The Tennessean (Nashville)
Rick De Yampert ~ Staff Writer

Sunday, October 26, 1997


Dan Fogelberg is about to confess the Big One. In his new 4-CD retrospective box set, the singer-songwriter writes that he "will finally answer my most frequently asked question."

No, that question isn't  "Did 'Same Old Lang Syne' really begin as a musical joke on Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture?" (By the way, yes, it did.)

Fogelberg's most-asked question is this: "Did that accidental rendezvous with an old lover, described so poignantly in 'Same Old Lang Syne', really happen?" Now, after years of refusing to answer that question, after years of pulling a Don McLean (who's vowed never to explain American Pie), Fogelberg is ready for the first time to spill the ...

"No, I was saying I was going to answer that question for the last time!" Fogelberg says during a phone interview from his Colorado ranch, where he's recovering from a touch of bronchitis prior to his Tuesday night concert at the Ryman.

Fogelberg seems a bit horrified about this misinterpretation of his liner notes to "Same Old Lang Syne", one of 67 songs on his new anthology, titled Portrait.

"I have answered that question so much, that I wanted to put it in the liner notes so no one will ever ask me again," Fogelberg says. "It's true it actually happened. I've said it a thousand times, so now everyone can read that it's true and quit asking me that question.

"It's the most frequently asked question I've had in my entire life, other than 'Can I see your registration and driver's license?'"

That last bit is a joke, probably tossed out as a signal that he's only slightly peeved that he's had to explain the same ol' same ol' about Same Old yet again.

Of course, box sets that cover an artist's entire career, as Portrait does, are supposed to explain a lot about the artist. So it's no surprise that the press release accompanying Portrait crowed that "this is the first time ever that Fogelberg, a notoriously private man, offers his own thoughts and insights on the origins of each of the songs included here."

What is surprising is that Fogelberg admits the booklet accompanying Portrait  isn't so revealing after all.

"The biggest problem was trying to remember anything about the songs," he says. "A lot of these songs were written 20 years ago. People say, 'Well, what did this song mean?' I go, 'I don't know. That was two decades ago. How could I remember?' I actually struggled on some things just to find anything to say."

And his "notorious" privacy is still pretty much intact, though the notes to the songs "Believe In Me", "Lonely In Love" and "Seeing You Again" hint at his failed marriage.

"I didn't give a lot away, you know?" Fogelberg admits. "I'm giving a little insight about where a song was written or who it was written about, or what it was about. But you're not getting a lot of details."

That doesn't mean Portrait is without its biographical rewards. The opening essay by journalist Paul Zollo tells the Fogelberg story: Born on Aug. 13,1951. Youth spent in Peoria, Ill., with his music teacher dad and a mom who studied opera in college. Grandfather gave young Dan a guitar. Piano lessons. Beatles become an influence! Rock bands in high school. College at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, studying art and acting. Coffeehouse performing days.

Discovered by fledgling music biz manager Irving Azoff. Some time in California. First album, Home Free, recorded in Nashville, where Fogelberg lived in town but also, the bio claims, somewhere "up in the trees." Second album, Souvenirs, features the break-through hit "Part Of  The Plan". Huge success followed with such soft rock, folk rock and ballads as "Longer", "Leader Of The Band", "The Power Of Gold" and "Heart Hotels".

Along with the biography, Portrait offers some insights into Fogelberg's muse: "Make Love Stay" was inspired by novelist Tom Robbins' Still Life With Woodpecker, while "Bones In The Sky" is a tribute to artist Georgia O'Keeffe. "The River" was written "on an acid trip." "Democracy", new song, is both a tribute to John Lennon and "a comment on the hypocrisy of the Reagan-Bush years."

A comment that not much music of the Fogelberg-Gordon Lightfoot-Jimmy Buffett school seems to make it onto radio these days brings a shrug.

"I don't pay much attention to it but I'm sure you're right," Fogelberg says. "The '70s was a different time, you know. If they want to hear crap these days, let them hear crap," he says with a faint chuckle.

"The only singer-songwriters you hear on radio are girls. Well, that's fine. The '70s were like a male singer-songwriter thing, so now the girls are having their shot. Great. There are some very good women songwriters. I haven't heard any good male singer-songwriters lately."

Fogelberg's Ryman date will be a solo affair with him playing just guitar and piano. Has he played the hallowed venue before?

"I have never played the Ryman, when I lived there it wasn't allowed," Fogelberg says. "I was a long-haired hippie. They didn't allow us type of people in the Ryman."

A quick rundown of recent acts to play the Ryman from James Brown to Bruce Springsteen to alternative rocker Beck convinces Fogelberg that Music City isn't the same old lang syne.

"There you go," he says. "I guess we won, didn't we?"



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