The anniversary of Dan Fogelberg’s passing during the holiday season reminded me of the first time I heard his song, “Same Old Lang Syne.” In 1980, I was a young college student and musician, already a Fogelberg fan, when I heard that now-familiar opening piano riff. The song had a great story, and was the perfect companion for my holiday melancholy.

You see, no matter how effectively Dan could emote and convey those feelings of longing (and even though the song was based on a real-life encounter with an old girlfriend), I already knew that he was faking just a bit. Dan had a great life. He had released a series of popular records, each one more successful than the last. He was a killer guitarist (still underrated) and keyboardist, as well as a fine singer and songwriter. He performed with A-list musicians who were eager to do justice to his songs. He had his ranch in Colorado and his coastal home in Maine. He had a social conscience. He was even considered as a replacement for Bernie Leadon in the Eagles before Joe Walsh took the job.

When I bought the single (45 RPM record, for those who remember), the sleeve boldly announced that the song was from the forthcoming album, The Innocent Age. I would have to wait nearly a year before that album would be released. In the interim, my parents and I had just had a big falling out over why I wasn’t supporting Ronald Reagan for President. On December 8, 1980, John Lennon was murdered. His death cast a pall on that entire holiday season. The innocent age had ended long before the record came out.

The Innocent Age record, however, proved to be one of those albums I just couldn’t put away. Most have heard the hits: “Hard To Say,” “Leader of the Band,” “Run for the Roses.” But there were so many other songs on that record that showed Fogelberg was at his peak. It was late fall or early winter of 1981 that I attended my only Dan Fogelberg concert (not for my lack of trying, however). Some friends of mine and I had scored upper level seating at the Omni in Atlanta, where Dan and his band of A-list talent showed how to both rock the joint and captivate 20,000 people with just an acoustic guitar. Although he had no way of knowing it, Fogelberg was one of my musical mentors during my formative years.

A little later during the same tour, I found out that Fogelberg was coming to my college (University of South Carolina). Being young and having the time, I camped out for tickets, spending the frosty evening under the box office window at Carolina Coliseum. My efforts were rewarded with front row seats.

Fast forward to the day of the show, and I hear on the radio that Dan has cancelled that night’s performance because of throat problems. Damn.

Fast forward to 2003. Dan released his first album of new material in many years. Full Circle was the album’s name, and it does indeed feel like Fogelberg went back to his earlier years for inspiration and had come full circle. In fact, some of the songs were ones he had been working on for well over a couple of decades and just completed for the album.

In 2004, Dan announced a solo tour for the fall, and the Broward Center for the Performing Arts was one of the stops scheduled along the way. With the advent of the Internet, I wouldn’t have to camp out for good seats. Unfortunately, Dan’s health again got in the way. In August of 2004, Fogelberg announced that he had been diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, and that the fall tour had been cancelled so that he might seek treatment. A year later, and there was good news. It seemed that Fogelberg had the cancer in at least partial remission.

Relatively nothing had come out of the Fogelberg camp until the announcement that he passed away on December 16, 2007 at age 56. There’s nothing that makes a person feel old as when his or her mentors or heroes start dying off. Playing those old Fogelberg songs at my acoustic gigs has remained a bittersweet experience, especially during the holidays.

John Bartus is a singer/songwriter, former Mayor of Marathon, as well as a Chamber Board member and president of the Rotary Club of Marathon. Catch John Thursdays at Sparky’s Landing, this Friday at Hawks Cay Resort, and Saturday with Storm Watch at the Sunset Grille & Raw Bar.

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