Sunday, March 13, 2011

"between the worlds of men and make-believe..."

This was originally posted on the now-nonexistent No Depression editorial website (not to be confused with the present community site) on December 21, 2007. Re-posting it today as a result of a friend's mention of Fogelberg:

News of Dan Fogelberg's death earlier this week hit me a little harder than I expected, given that it's been a long time since I really held the guy up on any sort of personal pedestal. But the thing is, he definitely DID rank very high in my book at one point, and without question played a fairly significant role in the evolution of my musical taste and my appreciation for singer-songwriters.

For me, the graduation process went like this: Barry Manilow led to Dan Fogelberg led to Jackson Browne led to Bob Dylan. (Really nowhere higher to go once you get to Dylan.) That progression occurred when I was between the ages of 10 and 20.

"Mandy" hit when I was just about to turn 10, and immediately made me an unabashed fan of Mr. Manilow -- which I still am, despite the ridicule that inevitably accompanies such an admission (or the chuckles that invariably follow the acoustic-guitar arrangement of "Mandy" I've been known to deliver from the stage on occasion).

My older brother Si was a pretty good early guide to music that was a little bit beyond the Top-40 AM-radio staples of the mid-'70s, and one of the first artists he led me to was Fogelberg. He and his wife included "Longer" in their wedding ceremony in 1980; I'd heard that song and "Heart Hotels" on the local FM pop/rock station by then, but soon afterward I took the time to delve into Fogerty's earlier records, via dog-eared LPs at the used-vinyl store.

Souvenirs (his second, from 1974) was probably the best, with a minor hit in "Part Of The Plan" and a lot of country-rock accents/influences on songs such as "Illinois" and "Morning Sky". Captured Angel (1975) and Nether Lands (1977) had their moments, though the fact that the sixteen Fogelberg downloads I just purchased a moment ago included just one song from the former and two from the later suggests those were overall somewhat lesser of the bunch, at least in my memory.

Phoenix (1980) was more or less his pop breakthrough, with both "Longer" and "Heart Hotels" making the singles charts. A more ambitious artistic statement was 1981's The Innocent Age, which pretty much marked the peak of Fogelberg's career creatively. Its yuletide-chestnut-to-be ("Same Old Lang Syne"), while probably his best-known song, wasn't really representative of the full depth and breadth of the double-album. I was rather amused and heartened to discover a few years later that one of my late-'80s postpunk-obsessed musician roommates also had a real soft spot for The Innocent Age.

I went out and bought Fogelberg's subsequent album, 1984's Windows And Walls, upon its release, but I sensed a pretty clear dropoff in quality. Or maybe it was just my own perspective: I was headlong into Jackson Browne by then, and Dylan was waiting just around the corner. For whatever reason, none of Fogelberg's subsequent releases ever connected with me, though the bluegrassy High Country Snows from 1985 seems probably worth revisiting at some point.

The record I DO still go back to on a regular basis, though -- seems like I pull the old vinyl copy off the shelves and put Side A on the turntable every couple of years or so -- is Fogelberg's very first album, 1972's Home Free. The songwriting's pretty green, really, but endearingly so, and quite good considering that Fogelberg was just 21 when the record came out. (He was 56 when he died this past Sunday of prostate cancer.) Musically there's real beauty in the arrangements, from the swinging country twang of "More Than Ever" to sweet swelling strings of "Hickory Grove" to the soft, simple piano touches of the opening track "To The Morning" -- one of the best first-songs-of-a-career that any artist ever had, from where I sit.

As it happens, today is my brother Si's 51st birthday, so I suppose this blog-entry can be considered an acknowledgment of thanks to him for helping to lead me down the musical path I wound up following all those years ago. And, also, an acknowledgment of thanks to Fogelberg, for making music that was such a significant step along that road.

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