New Album Suggests Dan Fogelberg's Still Natural Man

Rocky Mountain News
Drew Litton

October 23, 1990

He's gone from the Netherlands to The Wild Places. And in doing so, singer-songwriter Dan Fogelberg has returned to the level that made him one of the most respected singer/songwriters of the 1970s.

Unlike his somewhat self-absorbed albums of the late '80s, Fogelberg's latest release from CBS records, The Wild Places, is an effort to communicate his love of nature, American Indian spirituality and concern for the planet. In a phone interview from his summer home in Maine, Fogelberg spoke about the album.

"In all the songs I touch upon the wild places in one way or another. I don't want to call it a concept record because I don't think it's that. It goes in too many directions to do that. But there's a theme running through this album. It's my love of nature and our need to return to a relationship of harmony with nature," Fogelberg said.

"I really tried on this album consciously not to just harp on my own anger and bitterness and frustration over the fact that we continue down this juggernaut of technology at the cost of our own planet. I tried to bring people to a reappreciation. I tried to show what is still beautiful, what is still amazing and miraculous about living this life on the planet."

From his high school days when he spent time playing guitar while sitting on rocks overlooking the Illinois River, through his move to Colorado in the early '70's and more recently to his homes in Maine and New Mexico, Fogelberg has long maintained an affection for the outdoors. His love for those places permeates the entire record.

The most notable influence on The Wild Places seems to come from New Mexico, where Fogelberg and his fiancee, Anastasia Savage, spend a good deal of time. The songs "The Spirit Trail" and "Bones in the Sky" stem directly from his exposure to Sante Fe and Taos.

"Bones in the Sky", a stirring tribute to painter Georgia O'Keeffe is arguably one of the best songs ever written by Fogelberg.

"It's probably my favorite on the album. It's one of those songs that's very dear to me," he said. "Towards the end of (O'Keeffe's) life, Anastasia was her private nurse and . . . though (O'Keeffe) was quite old and feeble, there was still this incredible spirit inside of her that would come out when she would allow it to.

"The grandeur of this old woman and how long her life had spanned and the commitment she had to her art and to the wild places and living her life dedicated to the spirit and to her her art - in many ways that's how I relate to my own existence."

O'Keeffe never got the chance to hear the tribute before her death in 1988. ''I would have loved to have gone in and played piano for her just to help ease the pain, but unfortunately I wasn't allowed to," he added regretfully.

This album also contains a couple of cover versions: "Rhythm of the Rain" (a 1963 hit for the Cascades) and Bruce Cockburn's "Lovers in a Dangerous Time". Much like his hit "Same Old Lang Syne", which began while he was playing the 1812 Overture with a 7th chord thrown in, the genesis of "Rhythm" was an accident.

"I was skiing one day and I heard this old song in my head but I heard it with this R&B, Otis Redding-type groove." Having just built a recording studio as an addition to his ranch, Fogelberg now has easy studio access. "So I went down, programmed the drum machine, put a bass on it, laid down the keyboards, sang and put a little string part on it. I liked it; said: 'That's cool. I don't know if I'll ever use this for anything but I'll put this away for the archives.' "

Then the band showed up at the ranch to cut The Wild Places. He brought out the tape, everyone liked it and the track - which fades out with a snatch of Lennon and McCartney's "Rain" - became a part of the album.

It is the album's first single and is currently receiving a good deal of airplay. "It's a simple fact that all they (radio) want is dance music. It's unfortunate that songwriters have to put out stuff like "Rhythm of the Rain" which I'm not ashamed of, but I certainly have done better work than that. I would much rather that my good work be heard by people in place of something that the record company feels is more commercial."

At the other end of the spectrum is "Lovers in a Dangerous Time".

"I'm such a fan of Bruce Cockburn and I really feel like he's one of my heroes. I was working on The Wild Places when (Cockburn's) Big Circumstances came out and I went, 'wow . . . this guy takes no prisoners. God bless him.' ''

As Fogelberg continues to mature both as an artist and a person, his music seems to be reflecting that. With his personal life intact - what he describes as "the best relationship I've ever had" - he appears to be moving on to other subject matter.

"I have a great deal of respect for people who are willing to lay their careers on the line for their beliefs and I find myself more and more writing towards that end rather than towards the middle of the road. I really have dealt with my own love life more than enough. I think I've done that to death and I really think there's more important issues to be dealt with."

Having a home recording studio has contributed to his creative output.

"I've already recorded about four songs for the next album and I'm getting pretty political. Edward Abby once said it's an artist's responsibility to criticize the society in which he lives. That's why we're here. As I get older it does become more of a responsibility to open people's eyes.

"The Wild Places took three years but that was while we were building the studio. Now that it's running and functioning and we know what we're doing, I think we can actually produce stuff a lot faster. So the next one should only take 2 1/2."

If it at all approaches the heights attained in The Wild Places it should be well worth the wait.