stay in Peoria, Ill., a side-trip off a visit to Jeanne’s aunt and uncle in eastern Land of Lincoln. Friday was a sunny and warmer day, so on arrival we went to the city’s waterfront to get some fresh air and exercise.
The Peoria RiverFront is nicely done, with parks, walking paths, a marina where the Spirit of Peoria paddlewheeler docks and a farmer’s market in season. Perusing a map display that showed those features and attractions, I was surprised to see a Dan Fogelberg Memorial on the far north end of the Riverwalk.
Not totally surprised — I had a vague recollection that the artist was from Illinois, but didn’t identify him with the Illinois River city. I had always enjoyed Fogelberg’s music, but owned only one of his albums, Nether Lands.
I bought that 1977 LP on vinyl, probably influenced by hearing cuts on the radio, perhaps the one single it produced. But “Love Gone By” charted only in Canada, so it more likely was the title cut or one of the other tunes, perhaps heard on an album rock FM station. But I had moved away from Radio Free Madison, which influenced my listening tastes a lot in the early- to mid-70s, by the time that Nether Lands came out.
I liked Fogelberg’s art because of songs like “Nether Lands,” the epic, spiritual anthem that opens the album; “Loose Ends” is similarly expansive in theme. “Dancing Shoes,” I dedicated to a ballerina with whom I was smitten in the early ’80s. Even the more upbeat cuts — “Once Upon a Time,” “Lessons Learned,” “Love Gone By,” “Promises Made,” “Give Me Some Time” — are reflective.
That’s what I liked most about Fogelberg’s work, that and the fact that many of his songs were intensely personal, and many of them told stories. That was the case with his two best-known (if not most popular) numbers, “Same Old Lang Syne” and “Leader of the Band.”
The first of those, the story of a chance, Christmas Eve meeting with a former flame, was a Billboard No. 9 in 1980. (I thought I was reenacting that story when I ran into a high school steady in the mall back then, but it didn’t work out that way —probably couldn’t, considering our back-story.)
“Leader of the Band” was about Fogelberg’s father, a Peoria high school band director. (Fogelberg, a musical polymath who played most of the instruments on his studio recordings, seems to have come by his talents naturally; his mother was a classically-trained pianist.) It also made No. 9, one of four Top 10 hits for the artist; the highest charting of those was “Longer,” which made No. 2 in 1979 (No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary list).
This past summer I gained a second Fogelberg album, the one I listed to on the deck a couple weeks back, 1990’s Wild Places being amongst the discs in that Big Ol’ Bag of Free CDs my brother gave me. That first listen started out pretty well, the third cut, “Forefathers,” telling the story of his parents; his father’s ancestors came from Sweden, his mother was born in Scotland.
However, unsurprisingly, considering the album’s title, many of the songs are about the natural world. Fogelberg lived most of his adult life in the hinterlands of Maine; also unsurprisingly, for an intensely personal man, he kept the location of his residence secret until his death.
Incongruously, considering its theme, the instrumentation on Wild Places is heavily synthesized, keyboards and drums, and the sound is often late-’80s/early/’90s synth-pop. The environmentalist theme hits its peak — or nadir, depending on your point of view — with “Blind to the Truth,” a “we’re killing the planet” polemic that gets rather more bitter than I’d come to expect from Fogelberg. I don’t think Wild Places will get as much of my ear time as Nether Lands.
Fogelberg recorded 14 charting singles, and seven of his 12 studio albums made it to the Billboard Top 40, topped by Phoenix, a No. 3 in 1979. He also collaborated with flautist Tim Weisberg on two LPs; the first of those, Twin Sons of Different Mothers, peaked at No. 8.
Not bad for an artist, part of whose Peoria memorial is a plaque on a park bench that reads, in part: “I never got into music to be the latest, greatest thing. I’m a musician because that is what I am. I will create music the way I want to whether a million people are listening or no one is listening.”
The rest of the memorial consists of three large boulders, with a verse from one of Fogelberg’s songs carved into each. The last of the three also includes a dedication to Fogelberg — beneath it the words “Musician, Singer, Songwriter, Artist” — and his date of birth and year of death.
The memorial is in a nice location, on a high bank overlooking a bend in the Illinois River. (It may also include a series of boulders bearing carved words that line a loop in the walking/biking path that runs near the three boulders.) I searched in vain to find out if the point on the river was some special place for Fogelberg — perhaps the inspiration for one or more of his songs.
Fogelberg died Dec. 16, 2007, at the age of 56, killed by the advanced prostate cancer he thought he had beaten, but which came back to end his life three years after the initial diagnosis. His official website states that a resolution making the artists’s birthday, Aug. 13, “Dan Fogelberg Day” in Illinois had passed out of committee; no indication if that bill ever became law, though.
The Fogelberg website also has an online petition to put him on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating ballot. I’ve vented before about the Hall’s sometimes over-broad definition of fame, but considering the lack of same of some who have been voted in, Dan Fogelberg is as worthy, more so in many cases.