I learned of Dan Fogelberg's death at 6 AM on a Monday morning. As my favorite news anchor read the brief obituary, I literally doubled over in tears. My husband climbed out of bed and came toward me to be of some comfort. He looked at me and said, "I understand".
How could he possibly understand? Over the past 8 years, I had lost my 40 year old brother to a traumatic brain injury, slowly watched my mother fall into the depths of dementia and die, lost a stepfather, dealt with my husband's own bout with prostate cancer, and slammed head on into middle age.
I was raised in an emotionally explosive home, and music was my favorite hiding place. My first true love was Neil Young. I wrapped myself up in his music, and imagined that he could heal all of my hurts and keep me safe. At the tender age of 13 I spent hours in my room with Neil, my only friend, and the only person who understood me. I started playing guitar so I could play and sing his music. I’m convinced that his music saved me somehow, and protected me from harsher realities.
It was in my teens that I discovered Dan Fogelberg, my shining light and romantic ideal, some kind of beacon of hope for a lost and longing 17-year-old girl. My sister had a copy of one of his albums and she let me borrow it. For a teenage girl, it was a passionate and sensual experience. It increased my feelings of angst, but it also made me feel hopeful and embraced at the same time. I felt that Dan somehow "got me", and this gave me something to cling to.
I yearned and ached for Dan Fogelberg. I had convinced myself that I knew who he was. I knew that he was sensitive and emotionally available, and I was certain that he had all of the answers to my questions. I was sure that he could somehow perfect my life. He had no flaws.
I never missed an opportunity to see him in concert during the 1970’s. He performed in Berkeley and Oakland several times when he was at his most popular. Funny though, as I sat at these concerts, I somehow felt as if my life was passing me by, and that I would never be the person who I imagined that I might become. Somehow I just didn’t measure up to the golden pedestal that I had placed Dan upon. I would sit at these concerts in tears, because part of me went there with the hope of somehow meeting Dan. Perhaps there was a way back stage? There never was, and I sometime felt bitterly disappointed.
Years later, my sister and I went to see him in Northern California. I hadn’t kept track of him, or how his music had changed or evolved. In fact, I really hadn’t given him very much thought since I was in college. I wasn’t listening to his music anymore, but the opportunity to see him again was intriguing, and those old feelings were suddenly awakened.
We were seated at a front table at a very small venue. I could practically touch my former fantasy man. You would have thought that I would have been in some sort of ecstasy, and filled with gratitude at this opportunity to see him perform again. I know that this was years later and that I had evolved as a person, yet I was surprised when I noticed that I was filled with hostility toward him. How opportune it was then, that I was able to finally get Dan’s attention.
I proceeded to get really drunk, and I kept yelling, "sing Netherlands", which is a song that he no longer performed since having throat problems, and "how about a Scotch, Dan"? assuming that he most certainly would want to join me in my merriment. Imagine my shock then when he turned to me and said in a less than friendly tone, "why don't you have another Scotch?" I was mortified.
After the concert, I felt angry and rejected. Poor Dan didn’t know that he had been in a one-sided and dysfunctional relationship with me for 20 years. How could he have known how much expectation and desire that I had projected upon him, and how could anyone have ever lived up to that in the first place?
A couple of years later, I returned to see him again. I needed some closure, and I guess that I still had a score to settle, with myself.
It was a good concert. It couldn’t have been a lovelier setting among the vineyards and the rolling hills of the Napa Valley. He performed beautifully, exuberantly. I sat in the audience with the same sister, sipping wine, the 17-year-old girl within me still wanting to feel loved and special, while the 40-year-old silently comforted her injured child within.
Ironically, I could have apologized for my behavior from years earlier. My husband was born in Peoria Illinois, and his mother Mary lived there for most of her life until her death in 2007. A few years ago, we were visiting her in Peoria and I happened to mention Dan, since he was born and raised in Peoria as well. Mary said with some delight and pride, "I play bridge with his mother Maggie every week." “Really?” I exclaimed. Secretly, I was as excited as a kid on Christmas morning. I envisioned Dan’s gold records in Maggie’s living room, and had a faint hope of being invited over to her house for a visit.
Unbelievably, my mother in law had an inside line to my former idol. We talked about it for a few minutes, then the conversation turned back to other matters, like what she needed from Schnuk's Supermarket, and where we would dine that evening.
I ended up meeting Maggie Fogelberg at my mother-in-law's funeral in 2007. She came in to the memorial, and we stood there and spoke quietly for a few minutes. We talked about my husband's mother, and we talked about Dan, and I told her how much he had meant to me over the years. She was the proud mother of a man dying of prostate cancer.
The morning that I learned of Dan’s death, I was not only grieving the death of a man who had symbolized my unmet needs and my desire for unconditional love, I was coming face to face with my own disappointments, regrets, and the realization that I couldn’t go back and make different choices in my life. I was grieving the passing of my own youth.