December 16, 2009 marked the second anniversary of the death of singer/songwriter Dan Fogelberg. A few months earlier, Dan’s last album, Love in Time, was released posthumously. He was working on it when he was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in 2004, and finished it in 2006 with instructions that it be released after he was gone. It’s a good record, and Dan’s fans everywhere will recognize it as a fitting farewell.
I did get to see Dan in concert once, during the “End of the Innocence” tour. He had a great band behind him, and he gave a phenomenal performance. I was supposed to have seen him twice more – the first time later in the aforementioned tour. I had camped out and gotten front row seats. He cancelled the show because of tonsillitis. The second time was to have been in the fall of 2004 during a solo acoustic tour that was cancelled after the cancer diagnosis.
The anniversary got me thinking about some of the greats we have lost, many prematurely, and what might have been had they survived. Here’s a little look back, and a tribute to those who touched all of our souls with their music.
Jimi Hendrix – one of the truly consummate musicians. Incredible performer, stellar songwriter, creative studio rat, and one hell of a guitar picker. One can only wonder what he might have accomplished, not only with the Experience, but with the Band of Gypsies and whoever else he may have worked with in a future that was not to be. His influence, however, lives on to this day. Notable protégés include Stevie Ray Vaughn and Prince.
Jim Croce – songwriter and storyteller. He had worked for years to establish himself as a singer and songwriter on the national scene. Just as major success was beckoning, his life ended prematurely in a plane crash that also took the life of his talented guitarist and co-conspirator, Maury Muehleisen. Not many could combine introspective songs about love and relationships with bawdy tales about roller derby queens and various lowlifes the way Croce could.
John Lennon – his murder was one of the true tragedies of music. Just as he was entering another creative phase in his life, an idiot whacko nut-job with a gun robbed us all of what can only be imagined.
Harry Chapin – another incredible songwriter and storyteller. From taxis to bananas to absentee fathers to W-O-L-D, Chapin would draw the listener into a different world with each song. He was an artist who truly believed in helping his fellow man, as a number of his performances each year were benefits for the World Hunger Year. I was lucky enough to see him at a solo acoustic benefit concert, where I also got to meet him, shake his hand, and get an autograph. Within months after that concert, he died in an automobile crash on Long Island.
Roy Orbison – although he didn’t die as young as some of the other legends in this column (52), his death came as a shock to all of us who were witnessing his second coming. That great voice from the 50s and 60s had found new life in both a solo career and his great band, the Traveling Wilburys. Although revered as one of the best rock singers ever, his often-underrated songwriting talents were the structure behind the voice.
Stevie Ray Vaughn – here was another great talent lost far too soon. A guitar slinger equally at home in rock and blues, Stevie made his Stratocaster sing like few others could. After bouts with drink and drugs, Stevie had cleaned up and really connected with his muse just as his life was taken from him. It’s too bad we didn’t get to keep him a while longer.
George Harrison – like Roy Orbison, he wasn’t that young when he died (58). Still, he was a Beatle, and his post-Beatles solo work and Wilburys music left high-water marks that will certainly stand the test of time. His final studio album, Brainwashed, is a wonderful and optimistic musical journey. Like Fogelberg’s Love in Time album, Harrison recorded this album with fellow Wilbury Jeff Lynne and his son, Dhani, knowing that he was dying of cancer.
I don’t mean for this column to be a downer, as the musicians mentioned herein were certainly a source of light. And they all left something of themselves that continues to inspire us (and probably will for years to come). It’s not about the length of one’s life, as a quote attributed to a number of authors simply states, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” Thank you to all those who have left us with so many breathtaking musical moments.