That you're gonna make it to one day
But all of the answers you seek can be found
In the dreams that you dream on the way.”—Dan Fogelberg, “Part of the Plan,” from the Souvenirs LP (1974)
I find it as hard to believe that Dan Fogelberg is not around to celebrate his 60th birthday today as that we will not be enjoying new music from him anymore. Not only were his albums constantly on my turntable in the mid-to-late 1970s, but he provided one of the most indelible memories of my teenage years then: an outstanding performance in Central Park as part of its Schaefer Music Festival in July 1977, one of the most deeply satisfying concerts I ever witnessed there.
That summer, Fogelberg was touring to support his LP Nether Lands, which not only contained elements of classical music to go with his more folk-rock instrumentation, but also highlighted his concern for the environment. Above all, his talents as singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist were on ample display. In that Central Park concert, at the conclusion of “There‘s a Place in the World for a Gambler,” another song from Souvenirs, he had the audience in communion with his gentle, questing spirit as he led it in a mass sing-along.
Fogelberg probably hit his commercial peak not long after that with Twin Sons of Different Mothers, his collaboration with Tim Weisberg, and the 1981 double-set The Innocent Age (perhaps the only folk-rock LP I can think of that was ever inspired by a Thomas Wolfe novel--in this case, Of Time and the River). The latter collection contained some of his most personal work: “Leader of the Band,“ a tribute to his father, a high-school band leader, and “Same Old Lang Syne,” inspired by an accidental meeting with a former girlfriend.
My own preferences, though, are for three ‘70s albums--Souvenirs, Captured Angel (1975) and Nether Lands--as well as the 1987 release that came after the collapse of his first marriage, Exiles (featuring one of his most poignant songs, “Lonely in Love”). But all of his work reflected his interest in a great variety of musical styles--folk, rock, bluegrass, pop, classical, jazz, Celtic (one song was about the region in Ireland where my father was born, “County Clare")--and challenged his audience to keep pace with him.
Fogelberg succumbed to prostate cancer in 2007, and his death marked, like the work of his literary hero Wolfe, the irretrievable passage out of youth for many of us. Despite his somewhat pessimistic conclusion in “Part of the Plan,“ I hope--no, I expect--that there is an Eden or Heaven that will reward a valuable life and work that gave joy to so many people over the years.