death of Dan Fogelberg the other day hit me surprisingly
prime I was a huge fan of Fogelberg’s music. His albums
Phoenix and The Innocent Age were staples of my
formative years. I was such a fan that I still remember –
and this is going to date me a bit – smuggling a cassette
tape into a department store so I could dub their copy of
Fogelberg’s song “Part of the Plan” on a floor model of a
stereo with a dual cassette deck. (Okay, I was a cheap
kid. I’ll admit it. But it was the only time I ever did
anything like that and I later did legitimately purchase the
song in several formats – so please don’t sic the Fogelberg
estate on me.)
years I had lost track of Fogelberg’s music somewhat, but I
pulled some out after his death. The depth and quality of
his musicianship and his songwriting struck me anew. This
was a prodigiously talented man.
discussed Fogelberg’s death later with my hipster music
friends, most of them had nothing but good things to say
about the man – but they all tended to make a proviso
distancing themselves from his music. “Not a fan – but
still very sad…,” was the standard response. Or, “That's
a shame. He wasn’t bad, a little sappy for my
the thing is, he really wasn’t.
take more than a cursory glance at his body of work, you’d
know that he was so much more than that. He was an
inventive, polished, creative and imaginative song stylist.
wrote some of the most literary lyrics of his time. Check
out the words of “Same Old Lang Syne” again sometimes, it is
nearly breath-taking the way he was able to simply but
dramatically tell a musical short story, full of heartbreak,
humor and loss.
as the soft-rock stigma which had dogged Fogelberg over the
decades – well check out “Face the Fire,” “Phoenix” and “The
Power of Gold” and tell me he couldn’t rock out sometimes.
meantime, lots of bands which are considered to have
hard-rock cred are often just as soft as anything that
Fogelberg recorded during his career.
– a good band, granted – has spent the last couple of
decades performing music that is much sappier than anything
Dan Fogelberg ever wrote. (“Life’s a journey, not a
destination,” anyone?) How long do they get a free pass as
bad boys for their early music, which is over thirty years
is also notorious for their hackneyed lyrics. Try actually
reading the words to “Never Say Goodbye” sometime. That
song has more clichés packed into a few minutes than a
Hallmark convention – often mixing two or more clichés into
a single line. Yet, again, they are still considered to be
tough while Fogelberg is treacle.
along the line did Dan Fogelberg slip from being cutting
edge to the punch line of a Denis Leary joke?
it that it has been deigned by someone – God knows who –
that we are allowed to like Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull and
Guns’N’Roses but not allowed to listen to John Denver,
Olivia Newton-John and Huey Lewis and the News? Really, is
there that much difference between Radiohead and Del Amitri?
So why is one still constantly lauded while the other has
faded back into obscurity? Why is Liz Phair circa-Exile
in Guyville hip, yet Liz Phair circa-“Why Can’t I?”
prefer to listen to ABBA than Led Zeppelin. Is that so
even saying that I don’t like Led Zeppelin. Much of their
music is very good. I’m just saying that they do not play
as big a place in my life or likes. If one of their songs
comes on the radio, I usually could care less one way or the
other – because they are always on the radio. I never get
the rush of recognition and joy from one of their songs that
I would if I heard, say, “S.O.S.” or “Does Your Mother Know”
hate being force-fed the company line of who I am supposed
to enjoy. The music Nazis have decided that you are
supposed to deify Zep and yet if you like ABBA you are
either out-of-touch, European or gay. I am none of those
three (although I suppose the first two could be argued).
I’m just a person who respects songcraft over histrionics.
you get on your high horse – I do love rock music. I am in
no way saying that pop music is intrinsically more
satisfying than a good pounding power chord. I have music
in my collection that could make your ears bleed and when
I’m in the mood there is nothing better.
as hits versus obscurities, I love hundreds of bands that
I’m sure you’ve never heard of. I have written two books
about musicians who are most-certainly cult artists. I
totally respect artists who are independent in their
outlooks and their execution.
certainly not complaining about people liking bands that I
don’t particularly. Quite to the contrary, anything you
like is great. Please give me the same courtesy.
decided that anyone has any right to judge anyone else’s
tastes? Art is supposed to be
subjective – either you get it or you don’t. So if you
don’t like… say, Barry Manilow… no big deal.
Don't listen to him. There are
plenty of people who do. And frankly, they don’t have any
interest or need to hear your judgments on their choice.
what you love. If you’d like to try to introduce someone to
music you think they have missed – more power to you. Music
is about sharing and experiencing, so feel free.
if the tastes don’t dovetail with yours, just deal with it.
Just don’t judge if people like songs which may not be
quote-unquote cool. That kind of attitude is the thing
which is not cool.
example, there was a scene in the 1999 movie version of
High Fidelity which pretty much crystallized all that I
hate about these attitudes.
Black was playing the counter guy in a Chicago used record
store. A middle-aged “square” came up to his character,
wanting to buy the song “I Just Called To Say I Love You” by
Stevie Wonder – because it was his daughter’s favorite
song. And Black’s character refused to sell it to him –
mocking him for his bad musical taste and claiming that the
guy couldn’t know his daughter that well because it was
impossible for her to actually like the song.
“I Just Called…” isn’t one of Stevie’s great moments – but
who the hell was the worker to mock the guy for wanting to
purchase it? Particularly since it wasn’t even for him, he
was buying it for his daughter...
you're saying, well that's just a movie. However, it
happens in real life. About a decade ago, I used to
frequent to a well-known local used record store. I bought
dozens of 45s and albums from the guy who owned it. I even
allowed him to make
some suggestions when I was working to compile a CD
for national release on a major label – so the guy knew I
times in the last months that I went there to purchase 45s,
he looked at them smirkingly and
told me to just take them, like he
was getting rid of his garbage. (For the record, those two
45s were “Pull Up to the Bumper” by Grace Jones and “Hey
Deanie” by Shaun Cassidy.)
bud, you are in business to sell records. You think your
holier-than-thou attitude hurt me?
I got things I was willing to pay for – FOR FREE. And I
stopped going to your store and you’ve lost over a decade of
my purchases. So who is the loser in this scenario?
are some positive signs that this type of snobbery is going
away. 80s and 90s superstar R&B singer-songwriter-producer
Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds – who granted is far from being
considered hip anymore – recently released Playlist,
the obligatory CD of covers of some of the songs which
instead of going to the obvious sources – the Marvin Gayes,
the James Browns, the Philly Internationals – Babyface did
something daring. He picked a line-up of soft rock
singer/songwriters – most of whom could hardly be considered
hip. Therefore he recorded songs by the likes of James
Taylor, Bread, Jim Croce, David Loggins … and, yes, Dan
Fogelberg. Even when he took on songwriters who were
considered icons, he recorded some of their most mellow
moments – Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight” and Bob Dylan’s
“Knocking on Heaven’s Door” – the songs that those artist’s
hardcore followings consider to be sell-outs.
the great things about music is that there is something for
every taste. So I won’t mock you for listening to Metallica
– which I personally consider to be a tuneless thud, but I
respect your right to bang your head and slit your wrists to
it – and you don’t give me a hard time for liking Peabo
Bryson or Cheap Trick.
nothing in the world more boring than a music snob.
all get along?