Fogelberg's music not an
old lang syne of his past
by David Huff
When it comes to anniversaries, Dan Fogelberg isn't that sentimental. Musically however, it's a different story. Starting his career in 1972 with the album Home Free, Fogelberg marked his five-year anniversary in the business with the brilliant Nether Lands album. In honor of his 10th year in the business, Dandy Dan unleashed his classic LP, The Innocent Age, that included the hits "Leader Of The Band," "Run For The Roses," and the timeless epic, "Same Old Lang Syne." Reaching the 15th year in the business, Fogelberg found himself faced with the personal tragedy of divorce. His thoughts and feelings would be later chronicled in the introspective LP, Exiles, a year later. But it's on the heels of Dan's 20th year in music that finds him displaying what he calls one of his proudest musical achievements, The Wild Places.
With the release of his 12th album to date, Fogelberg is embarking on a nationwide tour with his good friend, Tim Weisberg. Weisberg, for all you non-Fogelberg followers, last teamed up with Dan in 1978 when they recorded the platinum hit, Twin Sons Of Different Mothers, that featured the massive hit, "The Power Of Gold."
For at least the past ten years, Fogelberg has been retreating to his wilderness hideouts in Maine and Colorado preferring total isolation to the bustling, civilized world. It's through these escapes that Fogelberg has not only found himself, but the 'language of love' he in turn has translated into some very powerful music. It was in the natural surroundings of 'the wild places' that Dan Fogelberg truly found himself after his lonely bout with Exiles.
The following interview is a rare look inside Fogelberg's world. He's one of those rare breeds in the music business that's been able to survive its jungle warfare on his terms, and his terms alone. In every sense of the word, Dan Fogelberg is the "leader of the band." And now he's got an album to once again prove it!
Wild Places is your 12th album spanning almost two decades of music. How would you rank this album artistically as far as what you've seen or done through the years?
This album is the best thing I've done since The Innocent Age. I would rank it all the way up there. I am very proud of this project.
What particularly makes this piece of work stand out?
Let's face it, you don't hit one every time. Making albums is like going up to bat. You don't hit a home run every time, but you keep trying until you do. There are times in your life when everything comes together - the writing, the lyrics, the production, the engineering - and I just think that on this album, all those elements are very satisfying to me. This album has a great deal of spirit and my own philosophy of life in it.
In looking over the albums you released this past decade, it seems to me that you went through some periods of disenchantment with either yourself or the music business. I say that only because the only thing I really heard from Dan Fogelberg in the past ten years was the song, "The Language of Love." Did you go through some rough times in the 80's emotionally, or did the tremendous success of The Innocent Age set a disturbing precedent for you to start the 80's with thus affecting your future work?
That's a very interesting, and good, observation on your part. I would say a little bit of both really. Usually when I do something that I feel is a peak like that (The Innocent Age), I have a tendency to change direction. It's just instinctual with me. I did the same thing with Twin Sons Of Different Mothers after Nether Lands. But you know what? I like doing that. I like throwing people off the scent a little bit. I don't want to be thought of as predictable, and I don't want people to say, 'Okay, here's another Fogelberg album!' Sometimes my experiments are going to work better than others, but I am intrigued by that. I enjoy moving around and taking chances.
Was the High Country Snows LP one of those chances?
Yes. A lot of those things happen organically. That album was an idea that I had and it was time to do it. I was lucky enough to get the right players to do that project. I had no illusions that it was going to be the biggest commercial success of my career. I did that album for all the right reasons - to have fun and simply enjoy making music. In fact, it says it very clearly on that record. I have never enjoyed recording more than I did on that project. There have been other albums that have been pure torture, like Exiles. That was a very hard album to record because you are constantly reliving the painful experience you've had.
What was painful about Exiles?
It was an album about my divorce.
When you throw people off the path you've carved out, can't that be as damaging to your career as it can be healthy?
Not if you still make quality music and have a loyal audience out there who believes that your work is good. I am fortunate enough to have built a very loyal audience that is willing to go through those changes with me. The consistency of my albums has remained there for all those years though it hasn't peaked like it did for The Innocent Age. I feel very comfortable in making changes in my music because I know there are people out there listening for it.
I would think that during the two decades you've been creating music, you have had two distinct types of careers that marked the 70's and again marked the 80's. Am I off base by saying that?
The 70's was still an outgrowth of the 60's when I started making music. A lot of us who had initial successes in the 70's were an outgrowth of the Crosby, Stills & Nash/Poco country folk rock of the late 60's, early 70's. Myself, the Eagles, Jackson Browne, that's what we all came out of. We were part of the singer/songwriter boom of the early 70's. The music was commercial at that time and remained so throughout the decade.
Your career certainly took on a different twist when the 80's hit.
My career throughout the 80's was rather eccentric, and I am very proud of it. I like the fact that I had a lot of commercial hit records coupled with other albums where people's first reaction was 'What!'
Thank God for loyal audiences.
You know, I never got into the music to be the latest, greatest thing. I'm a musician because that is what I am. I will create music the way I want to whether a million people are listening or no one is listening. That's not the point of creating music. The point is following your own creative instincts.
I would think, Dan, that shock, in a musical sense, is for your close friends, not loyal audiences that have stuck with you through your own eccentricities. Do you really think it's fair to subject them to you own personal whims and moods?
Listen, if you continue to write quality songs, you can go in different directions without a fear of losing your audience. If the songwriting is good, I'm a firm believer that people will not only understand it but get into it as well.
Do you believe in causes that affect mankind? I ask that because it seems as though your album, The Wild Places, is your contribution to the environmental awareness that seems to be of major concern within the music community today.
The album certainly is, and that's why the project was so dear to me. My lifestyle has always been one that's close to the earth. I have always lived away from civilization, and the album started germinating in me a long time ago. That's kinda the reason why I like the album so much because it's like I finally made this record that's been me for so long. That's a great reward.
Your album has this upbeat type of theme to it in regards to your viewpoints on nature and its importance to society.
I wanted to make a positive contribution to environmental awareness rather than a negative one. It's very easy for any writer to be so angry and frustrated that you just start pointing fingers to show what's wrong. I felt it was important at this point in time to create an album that showed the beauty of nature so that people would re-appreciate the earth. If people appreciate the earth, maybe then they'll care a lot more about saving it and making the changes that are necessary, that are urgent, to save it.
Within the past three or four years that the music community has vigorously taken up this environmental cause, I have never seen your name associated with any special concerts, public appearances, or any organized event dealing with the environment. Why have you now decided to lend your name to the cause and make a musical statement about it?
Well, I haven't been quiet. I have been speaking out on issues for a very long time. The thing is, I'm not a very public figure.
But Dan, you are a public figure!
Yes but I don't choose to be very public. I make records so I am public in that way.
But doesn't that type of stance defeat your purpose in getting Dan Fogelberg's message across?
No it doesn't. I think the music says it all. The timing to me is not the point. I create the music. I don't live in a city where there's music business because I'm not a music business type person. That part of it is not an important part to me. I have a great many other interests other than the music business and I do my changes, I do what I can, in my own way privately more that publicly. I have done a great many benefits and interviews where I have dealt with the environment and I've tried to enlighten people.
Did your self-imposed isolation contribute to your eccentricities?
Of course, that's why I did it.
But did you need the isolation away from mankind?
Yes I absolutely do. I'm not a city-type person. I don't function well in that type of environment. I don't hate people, I just feel a lot better when I'm not around them. I have a tendency to keep to myself and make my music. I don't plan to change the world. I'd just like to help. The best way to change the world is to change yourself. It's an old cliché, but it's true. My own lifestyle reflects the changes in my life and hopefully the music communicates this.
As Exiles exposed the emotional traumas of a divorce, did it also reawaken your senses to other things around you?
Yes. When you work through something like that - a painful experience that ultimately becomes a liberating experience - then you're free to reassess your priorities which I did. I found the freedom in my life to address those parts of my life which I hadn't been able to be previously.
Did this isolation that you crave contribute to your marriage falling apart and your music going off into all sorts of directions?
No. I've always believed that I had a real clear musical purpose. The changes people go through are unpredictable in any relationship.
How long were you married?
I wasn't married for very long, but I was with this person for an awful long time. The only influence the relationship had was on Exiles. Most of the time I have been dealing with whatever I feel like dealing with.
The musical peak you have referred to in our conversation has centered around your brilliant album, The Innocent Age, which you created during the disco/urban cowboy craze of 1980. What were the circumstances surrounding that album?
That album just happened on its own. It was an amazingly creative period for me and that's why it became a double record. I just kept writing and writing and the music was flowing. Those are the times in an artist's life when you just hold on and go. It wasn't anything that I really planned, but as I was turning 30, it became an important philosophical point in my life that was translating itself into a lot of music and I just went with it. It was a very difficult record to make and there were a lot of other circumstances involved with it. I'm very proud of that and again, that was an album that I felt I fully realized, and you don't get the outburst of inspiration everyday. So, when those periods come about, you learn as you get older to really appreciate them and make them the best that they can be.
I think the reason I've always been endeared to that album was because of the song, "Same Old Lang Syne." I could easily envision myself being in the same situation you were in throughout the song. Did the song's story really happen to you?
Absolutely. It was 1976 and I was at my parents' house in Illinois. I had gone out to get some whipping cream at 7 -11 for a Christmas Eve dinner and I ran into my high school girlfriend who I haven't seen in ages. What I said in that song really happened. She spilled her purse, we had a beer, and it really wasn't that big of a deal at the time, but it made a wonderfully romantic song.
Listening to that song brought about a flood of memories of what could have been, and what could never be. Was it that strong for you?
You know what's funny is a lot of people have come up to me and said they've had similar things happen to them. I really had intended to write the song as a joke when I put the lyrics together because is sounded kind of silly, but as it evolved, it turned out to be a pretty good song.
Do you have to be in a particular mood or setting in order to create?
Not necessarily. I do most of my writing at home in Colorado. Since I have my own recording studio now, I find that I do a lot more creating there as opposed to the music room I used to have where I'd go in and write. You never know when a song is going to hit. Sometimes I'll mess around and get nothing done. Sometimes I do.
Do you see the world a different set of eyes because you're a successful musician and money is not a prevalent object that can disrupt your life like it does ordinary people who aren't privy to your world?
Perhaps, but an artistic vision is created at a very early age before any trappings of success or failure have any bearing on it. I hope that I've been able to stay loyal to that vision that I saw so many years ago as a child, and kept my heart and my instincts true to it as well. Anything else that happens, success or otherwise, doesn't make any difference. Believe me, being successful causes just as many problems as being unsuccessful. It's an old cliché, but it's true. It can be just as distracting having money as it can be not having it. Money is always the effect, not the cause, of why I create music. I have created music on food stamps and I have created music as a millionaire and I really don't see much difference. It's the same struggle and the same process. The real struggle is to stay clear of that altogether and to stay as honed in on that artistic, creative impulse as you can.
It would seem to me that a hit album can do as much damage as it can good for an artists because it sets the public's expectations of you at a higher than normal level, thus your work is scrutinized closer than it ever was before. Have you been aware of that in your career and has it ever bothered you?
Sure. When you get a really successful album, the biggest problem you find yourself facing is following that up. Music, your best work, comes in cycles. It doesn't happen all the time and you realize as time goes on that you're going to have to wait for that inspiration to come again. But, you have to keep working as an artist, and that's what I have done. The process of working will eventually lead you to that peak again. I think more than anything that it's the fact that when you have a successful album, people have a tendency to pigeon-hole you and expect you to do the same type of music. That's something that I have avoided doing. For better or worse, I think that viewpoint has given me a longevity that I might not otherwise have had.
Because you didn't set any particular precedent with your work throughout the 80's, did that make The Wild Places that much more of an enjoyment for you to create?
Yes it did. It was like I was conjuring up there in the mountains. It's like sitting on an egg and no one knows what's going to come out of it. I enjoyed that. I enjoyed getting letters from people asking 'What's coming, what's going to be next?' I enjoyed that album very much.
Because you touch so many emotional chords in people through your music, is that impact you have bothersome in any way?
If anything, it bothers my personal life a little bit because you get intrusions from people who act like they know you, or think that they know you, through your music. It doesn't bother me so much as it does the people around me. People can get so hung up in your music that they think they know you when they really don't at all and might do things that rationally they'd never do. We've had people showing up that we don't want to see at our home. I'm isolated for a purpose because I want the privacy. I know that most people have very good intentions, but it does bother me that they'd go to that extent to intrude.
They're not doing it to be harmful.
Some of it can be. That's what John Lennon thought.
From the The Innocent Age to the Greatest Hits to Windows And Walls, the sound of Dan Fogelberg seems to be going along smoothly. Suddenly, in 1985, you released a country/bluegrass album called High Country Snows, which was completely off the wall for you. Why?
Greatest Hits was something that happened really quick. CBS did that. They asked me to cut a couple of tracks for the package and I said okay. It was released in the fall of '82. The next year I worked Windows And Walls and it was released in January 1984. High Country Snows was a breathing space for me. After Innocent Age, and Windows And Walls, I felt as though I was in a rut trying to create the same type of stuff and better myself after The Innocent Age. It was very difficult if not impossible. High Country Snows was something that just cleared the air. I decided I was going to do it for fun. I wasn't going to worry about the critics or how much it would sell. I was just going to go in there and have fun making a record with friends, something people wouldn't suspect. It was a good time to clear out the cobwebs for me.
The reason I asked about that was Neil Young seemed to find himself in the same kind of situation in the 80's alone.
Well Neil jumps around a whole lot and I respect him for that. Neil just basically doesn't give a shit. When he has a record, there it is, period. He's true to what he wants to do.
Did you ever feel you were out of place musically in the past and that perhaps you were two steps ahead instead of two steps behind?
No I didn't. Like I said, I don't really live that close to the music business and I really don't pay enough attention to it to know what people are doing. I am vaguely aware of what the newest trend is and such. I have always been true to the visions in front of me and my own work. If anything, I'd seen the creation of The Wild Places five or six years ago.
You had the idea for the album that long?
Yeah, that's when the seed started germinating in my head and I started writing for it. This has been a long term project. At the time, I couldn't figure out why no one else could see this, and I felt at the time I was a voice crying out in the darkness because no one else was doing it. Now, in the process of the last couple of years, there has been a great ground swelling of environmental consciousness around the planet, which is very gratifying. At that point, perhaps people had already caught up to the vision that I had already seen quite a while ago. It's ironic that now people have said to me, 'Well, now you're jumping on the environmental bandwagon.'
Was Exiles the album you made to purge yourself of a very difficult period in your life?
Yes. It helped me get back on track and refocus myself on music. That album had to be done. It was a way for me to get beyond that period. For an artist to be able to write about that is great because once it's done, it's done, and you've cleaned your system out of it. It's not something that I ever wanted to do, but it was necessary for it to be done.
Have you ever thought that in the past, you were in the right place but it was the wrong time?
No. I think that I have been pretty well in tune with where I've been and the times I've been in. I don't pay enough attention to other people's work and the commercial side of the music business too.
Was the commercial aspect of music one of the reasons you chose isolation over population?
It wasn't conscious. The thing is, I've never been comfortable living around people in cities. I grew up in Peoria, Illinois, and it is a real small town that still has that rural feel to it. It is not the pulse of the nation like Chicago I did spend two years in Los Angeles, but I felt like a fish out of water there. I have always felt more comfortable in the country, so I made my choice early on where to live my life. It just seems that in order for me to do my best creative work, I need to be removed from the tensions and pressures of the industry.
I'm not a connoisseur of Dan Fogelberg music, but would it be wrong for me to say that in the early part of your career, you were more concerned about the world within Dan Fogelberg than the one that was surrounding you on the outside?
No, not at all. When you're young and in your 20's, you have a tendency to do that anyway because you're searching for yourself, you're searching for an identity. I think everyone does that. Once you hit your 30's, and then head for your 40's, you hopefully will have established that identity inside yourself and move on to deal with other things.
You jump back and forth from touring solo to having a band backing you. Is there a reason for that?
I make a lot of different styles of music, and it depends on the album really. If I make an album that really stands up as a solo performance, then I will do it that way. For the most part I do jump back and forth. I'll do one year with a band for a particular record and then I'll go out and play acoustic on the old stuff, the retrospective music. I think it's interesting for the fans to do that because it's not the same show. To me it is difficult to put a band together and go out and do something that's interesting. It would be like rehashing the same show, whereas the solo show, I have a lot of latitude to change with a lot of different material from the past because I'm not there promoting an album.
Classic radio has become a dominating force in the music industry the past couple of years, and you have very much become a staple of it. Does that bother you that Dan Fogelberg's past is more interesting than his present, or is that the challenge you need to disprove all the critics who feel you've passed your prime?
I don't know radio that well, and that's the truth. I know I get played a lot on the adult contemporary stations. That to me is where I get the most airplay. But yes, it does challenge me to produce music that I think most deservedly should get attention.
Have you purposely stayed out of the limelight the past ten years?
I don't talk to the press much. I purposely keep to myself, as I've said, my privacy is more important to me than being on the cover of the National Enquirer or something. I think if my music is good, then that's enough. I don't owe anybody my private life. I'm public with my music and I have a life of my own, so I avoid the limelight.
Is there a difference between an artist and a musician?
That's a tough question because you can argue that all night.
Where do you fit in then?
I would hope that I'm an artistic musician. Mind you, there are people out there that call themselves artists that don't deserve the label. They aren't creating art, they're creating commercial pop music, which to me is not an art form. Jazz music is an art form, but again, we could go on all night on this subject.
Let me ask you this. With the world populated by Bon Jovis, Skid Rows, Warrants and Poisons, have you ever found yourself second guess your own role in music?
No, in fact, I've never felt stronger about my role in music. I think that my goals are very clear and important. The fact that those people are so popular means that the people that can say something and do something to affect a real change or try to reach people and use music on a higher plane are even more important now.
Have you relied in the past on your music becoming too much your own therapy than simply writing it to enjoy it?
Perhaps, but in the process of doing it, and yes, I thought I have, but in the process of doing that, you come to find that you have been therapeutic for so many other people, that's the reward, that's the justification. There are so many people that I meet or get letters from that say certain songs have really helped them through something or that this was the time in my life that I really needed to hear this and you said it for me. That's a great regard for an artist to have that communication and help people.
As I'm sitting here asking you questions, I feel as though I'm a psychiatrist getting into your head to reveal yourself so that in turn, I can explain it to others. In a sense, aren't you doing the same thing with the songs you create?
Yeah, I think so. You're dealing with the psyche and you're dealing with the concept between the intellect and the emotional self. A lot of people don't have the gift to be able to express that. They can feel it but they can't express it, therefore music becomes the vehicle by which they can express that.
Do you try to set any particular standard with your work?
I hope they're high. I am always trying to do better, any artist does. Sometimes you're more successful than others, but I hope that I can keep some level of objectivity in my work. I have written a lot of songs that I haven't recorded because I didn't feel as though they were the best work that I can do.
When did you come to terms with the word success?
Do we ever? That's an ongoing struggle. Success to me is more a personal than financial thing. Fame and fortune is always an affect rather than a cause. You can figure it a lot of ways, but to me, the first real success I ever got was when I got a record deal. A lot of people will try and try and never get one. I'll tell you, the day I got that in my pocket, I felt as though I was a success.
The society we live in, regardless of what anyone thinks, is built around money and the ongoing struggle to earn it, and earn a lot of it. Most people grapple with that issue their whole lives. As a musician, you really experience the highs and lows of the word money because of your given profession. Once you've overcome the struggle through successful records, songs and tours and you finally achieve financial security, it opens up a whole new can of worms. That's what I meant by coming to terms with the word success.
Well, I'll tell you what. Yes I have come to terms with success. To me, success is beyond the things you spoke about. Success is coming to terms with your own life in relation to the planet. To find a harmonious place in yourself where you can be happy and successful in your mind - that's your relationship with God. To me, I find God through my relationship with nature. That's been my religion. You are right though. I think if a lot of people can attain everything, you know, "what is a vain man to gain in the world to lose his soul?" To me, that's the ultimate success in this, finding that relationship. I would think a lot of people would be afraid to see that part of life because it doesn't quite jive with their definition of success in the material world. Or they haven't taken the time to really look at it. These people have made choices or are letting people make choices for them. I think it takes a certain strength to make that change in the face of public opinion, in the face of pressures of society. That's ultimately the choice to make deciding when it's time to follow that path and go down it no matter what's going to happen. That takes a lot of courage.
When did Dan Fogelberg find that courage?
At a pretty early age. I've always had a fairly direct sense of where I was going even as a child because I was an artist, a painter, before I became a musician. I've always had some sort of thing pulling me towards that spiritual quest, towards that creative struggle. I've always just "done it." Some people find it later in life. I was lucky, or unlucky, to find it very young.
Was your very first album, Home Free, in 1972, an experiment for you, or another avenue for an artist to explore?
I think it was an experiment. I was growing up into music appreciation. The album was a step away from pop music because its inspiration came from the great classics. I was trying to create music in that type of mode. In fact, I not only wanted to say something larger with my music, but say it in a more grandiose, classical way. It was a neat experiment to be able to try and integrate that into a pop situation.
Early on in your career, you set an early tone for the type of artist you would be with your caring, thoughtful lyrics and your insight into the world in and around you. As you look back, do you ever regret the decision you made because of the effects it had on your later in your career?
The only thing that I think my decisions pigeon-holed was the fact that radio really exposed me as a balladeer and I did a lot more than that. I did different things with Twin Sons Of Different Mothers. I did a bluegrass project. I did a lot of rock and roll. That bothers me that in the early 80's, and probably even still, a lot people think of me as a soft rock balladeer and I have a lot more to say as a musician than that.
It's interesting how some bands are labeled experimental, breakthrough artists with the music they create, like the Talking Heads, but once someone like yourself has a major hit with a song, that style of music, the category it falls into, always stays in the public's mind. If you travel outside of that success you've created, you are considered crazy for taking your music in that direction.
I know, it's like 'How dare you tamper with your success? We won't allow it!'
It's amazing the kinds of impressions people will carry with them of an artist whose music has struck a chord within them. It's like if you change, they'll change, and a lot of people are scared to face it.
Well, that's okay. You know what, people are pretty well pigeon-holed by the media on what they're supposed to think of good and bad. It's been that way since the creation of music. There was a big essay written by the composer Haydn in the 18th century just railing against critics saying it wasn't fair for them to say 'This is all I do blah, blah, blah.' It's the same old story 200 years later.
Do you feel you're compelled to play your past hits whenever you set out on the road in order to satisfy your audiences appetite and then ease them in to your newer stuff?
Yes, and I think you owe that to an audience. We as artists would love to say 'Listen, here's the new stuff and that's all we're going to play because I'm sick to death of the old stuff.' People pay good money to come out and see you, and money is not easy to come by. People want to hear those songs that are their favorites. I know that Neil Young refuses to play half his old stuff most of the time, and I disagree with that. I could see that it would be a lot more fun as a musician to do that, but I think it would be selfish. I think you're out there to share something with these people. They have shelled out their hard-earned cash to come see you and you do owe them your past. After all, it's the success of your past that allows you to continue to work in the future.
Do you think your fans are going to understand The Wild Places?
I absolutely do. I haven't had as much positive feedback on an album since The Innocent Age. I can't tell you how many people have come up to me and said this album was exactly what they were waiting for. I'm really happy about that.
Did you need to experience the emotional pains, and gains of albums like Windows And Walls, High Country Snows, and Exiles in order to reach the music of The Wild Places?
Absolutely. That was all part of the artistic growth that led up to this one. I seem to go through five year periods of time making by high and low points, then suddenly, boom, you get an album that's exactly the way you wanted it to be. None of those albums you mentioned were except for High Country Snows.
The agony and the ecstasy of making music?
No kidding. It was a long process and painful, but I was not going to let it go until it was absolutely what I wanted it to be, and it finally was. I'm as proud of this album as anything I've ever done.