Friday, March 22, 2013

The power of words and music: Dan Fogelberg remembered

As I was scrolling down my Facebook page on a recent evening, I stumbled across a post on late singer/songwriter Dan Fogelberg’s tribute page. 

The post included an image of a letter a young girl had written to Fogelberg, asking the meaning of a line in one of his songs. What made the image all the more exciting, all the more powerful, was Fogelberg’s handwritten reply in return. 

He answered, that yes, though the words were literal, the related metaphorical meaning was much as she had suspected. 

The song in question was my favorite Fogelberg tune, “Same Old Lang Syne.” It’s a song reportedly based on a real event in Fogelberg’s life—a chance encounter with an old girlfriend in the grocery store on Christmas Eve. 

The tune captures all the surprise, awkwardness, giddiness, memories, regret, warmth and more that such an encounter elicits. It has an uncanny ability to draw its listener into the song, to invite her to watch as a silent observer as the two experience more emotions than they must have imagined possible in such a short time. 

Perhaps the reasons it struck me so strongly, years ago when I first heard it, and as I listened to it on tapes, CDs or car radios through the decades, are twofold—I’ve seen the song from the outside looking in and inside looking out. 

I spent nearly 30 years of my life in a grocery store, from the high school days when I met my first steady boyfriend in the check-out lane until I was a middle-aged mother and grandmother, watching much younger coworkers re-live those same excitement-filled moments. 

Grocery store clerks see and hear a lot. 

We witness those hugs and “Oh my gawds” when parted lovers home for the holidays see each other—sometimes after months apart, sometimes years. We watch warmly as widowers or divorcees bump into someone from long ago, and we can see a spark, long smoldering, begin to re-ignite. And, yes, we see those who have their regrets, bumping into old flames they let slip away, those who have built a life with someones new

And, too, because I lived in a rather small community, it wasn’t unlikely for me to have my own “Same Old Lang Syne” moments. 

On more than one occasion, I’d look up and see, across the counter, someone I’d met years earlier in the check-out lane, the library, the old neighborhood, or in a small town nearby—and had dated a time or two or a season. 

As with Fogelberg and his “old lover in the grocery store,” it was awkward at first, giddy at times, and sometimes warm—for the lives that touch ours, no matter how fleeting, often do bring with them memories worth remembering. It doesn’t take a six-pack from the liquor store or a songwriter’s recollection to warm us with memories of days gone by, even when we’re ever so thankful of the love we know today. 

Though Peoria’s Dan Fogelberg, singer/storyteller to the world, didn’t have his encounter in the frozen food aisle of the store where I worked all those years, I saw scores of Dans and lovers meet again.

Through his words, from time to time, as the song played in my mind, those others faded and Dan came into view. Tonight, writing this, I see his face again and, as I do, the music plays anew. 

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2013

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