Dan Fogelberg, 1951-2007

Originally posted December 17, 2007

There’s a bar in downtown St. Cloud located in the basement level of an old bank building, one of those lovely red buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries built of what I think is red granite, with the turret standing guard high above the intersection. The building hasn’t been a bank for many years, since maybe the late 1960s, and other businesses have come and gone on its main floor over the years since.

But the lower level has been a bar for more than thirty-five years though its name has changed several times. In the early 1970s, the bar was called the Grand Mantel after a truly impressive fireplace and mantel inside. It was a quiet place, three or four dimly lighted rooms with maybe twenty-five tables, a candle on each one. For a number of years, my companions from The Table and I made the Grand Mantel our home for weekend recreation and for our celebrations of the ending of academic quarters. On the Friday of finals week, we’d gather in the late afternoon or early evening and each toss $10 or $15 onto the table, and then we’d drink until the money was gone. (One could imbibe a substantial amount for $10 or $15 thirty-five years ago.)

In the back of the bar, separated from the front rooms by two doors and a passage, was a larger room with a small stage that hosted live music at least Fridays and Saturdays and perhaps more frequently than that. I’m not sure how wide-ranging the roster of performers was, but I do recall that the favorites of both the bar’s owners and its clientele was a duo called Curto and Newmann. (I am not sure of the spelling of “Curto.”)* The two were very much in the vein of Loggins & Messina and other singer-songwriter-ish performers of the era, and the back room was packed on nights the two of them performed.

For years, when I heard Dan Fogelberg’s work, I thought of that back room at the Grand Mantel and the nights when the forty or so chairs would be filled with attentive listeners. It seemed to me that whenever I heard Fogelberg’s music, I was being called to listen closely in case I might miss something, just as I had felt about the music I heard on those evenings when I sat in the back room at the Grand Mantel.

This all comes to mind today, of course, because Dan Fogelberg died yesterday at his home in Maine, three years after announcing that he had advanced prostate cancer. That announcement came a year after Fogelberg released his last album, Full Circle, in 2003.

As a listener, I lost track of Fogelberg in the 1990s, as I didn’t have a CD player and his albums no longer came out on vinyl. And anyway, I’d not been impressed with Exiles, the 1987 album that was the most recent work I had. Nor had I been much taken with its predecessor, High Country Snows. So I focused on collecting the singer’s pre-1985 output, getting good vinyl copies of the eight LP’s Fogelberg had released between 1972 and 1984.

And what I heard, I generally liked. I sometimes thought the lyrics were over-wrought and over-written – just a few grades too intense – but the music was always listenable and sometimes excellent. And now and then, Fogelberg came up with a gem: “Part of the Plan” from 1975 brought reassurance to a whole generation of post-Watergate undergraduates that there was some kind of meaning to the jumble of life. “Longer,” five years later, was beautiful and became a standard that I imagine wedding DJs began to dread. And “Same Old Lang Syne” helped listeners rehearse and prepare for those awkward moments when we, too, might meet someone we lost and whom we missed in a setting as mundane as a supermarket.

And in those songs and others, as over-written as they sometimes were, Fogelberg on occasion found a turn of phrase so delicate and complex that I was left shaking my head in wonder. My favorite of those comes from 1982’s “Run For The Roses,” which says in its chorus, “It’s the chance of a lifetime in a lifetime of chance . . .”

How good was Dan Fogelberg? Good enough to me that when I winnow out mp3s from my hard drive – which I have to do every six months or so – his work is never among the music being considered for relegation to the discs that sit next to the computer. I enjoy his early works, and I still consider 1982’s The Innocent Age to be one of the sonically most beautiful albums ever. The eloquence of that album’s music still thrills me.

I realize that there is some ambivalence about Fogleberg’s work, that he was categorized among cynics early on as a Sensitive Seventies Singer-Songwriter. Well, so what? It was a time of quiet conversation in song, when tunes talked to each other and to their listeners in quiet places like the Grand Mantel and a hundred thousand living rooms and dorm rooms. And Fogelberg was far better than most at giving us some of those songs.

Here’s a selection – somewhat random – from Fogelberg’s first seven albums. As always, bit rates will vary.

“Part of the Plan” from Souvenirs, 1974

“More Than Ever” from Home Free, 1972

“Nexus” from The Innocent Age, 1982

“Stars” from Home Free, 1972

“Intimidation” with Tim Weisberg from Twin Sons of Different Mothers, 1978

“Illinois” from Souvenirs, 1974

“Gypsy Wind” from Phoenix, 1980

“As The Raven Flies” from Souvenirs, 1974

“Heart Hotels” from Phoenix, 1980

“The Power of Gold” with Tim Weisberg from Twin Sons of Different Mothers, 1978

“In The Passage” from The Innocent Age, 1982

“Nether Lands” from Nether Lands, 1977

“Innocent Age” from The Innocent Age, 1982

*I originally spelled Curto’s last name as “Curdo,” and I had “Newmann” without its final “n,”  but I’ve corrected those misspellings based on the pleasant comment left here by Pat Curto. Note added November 8, 2011.

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2 Responses to “Dan Fogelberg, 1951-2007”

  1. Pat Curto Says:

    I’m Pat Curto from the Curto & Newmann duo that played the Grand Mantle. Thanks for remembering our music and you insights into Dan’s. I survived Prostate Cancer with a surgery 3 years ago on the 13th of this month. It saddens me that Dan never sought out the preventative health care that saved my life.

  2. Bob Parker (@prufrock3) Says:

    I was a bartender there, and my memory of the first glimpse of the place is rich with all of the things that got me started in this business. I planned to tend bar to get through college. I opened a bar in St Paul in 2012 after training bartenders all over the world for decades. Some of that Grand Mantel vibe is in it.

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