Same old lang syne of Christmas in Peoria
Native son Dan Fogelberg clears up legend of one song

and talks about new collection

Peoria Journal Star
David Moll

December 9, 1999

Just to clear it up for the historians: Dan Fogelberg's bittersweet hit "Same Old Lang Syne" really was inspired by a Christmas Eve encounter with an "old lover at the grocery store" in Peoria. But contrary to local legend, says Fogelberg, it wasn't the Kroger on Wisconsin Avenue.

"I guess there was a 7-11 at the top of Abington Hill," the Peoria native and soft-rock household name recalled last week from his Colorado home. "Right at the top of the hill. This was about 1975 or '76. I think it was '75."

That's not quite right, according to city directories from those years, which list no 7-11 at the top of that hill (on the corner of Frye and Prospect).

But there was a Convenient store at that address, which is an easy thing to confuse with a 7-11. It's now the Short Stop Food Mart. It's probably safe to put a plaque there.

Fogelberg, the Woodruff High School graduate who ascended to fame in the '70s and early '80s with songs like "Longer," "Leader Of The Band" and "Part Of The Plan," spoke with the Journal Star from his Colorado home last week to promote his first Christmas CD, The First Christmas Morning.

Christmas albums, of course, can be cynical enterprises, cranked out by the numbers to capitalize on an automatic market. But Fogelberg, 48, says this is different.

"This is one of the goals of my life as a musician," he said. "This is definitely something I wanted to get accomplished in my lifetime."

There's reason to believe it. Of the 13 tracks on the CD, only four are what you would call well known Christmas songs. The others are obscure medieval carols, or Fogelberg originals - many of them instrumentals - that took their inspiration from that period. That's not an approach that would seem logical if you were just looking to cash in.

"I started writing original (Christmas songs) 12 years ago," Fogelberg said. "Every since then, not every year but a lot of years, I wrote an original piece each Christmas . . . I (eventually) realized I had about half a CD of original music."

Making the album, which he worked on for a year and a half, involved researching old carols to find out "what made these songs so timeless and universal."

"For one thing, they're very short," he said. "There's not a lot of complexity. There's not an 'A,' 'B,' 'C' section - just 'A' repeated . . . They didn't go in for choruses.

"Most of them were written in minor keys," he said. "I think that's kind of strange, to be writing in minor modalities . . . (for something so) celebratory. That's Europe. Maybe that's just the hangover of the Dark Ages."

The album's less experimental than it might have been. At one point, Fogelberg recorded "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" using a sitar ("too weird," he said). He also considered an acapella version of "The Seven Joys of Mary," which includes a verse about Christ's death.

"There was a whole genre (of Christmas songs) I found taking the life of Christ through to the crucifixion," he said. "Several people heard it and said, this is too disturbing."

The record company also persuaded him to add a few well known carols, such as "O Tannenbaum" and "We Three Kings." "They said, this is really great, but don't you think you should put some things on that people know?"

The finished product, he said, is less in the pop tradition than in the classical tradition he absorbed from his parents, Lawrence and Margaret Fogelberg (his song "Leader of the Band" was written for his father, a bandleader and music teacher).

"My mom heard it, and she said, "'It's a classical record.'"

Fogelberg rarely comes back to Peoria for Christmas since his father died in 1982. Some years his mother goes to Colorado. But he's got vivid memories of Christmas, Peoria-style.

His family bought their trees in the parking lot of Emo's Dairy Mart (Emo Harms was his geometry teacher at Woodruff). Every year his dad picked up an almond Danish coffee cake from Trefzger's Bakery. There was skating at Glen Oak Park.

"It was such a wonderful place to be a kid," he said. The film "A Christmas Story" - about a kid named Ralphie in '50s Middle America who schemes to make sure he gets a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas - took him straight back to Peoria, he said.

"I've seen that movie a couple of times. I said, yeah, that's it."

Fogelberg was on a Christmas Eve errand - running out for whipping cream to make Irish coffee - when he bumped into an old high school girlfriend at the 7-11 (actually the Convenient, but never mind).

As in the song, they bought a six pack and drank it in the car. ("It was Peoria on Christmas Eve. Where are you going to go?")

"I was surprised it turned into a song, because it wasn't that important a thing in my life," Fogelberg said.

Copyright © Peoria Journal Star