A serial memoir by Jean Fogelberg


They say, “With age comes wisdom.” Unfortunately, with age comes emotional baggage as well, and baggage outweighs wisdom even on the best of days. When I met Dan in 1996, he had a matched set of mental luggage bursting with trust issues. 

      His first betrayal happened in high school, at the hands of his band, The Clan. David Backstrom's family was moving, so he was going to have to leave the band. He was John Lennon to Dan’s Paul McCartney, and they were best friends, so his absence would be deeply felt on many levels.

The Clan goofing around

      After David moved, the change triggered talk of reorganization. Dan got a call telling him there was going to be a meeting at the drummer, Johnny Mabee’s, house. This was unusual, because Dan was the recognized leader of the band, so he usually called the meetings.

      His parents drove him to the Mabee house and waited in the car while Dan went in. The boys were there, along with their parents. This too was out of the ordinary: parents didn’t usually attend meetings. But, since they drove the boys to gigs and helped with collecting money and overseeing events, they were considered part of the organization. The Mabees let the band rehearse at their house, and they put a lot of time and effort into their gigs, while Dan’s parents had nothing to do with any of it. This is probably the reason they decided that, from now on, their son Johnny would be the leader of the band.

      Dan was completely caught off guard. He and Wayne handled the bookings, rentals and band business. As far as he was concerned, Johnny just looked cute and played the drums.

      The boys all remained silent while the adults told Dan how it was going to be. Feeling confused, betrayed, and ganged up on, he quit the band and walked out of the house, shaking. He got back in the car, visibly upset, and told Larry and Margaret what had happened. Larry wanted to go in and give those parents a piece of his mind, but Dan said no, he just wanted to go home. 

      Dan was deeply scarred by the betrayal of his friends and bandmates. When he told me this story, I gave him a big hug. For the first time, I was glad my childhood friends had chosen the less confrontational method of a note in my locker.


Word of Dan’s exodus spread through the local music grapevine quickly. He was invited to join a band called The Coachmen, who had opened for the Dave Clark Five. Dan was thrilled and said yes, but he had three conditions: he was tired of playing lead guitar while singing lead vocals - he just wanted to sing; he refused to wear the homemade “Paul Revere and the Raiders” outfits; and they had to get a better drummer.  

      Robyn Sleeth was one of the best drummers in town and they brought him on board. They now had their Paul and Ringo. With the addition of two new members, they renamed themselves The New Coachmen. It was the start of a life-long friendship with bandmate Jon Asher.

The NEW Coachmen

The "New" Coachmen. The song was actually called "Maybe Time WILL Let Me Forget."

    The band consisted of Dan, Jon Asher, Tom Cain, Terry Walters and Robyn Sleeth. Dan was getting into CSN, Buffalo Springfield and Neil Young, so he started bringing their music in to rehearsals, as well as some of his own songs. He bought a fringe jacket like the ones Neil Young and David Crosby were wearing, and felt so cool. 
    Dan was small for his age; shorter than most of his classmates by a few inches. He had severe chronic acne as well, and could easily have become withdrawn. Instead, he threw himself into the campus spotlight, performing with his bands, acting in plays, and competing in state and national events. 

Individual Events

    In the 1968 Talisman Yearbook he appears with the Actors’ Guild, National Thespians, Latin Club, French Club, German Club, Art Service Guild and ads for Jefferson Bank and Steak 'n Shake. The language club memberships are suspicious, though: in the German Club photo Dan is wearing glasses and making a funny face - he and a friend had decided to see how many yearbook photos they could get into.

German Club
Steak 'n Shake ad

      By his early twenties he had shot up to five feet, eleven inches tall. A dermatologist’s injections cleared up the acne, but his face and shoulders would bear the scars for the rest of his life, a reminder of all he’d overcome.


    The first time Dan wore his fringe jacket on stage with The Coachmen, some guy in the audience shouted, “Hey, look! It’s Davy Crockett!” He was getting used to this kind of reaction: as he emulated his idols in the west, he met resistance in the midwest. Peoria was a conservative place and, as his hair grew longer and he started wearing jeans and hip clothes, he encountered conservative backlash, both mild and harsh.

      One time a wrestling coach grabbed Dan’s hair (grown down to his collar, Beatles-style) and pulled him out of a basketball line-up. He dragged Dan to the principal’s office and had him expelled, telling him, “Don’t come back until you get a haircut.” Larry Fogelberg didn’t like the coach, or how he’d manhandled his son, so he supported Dan when he decided to wait four days before getting the haircut. The truancy was a mild form of protest, but one that wasn’t lost on Dan’s friends. He enjoyed his new rebel status. 
    Dan was born with a stubborn streak. Once he’d made his mind up about something, he could not be swayed. Expulsions and ridicule did nothing to diminish his love for all things related to the popular music scene. It was the late 60s - the whole country was growing their hair long and protesting. The Indian Nehru jackets the Beatles wore were all the rage, as were jackets with fringe (the longer the better) and suede moccasins. The Coachmen followed these trends, with Terry’s mom making the Nehru jackets.

    Dan was a good student and kept his grades up, but his heart was in performing; through both music and acting. 


At a state-wide drama competition in the summer of 1968, Dan met a girl from Glenbrook South High School named Donna Gibbons. He’d had girlfriends before, but this was his first big romance. It was love at first sight, and Dan fell hard. He had been offered scholarships to a number of schools, but decided on the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. They had a good drama department, but the main reason he chose to go there was because Donna would be in the drama program there as well. They both reserved off-campus housing in Champaign, and talked often of the good times they were going to have, free of parents.


    The next year would pass slowly - it was 165 miles from Peoria to Glenview and, at seventeen, Dan wasn’t allowed to drive that far. Donna was only sixteen, so they wrote letters and called each other frequently.


      Dan’s letters are full of the intense adolescent longings of first love. Donna’s are that of a sixteen-year-old girl who is infatuated but not ready to commit - she would declare her love for him and then gently push him away. He could only see the declarations of love, though; he couldn’t read between the lines to see that she wanted him to back off a bit.

      He begged his parents to allow him to drive to a Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 concert near Glenview; Donna would meet him there. Larry and Margaret gave in, so he bought the tickets and counted the hours. Donna backed out, a week before the concert.

    Dear Dan,
    This is Donna. I have just been talking with my parents - they say that 16 years old is very very young. They also think that right now I do not have the right to drive our car at night. Well, my idea - introduced and brainwashed into me by the parents is for you not to come next weekend. Hell, Dan, I hate to say that, you know I do. But I am not getting engaged or any crap, they say - you and me are friends + do not need to see each other desperately, they say. They are ok on the idea of you visiting here - fine! dandy! But “here” means my house, and it is so damn boring around here I could not even think of it. It’d be really worthless and I won’t be here any time anyway! Besides, I have to work all day the 13th Saturday. Dan - you know I want you to come. But it’s not such a fine idea right now. I hope I didn’t break your big red balloon - But I think I did. It’s a bad time. Things around here aren’t so good. Today is July 7 - you called today - I loved talking to you. Danny! I have to work Friday the 12th too - and if you think I’d lie to you - you think wrong + don’t know me at all - cuz I wouldn’t lie and hell I am upset. I wanted so much…
    So Dan if you’re coming anyway - I can’t stop it. But I won’t see you, love. No, not at all. Write back Dan - and understand that I can’t help the way my parents think + I cannot afford to get on their wrong side right now.
    Dan, I’m coming to Peoria this summer or early fall. “Longing makes the heart grow fonder”
    Dear Darling Dan - Thank you for the effort + exitement [sic]. Parents are a bad thing sometimes but I do love them.
    And as for you, you know how I feel, kinda uncertain, at times. Oh I’m sorry Dan, really. I can’t see you this weekend but at Champaign I will -
    Love, Love, Love, oh wow yes, 


    Dan's reply:


Donna, I got your letter today. Yes, my big red balloon is shot to hell. So am I. Listen, I’m still coming to see Sergio Mendes, if nothing else. I will have my car. Maybe your parents will let you go then. I don’t care about Saturday. You go to work; I’ll go to Old Town. If nothing else I’ll drop in at the Florists to say hi. I don’t want to cause you “domestic” problems so I’ll just stay away. Sure would love to see you, though. You’ve got a level head, keep it. I have to admit your letter knocked the wind out of me and really made me feel bad but then I sat and played my guitar (“Optimism in D”) and thought about you and Champaign and the good times. I just want you to realize that I understand your parents point of view and won’t make a pest (bad word but its what I was trying to say) of myself. I can wait if you can. 
Well, til I see you next, which could be soon or never,

I’m yours,

    “Optimism in D” was a song idea he wrote for Donna in his senior year:


Optimism in D


This doesn’t happen often
At least not with me
To feel the way I do
To such a high degree

But now it is upon me
There’s nothing I can do
Except to make you feel for me,
The way I feel for you.

I finally said “I Love You”
And know it will endure
You said, “I think I Love You too
But I can’t say for sure.”

So now I sit here waiting
For you to find you heart
And come to me with open arms
And say, now let us start.

    Dan’s parents watched his suffering and, whenever Donna would call the house, she could hear disapproval in their voices.
    The summer finally ended. and Dan left for the University of Illinois. He loved university life, but his relationship with Donna wasn’t going quite as he’d dreamed it would. For the next two years she gently held him at a distance, with a grip he mistook for a caress. 
    One night Dan saw Donna out walking with another guy. His arm was around her, and he was holding her close. Dan was devastated, and wondered how many other guys were in love with her, just like him. He broke up with her, saying, "I do have a strong, almost ridiculously worshipping love for you. I always will. But along with this love, I have to have an equally strong reciprocal love given to me. I see now that you can’t give that to me."
    His resolve didn’t last long, though; his tenacious heart wasn’t ready to let go. Disillusioned with the politics of theater, Dan transferred his major to Art. Donna remained in drama, focused on a career in acting. 
    His earliest recording about her was “The Actress and the Artist.” In it, he talks of standing in the shadows, watching her star shine brightly:

The actress shines in blinding spotlight
The artist waits in darkened wings
The actress smiles, her script dictates it
The actor cries as he clings

The artist called her on a Wednesday
He went to her that evening same
But she could not find time to see him
She couldn’t even find his name


For she lives but on the stage
And he in his canvas cage
And he paints her every day
Although she’s so very far away



He was entering an incredibly productive time, when a few scribbled words could inspire an entire song. By the time he recorded Home Free in 1972, Dan had a wealth of love songs about Donna to choose from, including “Be On Your Way,” “More Than Ever,” “Anyway I Love You,” “Wysteria,” and “Stars.”


Donna and friend with imaginary Oscars

00:00 / 03:29

Stood out in the rain 
Let it soak me down 
Before I called you - I called you 
Didn't see me there 
Hidden by the rain beneath your window - but I saw you 


Putting on your face before the mirror on the wall, 
Dreaming that the looking glass was me
Catching your fondest gazes 
Living through your fickle phases
I love you. 


And it's getting easier each day to weep about you 
Harder every night to sleep without you 
How many years must I be driven by this dream of love with you? 
 Spend my dimes on phones 
Trying just to talk 
But you don't answer - you let it ring 
Spend my nights alone 
Catching falling stars to give to you, love - they're just for you 


For stars fall every time a lover has to face the truth 
And far too many stars have fell on me 
And as they trail the skies and burn their paths upon my eyes, I cry 


And it's getting easier each day to weep about you 
Harder every night to sleep without you 
How many years must I be driven by this dream of love with you?
With you, with you, with you.


Once his heart was committed, Dan was there to stay, regardless of what his head might be telling him. He would follow the same pattern with his first two marriages, falling in love and then hanging in there, long after their hearts had moved on. When they finally left him for other men, he felt betrayed and wondered if any woman could be trusted.

   In his youth, these periods of anguish and unrequited love resulted in some amazing songs. That creative outlet, as well as the resulting treasure trove of material, provided a counterweight to the misery. But at forty-five, when his second marriage imploded, he was writing less, and the idea of romanticizing the pain seemed absurd to him now. He felt victimized, and angry that she had moved on to a new love and happiness, while he was left alone and in incredible pain. In an attempt to figure out what had happened, and how to keep it from happening again, Dan began reading books on psychology and relationships.
    His first band, first love, and first two marriages had ended painfully, but his close friendships endured for his lifetime. It was a big deal to him that I’d been ditched in high school too, and that I still maintained friendships from then. Indeed, the only way out of a friendship with me was to give notice in writing.


Donna would go on to earn a bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, then a master's degree from Pennsylvania State University, where she briefly joined the faculty. She hosted a long-running cable program called Health, and appeared in the NBC-TV series, Studio B-5. For a while she lived in Los Angeles, where she got a part in the film About Last Night. She returned to Illinois, where she married and had two daughters.


    In “The Last Nail,” from Captured Angel (1975), Dan lets Donna go, but leaves the door open. His guitar leads on this song speak as clearly as the lyrics:

The Last Nail
00:00 / 05:31

The Last Nail 
I saw you running ahead of the crowd 
I chased but never thought I'd catch you 
You said you loved me but you had to be free and I let you 
(Why did I let you?)
We walked together through the gardens and graves 
I watched you grow to be a woman 
Living on promises that nobody gave to no one 
They were given to no one 
I started listening to the wind and the rain 
You strained your ears but could hear nothing 
One night I thought I heard them whisper my name 
And I went running 
I left a trail of footprints deep in the snow 
I swore one day I would retrace them 
But when I turned around I found that the wind had erased them 
Now I'll never replace them 
Fly away, my sweet bird, over the land 
Take life for all the freedom you can 
But if you ever should need a man 
Well, the offer still stands
I hear you've taken on a husband and child 
And live somewhere in Pennsylvania 
I never thought you'd ever sever the string but I can't blame you none 
So let the ashes fall and lay where they will 
Just say that once you used to know me 
One last time sing that old song we used to know 
But this time sing 
But this time sing a little more slowly 

Fly away, my sweet bird, over the land 

Take life for all the freedom you can 

But if you ever should need a man 

Well, the offer still stands


Donna Gibbons Brett, devoted wife and mother, died at home in Glenview, Illinois at the tender age of 42. Dan would always remember her as his first great love but, also, as the woman who would send him on his way to the big time with an introduction and a suitcase full of love songs.


Posted July 11th. 2020 Copyright ©Jean Fogelberg 2020