The Artist Embraces the Past as a Guide to the Future
By Rex Rutkowski
For longtime Dan Fogelberg fans, it really was a magical period, those years between 1974 and 1981 when the enduring singer-songwriter defined what for them became "his sound." -- acoustic-based, romantic themed, "Southern California" style folk-rock emphasizing three-part, "stacked" harmonies.
Anchoring that era, for them, were a trio of albums in particular: "Souvenirs," released in 1974; "Captured Angel," which followed in 1975; and Fogelberg's 1981 coming of age landmark double record, "The Innocent Age."
Not coincidentally, it also represented the material that radio seemed to embrace most enthusiastically.
For those fans, and the new ones surely to be won this year, there is very good news to report:
Dan Fogelberg has come "Full Circle."
"The new album title says a lot. This is pretty much where I began stylistically," the artist explains from the comfort of his beloved Colorado home. The music in this record is more attuned to that period, he says.
"I've been off on a lot of musical directions. I've gone down a lot of roads personally, as a musician and artist. It's kind of ironic, I found on my 50th birthday that it took me back to where I began."
"Full Circle" is that place, a most interesting - and appropriate -- locale to be for the artist and for his listeners. It is a returning to and a departure from; a revolution around a life fully lived, each experience an opportunity for growth, for a lesson learned, each a possible catalyst for communication, for art, for helping us all better understand the human condition and, in so doing, the "Full Circle" of our own lives.
That's what art, in whatever form it is presented, is supposed to do. And that is what the very accessible art of Dan Fogelberg has done since the early 1970s. "Each time around there's something new again," he sings in the new album's title track, an homage to its author, the late Gene Clark of the Byrds. "If it's right," he sings, that circle "brings it back again."
This album - his first new studio singer-songwriter pop-style effort since 1993's "River of Souls" - feels so very right, capturing forever the artist at the top of his game: strong vocals and harmonies, mature lyrics, a sweet, shimmering melodic sensibility. For those fans who have been with him for many years, "Full Circle" does, indeed, "bring it back again." "The whole record has that vibe. . I wanted to recapture the days CSN, the Eagles and I recorded that style of music," he explains.
It is a musical tour-de-force, with Fogelberg producing and playing electric and acoustic guitars , mandolin, bass, piano, keyboards, percussion, and singing lead and background vocals, augmented by a stellar group of session musicians. His wife, Jean, a former professional musician herself, and bassist Kenny Passarelli, add backing vocals on two tracks, "This Heart" and the defining
artistic statement, "Icarus Ascending."
The 11 songs, nine of which Fogelberg composed, represent a body of work of which he is deservedly quite proud.
"I say that about each record. They wouldn't come out if I didn't feel that way," the Illinois native explains. But he believes this one, which he produced and recorded in his home studio, will be a particular fan favorite.
"It's something (a style) they grew up with. I have a very loyal fan base, very understanding and willing to go along with these musical travelogues of mine. But I always knew they wanted to hear more of the 'Souvenirs' and 'Captured Angel' and 'Innocent Age' style."
He did not set out consciously to make another record in that vein. "The thing about art is it doesn't predetermine your life. It just kind of happens."
The material on this CD developed over a long period of time. The beautiful "Once In Love," for example, was written in the early '80s, during, or just after he completed "The Innocent Age," he recalls. "That's the reason it feels very similar," he explains.
"This record, in a lot of ways, took 15 years to make. The first notes on this CD probably were recorded in 1988. It's something that has been on the back burner while doing other projects. I've been trying to get to this record for years.''
In the interim, there was the environmentally-themed "The Wild Places" album (1990); the live "Greetings From The West" (1991); "River Of Souls," 1993's companion in style and theme to "The Wild Places;" the "No Resemblance Whatsoever" (1995) reunion with flautist Tim Weisberg; "Portrait," the ambitious box set project in 1997; and "The First Christmas Morning" album in 1999, among others.
"This record kept getting pushed aside by the other projects that kind of took command," Fogelberg says.
“ I always felt really comfortable where my musical path led me, whether it was commercially viable or not," he insists. "With this album I just came back intuitively to these musical styles as they came up in my life. This record was flowing and it was happening. I always learned when the juices are flowing and the muses are with you, just go with it and enjoy the ride."
If the ride that his been his career were to end today, "Full Circle" would be a natural place for that to happen, he suggests. "It has a kind of final feeling to me. It would really be a wonderful way to end, going all the way back to where I started. It feels very complete. It feels like a great place to conclude what I started with 'Home Free' (in 1972).
This is an artist who feels comfortable with where he finds himself, with his place in the artistic world, secure in the belief that he has left no road unexplored in his chosen genre. "I feel very satisfied. I don't feel there is anything left I need to fulfill musically in the pop music world. That doesn't mean I won't go off and do a jazz guitar record (laughs)," he
Fogelberg is quick to add, too, that "Full Circle" is not necessarily the last album of this style of music that he will make. That's the beauty of following your muse.
"I hope you can see improvement in my songwriting over the years. I hope people can see I am a more mature or better songwriter than I was when I wrote 'Home Free,' " he says. "From my perspective, if I don't keep improving and challenging myself I might as well quit."
Fogelberg believes he has endured as long as he has because he comes from a very honest point of view and insists on quality songwriting. "It's what I feel deeply. If that music can be translated across time and space to another listener, that's magic. I feel like a conduit or voice to this. When it can move others in a way perhaps I couldn't predict, I feel that's what art is."
He takes satisfaction in that he and people like Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Jackson Browne, who began in the '60s and '70s, "kind of raised the bar quite a bit for pop songwriting. "And even though the industry has woefully lost its ability to create good songs, I think there are those of us who still hold to that high standard and try to improve ourselves as we go. This is still a very solitary and very meaningful thing to practice for singer-songwriters of the '60s and '70s."
Fogelberg, emerging out of his native Peoria, officially hung the shingle of his artistic practice in 1971 when Clive Davis convinced him to join his growing Columbia Records family that included such other recent new artist signings as Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel.
Working with legendary producer Norbert Putnam, he released his first album, 1972's "Home Free," an effort announcing to his peers and to the public that a new Artist (with a capital 'A') had arrived.
The follow-up album, 1974's "Souvenirs," produced by future Eagle Joe Walsh, brought commercial recognition with the bright, uptempo, "Part Of The Plan." It eventually paved the way for the back-to-back double platinum successes of "Phoenix" (1979) and the revered two-record "The Innocent Age," the latter which firmly established Fogelberg commercially with the hits "Same Old Lang Syne," "Hard To Say," "Leader of the Band" and "Run For
"Fogelberg hasn't looked back, building an impressive and varied body of work, sometimes taking the creative road less travelled, sometimes speaking directly to, and touching, the heart of the masses. Along the way he has made us think, raised our collective consciousness and, even when articulating troubling themes, left us with hope.
"I'm still the kid from Peoria who picked up a guitar," he reflects. "But it meant a lot to a lot of people. My music isn't just something to dance to, or background music. It's something that has actually touched a lot of lives."
…And now has come "Full Circle."
Dan's band for his spring and summer tour: Michael Botts, drums; Michael Hanna, keyboards; Robert McEntee, guitar; Jim Photoglo, bass.
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DAN FOGELBERG - FULL CIRCLE - CUT BY CUT
1. "Half Moon Bay"
"It's just a place in my mind, a nice title, just a name that came into my head one night. I wanted it to feel kind of oceanic. I just felt it was kind of a little instrumental signature piece with strings I wanted to revisit, like the opening of 'Twin Sons (Of Different Mothers),' 'Captured Angel,' and 'Innocent Age.'
"It's separate from 'When You're Not Near Me' (the second track), but I wrote it intentionally knowing it would go into the second track, so I wrote it so that it would end in the same key.
"The sequencing of this album was important to me. When you work on something as long as this it changes obviously. It is one of the reasons it didn't come out last year(2002). Something wasn't quite right. It had a different sequence. This winter when I was in Hawaii, for some reason it dawned on me to change the sequencing. When I came home I was ready to do that. It flowed better. 'Once In Love' was so strong I didn't want to bury it.
Everybody who heard it said 'That's the radio tune.' I said, 'OK, great, then I should move it up. Elliot Scheiner, who has won Grammys working with the Eagles and Steely Dan, mixed the album. He's one of the best and is the reason the album sounds so good."
(In almost 40 years as a popular music engineer, producer and mixer, Scheiner, in addition to the Eagles and Steely Dan, has worked on projects by Van Morrison, Sting, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Fleetwood Mac and others. He has won Grammy Awards for "Best Engineered Recording" twice, and received nearly 20 nominations.)
2. "When You're Not Near Me"
(Sample lyric: 'When you're not near me, there is no laughter in my spirit.' )
"I don't want to say 'This is about this person or that person. The songs on this album span such a long period of time they probably are about a half dozen different relationships. More than these songs being about anyone, for the most part I hope they are appreciated by the listener as part of their life so it becomes a more personal experience for them, rather than 'Oh, who did he write that about?' or 'What's going on in his life?' But I want these songs to still reflect emotion and sentiment that should be valid to anyone involved in a mature, romantic situation. Most of them are very hopeful. 'Drawing Pictures' (track 9) is sad, but I wrote it when I was 21. For the most part, the songs are very hopeful about the nature of relationships.
" 'When You're Not Near Me' feels like a George Harrison kind of Beatles thing to me, though nobody else may get that. A lot of songs reflect my earliest influences, like (The Byrds') Gene Clark ('Full Circle'). That was conscious, my doing as a producer."
3. "Full Circle"
(Sample lyric: ' You think you're lost, and then you're found again…Each time around there's something new again.' )
"That song first appeared on the Byrds reunion album in '73. That song has always touched me. It's one of my favorite tunes. It's not well known. It's not (the Byrds') 'Turn, Turn, Turn' or 'Tambourine Man.' It's one of the more obscure songs of the Byrds but I thought it had such a great thing happening in the vocals especially. The verse was written in one key and the chorus steps up to the subdominant. It's so uplifting and I like what that song says. It's a great philosophical song about living through life and all it has to show you because it's gonna keep coming around.
4. "Reason To Run"
(Sample lyric: 'How could anything that felt so right, at the same time feel so wrong?…For every reason to stay, I find a reason to run.' )
"Usually in people's lives you have people that leave and people who are left. They are patterns repeated in many people's lives for whatever reason. This really is a song about that impulse, not about me. It's about someone I knew getting into relationships and when it got time to get serious and committed they would consciously leave and go to another partner until it got to the same point.
"Musically, I think there is kind of a Buffalo Springfield/Crazy Horse feel, like the 60’s Southern California thing. I used my old Gretsch (guitar) all over this record. I hadn’t done that in a long time."
5. "Once In Love"
(Sample lyric: ' Once In love, you'll always be a lover. Once is all it takes….You'll give your heart up to another even if it breaks.' )
"The song was written in 1982 when I was in the middle of doing 'Innocent Age,' or just after it, which is the reason it feels very similar to that period. It's advice to the lovelorn (he laughs). A friend of mine's little sister was in college and had just gotten her heart broken for the first time. She is asking me, like I'm some great sage (he laughs again), 'What the hell is this about?' I told her 'I know it hurts now, but you will get over it and be fine.' This was written for anybody who gets hurt and it doesn't work out like they expected, which probably is most people.
"It's done with doubled acoustic guitars. I initially was going to do a single vocal without harmonies, but it was screaming for those other two parts."
6. "Whispers In The Wind"
(Sample lyric: ' She wraps the foggy night around her like a warming shawl…All she leaves behind to find her in the dawn are whispers in the wind.' )
"It was written for a lady, probably in '85. It was a very brief, very romantic situation. The nature of that relationship felt to me like an old Gordon Lightfoot song like 'Softly She Comes.' Gordon wrote a lot of that stuff: great, mysterious, women would show up in the middle of the night and disappear. Lightfoot is one of my greatest influences. I admire his songwriting. I said 'I ought to write a song that sounds like Gordon Lightfoot.' Melodically and lyrically this is a tribute to Lightfoot."
7. "This Heart"
(Sample lyric: ' I believe for every wayward soul, crying out for its completion, there's another that will make it whole just waiting to be found.' )
"It's a very positive song. I wrote it for my wife Jeanie. People should be able to go on and improve in their life. I want to encourage people that, no matter what life dishes you, you've got to go on and it gets better. That's what this song is about. It evolved from the mid-'90s to the late '90s."
8. "Reach Haven Postcard"
(Sample lyric: ' I wish so much tonight that you were here with me.' )
"It's a very pretty little acoustic tune. I love the imagery on it, one of those cinematic songs where you can really see a physical place. I was sitting on an island writing this song, looking at my surroundings and thinking, 'Here I am and this is what is going on tonight.' What I like about the imagery of this song, more than anything, it's a rather clever little item to do this as a post card. The tritest thing to write on a post card is 'Wish you were here.' I like how I wove that in. When you're not with someone you love the natural thing is to say 'Wish you were here.' "
9. "Drawing Pictures"
(Sample lyric: ' She searched for a shoulder and mine was gone.' )
"Sometimes a song confirms why it is I should be doing this. This is very mature stuff by someone who at the time (age 21) had never been in a serious relationship. I do find the song just as relevant now as when it was written.
"I wrote it in '72 or '73 probably. This CD starts off like that period, so I thought, 'Why not bring a song from that time?' I always loved 'Drawing Pictures.' It was one of those songs that kept getting pushed aside. Irving Azoff, my manager at the time, used to love it and would say, 'You've got to put this on an album.' But for one reason or another through the years I didn't. Finally 30 years later this beautiful song, written when I probably was 21 years old, made it to an album. I don't know who it was written for or about, or where I was when I wrote it. I honestly don't know. But it was a song always there that kept saying, 'Hey, don't forget about me.' "
10 "Icarus Ascending"
(Sample lyric: 'Let your faith be your strength and your love be your guiding star…There is a gamble in each proud act of flight, but the losses pale before the winnings.')
"This is the high water mark of this record, for me. This is one of the most recent, a very important song to me as a songwriter. It's a statement of my personal philosophy of being an artist. And I think it is an important song. It does give hope for those who are willing to plumb the depths of individualism in any endeavor, in any art.
"The gift of art is an incredible blessing from the creator. I believe that. It's not an easy life, not a popular choice to make if you want to be everybody's friend. You have to listen to that unwavering voice that says 'You're special, but it's not going to be easy.' It will be very difficult, but if you choose to pursue it unfailingly, I believe you will be greatly rewarded in a way people who are not given this creative spark will ever understand. It's perhaps as close as I will ever come to really expressing my core philosophy.”
“I'm not talking financial here, but spiritual rewards. Many great artists never realized financial rewards. This is a song to those artists, more than someone like me, who has had every reward I can possibly think of.
"So many great artists struggled all their lives and will never see the perks. This song says you have to have enormous courage to follow the muse and that's Icarus. The Greek story is one of the great stories of optimism and foolishness, that he would make wax wings to fly to the sun.
"But as an artist you've got to be fearless and keep flying to the sun even though you know you might crash. 'There is a gamble in each proud act of flight ” is one of the best lines I've ever written."
11. "Earth Anthem"
(Sample lyric: 'We are but an island in an ocean. This is our home…Let it be ever green.')
"This album is full of hope. My core philosophy about the nature and importance of art is in "Icarus Ascending,' and 'Earth Anthem' represents the nature of my own being to protect and preserve and love nature. I still want to make sure people are reminded they have a sacred duty as the human species to be caretakers of this planet.
"Bill Martin wrote this in the mid-60s. It is one of the first environmental songs I can remember. It was on a Turtles album. Howard (Kaylan) and Mark (Volman) (of the Turtles) did this song with the Turtles in 65-66, on an album called 'Battle of the Bands,' in which the Turtles did songs as different bands. Mark Volman used to be a neighbor of mine when I lived up in Laurel Canyon in L.A.
"I've sung this Bill Martin song at political rallies through the years. I did it at the 'No Nukes' concert in Washington, D.C., in 1980, on the Capitol steps. It's a very inspirational song."
Article and interview by Rex Rutkowski
Rex Rutkowski is a veteran Pittsburgh, Pa. based writer who has been covering music since 1971. His material has appeared in publications throughout the world.