Follow Up on Fogelberg
Dec/19/2007 11:18 PM Filed in: Balcony People
"Death is there to keep us honest,
and contantly remind us we are free."
I'm feeling a mixture of sadness and embarrassment. It all has to do with what I blogged about Sunday night: the death of Dan Fogelberg.
First, I am genuinely surprised with how genuinely sad I still am. After all, I'm a grown man. I didn't really know the guy. Wasn't a close personal friend. Never technically met him. Although I did spend an awkward few seconds, standing dumb-foundedly in front of him once.
But the deeper issue doesn't have to do with what I think of Fogelberg, but with what I assume other people do. Most folks who know his music, just know the big hits. And some of those big hits were (let's be honest) pretty sappy:
...."Believe In Me"
...."Hard to Say"
....even "Run for the Roses" was a little on the schmaltzy side.
To many, Fogelberg was the archetype for over-serious singer-songwriter. (As opposed to just the "serious" one...)
So, given what most people probably think of him (maybe even songwriter friends I admire?) this week I must confess it's been hard to admit my sadness...and embarrassing to admit it too.
Why couldn't my archetypal songwriter haven been Paul Simon? Or Bruce Cockburn? Or maybe even Richard Thompson? Everybody thinks they're totally hip and cool, and nobody jokes about their sappiness.
Well, know what? It just didn't work out that way for me. Fogelberg was my guy.
And so, tonight I have worked through my surface embarrassment, and gotten to a placae where I realized there were still things I wanted to say about Dan Fogelberg. And even if nobody else cares, even if everybody else thinks it's sappy, it's good catharsis for me.
There clearly are a lot of folks who share my view of Fogelberg. Just do a blog search of "Dan Fogelberg" (or, if you're lazy, click the link...) and read the things folks are writing the past few days.
I can tell you that lots of Fogelberg admirers have been stopping by here too. Here at my blog, we've had close to an entire month's of traffic just since Sunday. Lot's of folks are reading this. Others are reading this. Still others are watching the Living Legacy Videos. One of those concert clips alone has been viewed more than 10,000 times in the past four days, with several viewers leaving nice comments at my YouTube page. *
So, yes, I am not alone. There are a lot of folks out there for whom "Dan" was not just a writer of schmaltzy hits, but also the writer they most admire.
I made a couple of iTunes playlists I'd like to share with you. This first one is interesting to me because it features four songs I'd never heard before this week. They were released as a part of the "Portraits" collection. They've never been released anywhere else. They include a scathingly honest song called "Democracy," which is perhaps Fogelberg's most biting political song:
"They've got McDonald's in the USSR
Fries and burgers in the Kremlin's backyard
Now they're learning what democracy means
Let's send them Calvin Klein jeans
Is this what democracy means?"
Every time I went to Russia, I asked myself the same thing.
So, check out these songs. They're all classic Dan in their own way.
The second iTunes playlist I call "Fogelberg Songs You Should Know." And I post it with the assumption that most of these will be unknown to most of you readers. I tried to avoid all the hits. (But...couldn't not include "Gambler"...)
See, this is the stuff I love. I love the soaring sentiment of "In the Passage." I love the edge of "As the Raven Flies." I love the cool opening riff of "These Days." I love the eerie, realm-of-the-spirits quality of "Ghosts." I love the sad story of an old woman in "Windows and Walls."
There were so many songs over those many years that nobody but the truest of "Danfans" knew. Get to know them.
Then, there were two albums of jazz music with Tim Weisberg, and one bluegrass record with folks like Ricky Skaggs. How many pop stars ever release three records like that? (Maybe one. But three?) How many of them play most of their own instruments, sing many of the vocals, and even drew cover art on occasion?
My point is, musically, Fogelberg was a heck of a lot deeper than "Longer."
And, lyrically, there was real poetry and storytelling in those songs. I've blogged about "Same Old Lang Syne" before. But the truth is it's just a well written song...really really nice images:
"She said she saw in the record store,
and that I must be doing well.
I said the audience was heavenly,
but the traveling was hell."
Or the final lines:
"The beer was empty, and our tongues were tired,
And running out of things to say.
She gave a kiss to me as I got out,
And I watched her drive away.
Just for a moment, I was back in school,
And felt that old familiar pain.
And as I turned to make my way back home,
the snow turned into rain."
Even if you've never experienced a moment like that, you can picture it, can't you? As you listen, you draw a mental image of the moment comes to life. So that when Dan inserts a real pause --right at "just for a moment I was back in school..."-- it's we listeners who suddenly pause too, and make our own trips back in time.
Having the muse to write those lines, having the sense to put in that pause, these are the things that distinguish good songs from great ones.
And, I might argue that some of Fogelberg's contributions to the Southern California Rock sound ended up inspiring even greater work later down the road. As just one example, you may remember that Joe Walsh produced Fogelberg's record "Souvenirs."
So, keeping that in mind, give another listen to "As the Raven Flies." Listen carefully to Dan and Walsh trade off on the final guitar lead that fades out the song. And as you listen, tell me you don't hear the genesis of the most famous two-lead solo ever to close a song: Hotel California.
Go ahead and try it. The similarity will jump out at you. Promise.
If there was no "Raven," would there have been a Hotel California? Would it have sounded like it did?
At the very least, Walsh credits Fogelberg as a general influence on him. Two nights ago, on Larry King, Joe Walsh said this:
"...he was an amazing song writer. I met him about 1974, as far as I can remember, and here was this really humble kid, undiscovered, with these wonderful songs, and finely crafted songs. And I brought him out to Los Angeles to try to help him do an album, and our whole community kind of took him under our wing. He was really a big influence as a song writer and a musician to us all."
Anyway, these are many of the things I still wanted to say about Fogelberg tonight.
But the final reason I wanted to write this entry was to show you how I literally produced several songs with the intent of creating an "homage" to Fogelberg. I've never admitted this before, but now seems the time.
The two most obvious examples are on the first CD: "Your Warm" and "Deep Blue Grey."
Listen to this clip of "Your Warm." Then go listen to "The Reach" by Fogelberg. Compare the ringing guitar, and the background strings....hear it?
Then, listen to this clip of "Deep Blue Grey," and I think you will hear shades of "Place in the World for a Gambler," ....especially in the bass parts and final chorus structure. (the Gambler YouTube clip is quite nice...btw...)
They don't have the same lyrical theme. But when we went to produce them, I definitely had Fogelberg in mind. Some folks chided me at the time for over-producing these CD. But tonight I am more pleased than ever that they stand as an example of how Fogelberg's music influenced mine. I'd like to believe that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. At least, that's what I was shooting for.
Well, thanks for reading this. It probably helped me more to write it than it did you to read. I'm feeling better already.
So thanks again, Dan: For all the inspiration and music that is so much a part of my own history.
* (This month, we've also had a fair number of visitors reading this blog about our Memphis trip too...)