With his lushly tender songs, he touched many hearts
Dan Fogelberg passed away on Sunday after a three-year battle with prostate cancer. He was 56, and like many people, I felt shocked and saddened to hear news of someone who has died too young. Fogelberg waged a valiant fight, by all accounts, and died peacefully at home in Maine with his wife, Jean, by his side.
Obituaries appeared the following day in newspapers and on websites, noting Fogelberg's string of hit albums in the 1970s and early '80s. He scored several platinum and multi-platinum albums fueled by hit singles, among them "Leader of the Band," a poignant tribute to his father, and "Same Old Lang Syne," a bittersweet Christmas Eve narrative.
But odds are slim that appreciations will start pouring in like they did for Ike Turner, who died last week. Fogelberg was neither pioneer nor virtuoso. He won no Grammys and left a modest musical legacy. Moreover, his genre was soft-rock, a sound much maligned for its lack of edge and much loved by romantic young females.
Surprise at word of Fogelberg's untimely death was shortly followed by something like a recovered memory: I was one of those girls. The year the Sex Pistols started a revolution, I was in my room listening to "Nether Lands." It's an unabashedly lush album - a suite-like set of songs drenched in classical arrangements and country-rock guitars, emotional fireworks and verses in French. The cream of the Southern California crop played on the record: Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Russ Kunkel, J. D. Souther. Some of it sounds exquisite to this day: the simple, elegant melody to "Dancing Shoes," for example, and the Baroque wistfulness of "Scarecrow's Dream." "Sketches" is a fever dream in waltz time, a pop song as sad and weighty as a teenager's heart.
Later in his career, Fogelberg would go on to pen more topical tunes, mainly concerned with the environment. But it was the heavily arranged ballads and exuberant folk-rockers like "Part of the Plan" that touched his fans most deeply. Fogelberg sang high and hard, with his whole voice. He infused his music with a tenderness and eagerness that's often frowned upon by the cognoscenti and embraced by a different slice of the population - people eager for tenderness. His was flagrant, bordering on shameless. If you were a pop fan with a soft spot for pretty melodies and vulnerable guys, Fogelberg was your man.
Fogelberg was a brief fixture on my oddball music trajectory, an arc that's turned out to be the opposite of most people's. The cultivated, innocuous stuff - Dan Fogelberg's beautiful songs - came first. Years later I became a rock fan. Fogelberg certainly didn't fit the myth or make the sound of rebellious youth, but I'm here to say he provided the soundtrack to some seriously fringe behavior.
Maybe his dulcet tunes were a sort of safety net, a way back to home base. They were definitely the sweet, sweet sound of sanity during the craziest times.
Joan Anderman can be reached at email@example.com. For more on music, go to boston.com/ae/ music/blog.