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Dan Grayling Fogelberg: A Tribute to His Life and Music (1951-2007)

Updated on July 17, 2022
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Ms. Carroll is a freelance writer who enjoys writing poetry, flash fiction and non-fiction on a myriad of topics.

by Vicki Parker

If you’ve ever heard the music of Dan Fogelberg, you soon realize that you don’t just hear his music -- it courses through your veins. He was probably one of the most talented songwriter/singers of his life time. And he wasn’t just talented. He was smart. He was an Illinois State Scholar born to a classical pianist and WWII veteran who inspired his song "Leader of the Band (which he said if he could have written only one song in his life, this would have been it.") He had two brothers, one an attorney and the other a graphic artist. Indeed, Fogelberg "opened the curtain[s] and let the rest wait." (lyrics from "Illinois.") He traveled throughout his life from Illinois to California to Tennessee to Colorado, and to Maine where he died. He was an avid skiier and a sailor. He called Jimmy Buffett and Joe Walsh friends.

But as smart, talented, and well-traveled as he was, Fogelberg was no stranger to pain. He was married three times, the first time for only 2 years. Again later for 14 years. And then to his wife Jean to whom he was married when he died of prostate cancer at the young age of 56.

The lyrics to his music openly share his love, his passion, and his pain for the women of his life. "Ghosts," suggests he was "lost in love and found in reason." "Wysteria" is about a woman lost to the ways of the world. He sings, "did you change your face again? Those of us who loved you can’t even find you." Some of the greatest testaments to the power of love can be traced in the lyrics of Same Auld Lang Syne, Longer, Believe In Me, Missing You, Hard to Say, Go Down Easy, To The Morning, and The Face of Love. It seems Fogelberg knew the pain love would bring him even before he experienced multiple marriages. In "Changing Horses," he sang, "Changing horses in the middle of a stream gets you wet and sometimes cold; Changing faces in the middle of a dream gets you old."

Love seemed to be the face of Fogelberg’s life, yet he wrote and sang about much deeper matters than love. It is obvious that he reflected heavily on war, ecology, the purpose of life - past and present, and that he genuinely sought to understand the meaning of suffering. Some of the most powerful lyrics of his career can be found in his first albums, Part of the Plan and Home Free. "Souvenirs" has strong sentiments about the past:

"And down in the canyon the smoke starts to rise; it rides on the wind till it reaches your eyes. When faced with the past, the strongest man cries" ... And here is a sunrise to set on your sill; the ghosts of the dawn moving near. They pass through your sorrow and leave you quite still... sitting among souvenirs."

"Long Way Home" hints of the personal meaning he found in life:

"Running in the wrong direction, isn't it a long way home. ... I'm gonna fly to where the sky meets the land and the living is not planned and the children can laugh just cause they're living."

"Part of the Plan" is probably my all time favorite by Dan Fogelberg.

"Love when you can; Cry when you have to, but be who you must, that's a part of the plan" ... "Your conscience awakes and you see your mistakes; ... "There is no Eden or heavenly gates 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."

Perhaps the greatest testament to Fogelberg’s life were his own words about death. In "Ghosts" he said, "and through the gates of time run the ghosts of days that we left behind."

But the song that Fogelberg sang that coursed most often through my veins was "The River." On the news of his death, I made a small mantle of candles on my hearth and lay in silence all night long playing each and every song I had collected for years. It was my private tribute. As the last wick of the last candle flickered in the darkness and the sound, "The River" played.

"I was raised by a river weaned upon the sky; And in the mirror of the waters I saw myself learn to cry. As my tears hit the surface I saw what had been done. I gave feet to my freedom and I did run...

Someday later I saw the writing in the dust; It told me how I should travel; It told me who I was. I ran far from the river, far as I could see and as the sun hit my shoulders, I felt it burning me. How I longed for the waters as the fire raged; How I longed for the river as I aged."

"I will die by a river as it rolls away; Bury me in the nighttime; Do not waste the day."

May he rest in peace. He did not waste the day.

from the album, High Country Snows

thank you Texas for the only video of "The River" I could find


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