The Living Legacy of Dan Fogelberg

I was saddened to hear of the passing of singer, songwriter, and musician Dan Fogelberg at the age of 56 yesterday, from prostate cancer, and I’m going to pretty much ruin any ‘hip music critic’ credibility I have right now, by admitting that I really enjoy his music. Growing up in the 70s and 80s like I did, it was hard to avoid hearing his hits on the top 40 stations of the times, but even as a casual listener I sensed something deeper going on in his music than there was with some of his peers like America, or Bread. I got a chance to see him perform in 1994 long after his hit-making days were over, and he still sounded great. One of my first feature stories for the Columbia Free Times alt-weekly was a cover story previewing that concert at the Township Auditorium.

The son of an orchestra conductor and arranger (the subject of his, “Leader of the Band” hit), that influence shows on early albums like Netherlands, with strings augmenting the basic folk-pop sounds. That was the first full album of his I bought, after getting the Greatest Hits collection as part of my “Twelve cassettes for a penny” deal from Columbia House record club. The hits album is still what most people remember, and that’s okay because almost all of his best songs are on it.

“Same Auld Lang Syne,” is a perennial radio favorite around this time of year because of the timeliness of the title, but the lyric detailing a chance encounter of an old flame at holiday time is what gives it that universal emotional appeal.
That universality is the hallmark of Fogelberg’s best work, just as it is with any great pop music, but his subject matter tended toward the biggest universal subject of all, love. “Longer,” for example, takes a somewhat clichéd approach to one person’s expression of love for another, but the swelling, sweet musical backdrop and Fogelberg’s understated delivery sell the song.

My personal favorite would have to be, “Run For The Roses,” however. Anyone who has ever gotten caught up in the magic of the Kentucky Derby—its history, romance, and competitive spirit—can’t help but be inspired.
Fogelberg’s father is undoubtedly the one who inspired his son to pursue his own musical path, and “The Leader of the Band,” has to be one of the best father/son songs ever written. “The leader of the band is tired, and his eyes are growing old / His blood runs through my instrument and his song is in my soul.” Thanks to the magic of Top 40 radio and his many hit songs, the songs of Dan Fogelberg are in my soul, too.

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Leader Of The Band

An only child
Alone and wild
A cabinet maker’s son
His hands were meant
For different work
And his heart was known
To none —
He left his home
And went his lone
And solitary way
And he gave to me
A gift I know I never
can repay
A quiet man of music
Denied a simpler fate
He tried to be a soldier once
But his music wouldn’t wait
He earned his love
Through discipline
A thundering, velvet hand
His gentle means of sculpting souls
Took me years to understand.
The leader of the band is tired
And his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through
My instrument
And his song is in my soul —
My life has been a poor attempt
To imitate the man
I’m just a living legacy
To the leader of the band.
My brothers’ lives were
different
For they heard another call
One went to Chicago
And the other to St. Paul
And I’m in Colorado
When I’m not in some hotel
Living out this life I’ve chose
And come to know so well.
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 when you got tough
And, pap, I don’t think I
Said ‘I love you’ near enough —
The leader of the band is tired
And his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through
My instrument
And his song is in my soul —
My life has been a poor attempt
To imitate the man
I’m just a living legacy
To the leader of the band
I am the living legacy
To the leader of the band.

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4 thoughts on “The Living Legacy of Dan Fogelberg

  1. I can remember sitting in a chair at my father’s bedside, when I had flown cross-country at the news that his Alzheimer’s had progressed to where he would no longer swallow. I sat up all night singing — really every song I knew, but starting with — and ending with — “Leader of the Band”… we buried him in the black Oregon mud two days later.

    It’s often said, but for me at least, it’s true — Dan Fogelberg will never leave us, because the music is always there.

  2. my favorite was Stars…
    the way his story was carved out and the journey his voice would make as he sang the words…truly one of our finest artists…
    i will miss his influence here in the world.

    Stood out in the rain
    Let it soak me down
    Before I called you…I called you.
    Didn’t see me there
    Hidden by the rain
    Beneath your window…But I saw you.

    Putting on your face before the
    Mirror on the wall
    Dreaming that the looking glass
    was me…
    Catching your fondest gazes
    Living through your fickle phases
    I love you.

    And it’s getting easier each day
    To weep about you
    Harder every night to sleep without you
    How many years must I be driven
    By this dream
    Of love with you?

    Spend my dimes on phones
    Trying just to talk but
    You don’t answer…you let it ring.

    Spend my nights alone
    Catching falling stars to
    Give to you, love,
    They’re just for you.

    For stars fall every time a
    lover has to face the truth
    And far too many stars have
    fell on me.
    And as they trail the skies
    And burn their paths upon my eyes
    I cry.

  3. As his lyrics once stated, he is a living legacy. I will miss his music, his message and his “gentle way of sculpting my soul”.

  4. I just found this blog after hearing “Run for the Roses” this morning.
    may favorite Fogelberg dog is The Last Nail (from Captured Angel) the most poignant of “lost loves” songs for me.

    I saw you running ahead of the crowd
    I chased but never thought I’d catch you
    You said you loved me but you had to be free and I let you
    Why did I let you
    We walked together through the gardens and graves
    I watched you grow to be a woman
    Living on promises that nobody gave to no one
    They were given to no one

    I started listening to the wind and the rain
    You strained your ears but could hear nothing
    One night I thought I heard them whisper my name
    And I went running
    I left a trail of footprints deep in the snow
    I swore one day I would retrace them
    But when I turned around I found that the wind had erased them
    Now I’ll never replace them

    Fly away, my sweet bird, over the land
    Take life for all the freedom you can
    But if you ever should need a man
    Well, the offer still stands

    I hear you’ve taken on a husband and child
    And live somewhere in Pennsylvania
    I never thought you’d ever sever the string but I can’t blame you none
    So let the ashes fall and lay where they will
    Just say that once you used to know me
    One last time sing that old song we used to know
    But this time sing
    But this time sing a little more slowly

    Fly away, my sweet bird, over the land
    Take life for all the freedom you can
    But if you ever should need a man
    Well, the offer still stands

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