Thursday, December 24, 2009

Same Old Lang Syne - Revisited

There are certain songs that are sure to put a big smile on my face or a lump in my throat, depending on timing. I don't actually tear up at commercials, but I also don't think being moved to tears is a bad thing. 

One song is Don Henley's "Heart of the Matter". That one has come to mean a lot of different things, about a lot of different people over the years, but it always touches an open wound. By the end, all 5:22 later, it's healed back up by forgiveness. I saw Henley in Dallas at Fair Park Music Hall 15 years after that song was released, and he said onstage that he still gets sacks of mail from people who say that song changed their lives in some meaningful way. I've heard Michael Stipe say the same thing about "Everybody Hurts" by REM. That's a song powerful enough to help listeners to hold on. 

The Dan Fogelberg song "Same Old Lang Syne" is probably the oldest and most powerful of these songs for me. You know the tune. It's a bittersweet tale of two long-ago lovers that run into each other on a snowy Christmas Eve. They buy a six-pack, sit in the car, talk about life, then go their separate ways. Ever done that? Yeah, me too. It's a perfectly crafted pop song, all the way to the end when "the snow turned into rain". It's not even the best song by Daniel Grayling Fogelberg, but it's by far his most famous. Even though the holidays are only mentioned once in the song, pop culture and FM radio have turned it into a December song, heard as often as any traditional Christmas song in the malls or on radio. Fine by me. I couldn't find a live version that I liked so I chose a tribute video instead. After all, it's the music that matters.

We said goodbye to Dan Fogelberg much too early on December 16, 2007 when he lost his battle with prostate cancer. He was only 56.

So here's the rest of he story. I'd always wondered about "Same Old Lang Syne". How much of it was true? How much was artistic license? But I never bothered to find out until yesterday, 12/24/2009. Phil Luciano is a columnist with the Journal Star, the Peoria, IL daily newspaper. Peoria was Fogelberg's hometown. On Dec 22, 2007 Phil wrote an article, "It's A Memory I Cherish", that you can link to here. After reading the piece a couple of times, I shot Mr. Luciano an email asking permission to use the story here. Within minutes he simply responded, "Sure". I hope you enjoy it.

At Woodruff High School, Jill Anderson had a typical teen romance: on-again/off-again with the same boy over several years.

He'd write a lot of poetry and share his insights with Jill. But as they went to separate colleges, things cooled off. They tried to stay in touch, but he moved out West and she headed to Chicago.

And that might've been the sum of a sweet memory, if not for a chance reunion one Christmas Eve at a Peoria convenience store - one music fans know well.

Jill's old boyfriend was Dan Fogelberg, who memorialized their convenience-store encounter in "Same Old Lang Syne." Since the song's release in 1980, Peoria - as well as the rest of his fans worldwide - has wondered about the "old lover" referenced in the song. Fogelberg never would say, and only a handful of people knew the ex-girlfriend's identify.

Jill, now Jill Greulich of Missouri, feels she can finally share the story.

"It's a memory that I cherish," she says.

She says she had kept publicly mum because Fogelberg was such a private person.

"It wasn't about me. It was about Dan. It was Dan's song," Jill says.

Further, though she and Fogelberg only rarely had communicated over the past quarter-century, she feared that her talking about the song somehow might cause trouble in his marriage. But in the aftermath of his death - he passed away of prostate cancer Sunday at age 56 - she has been sharing her secret with old friends in Peoria.

"I don't want this to overshadow Dan," Jill says. "When I heard the news that he died, I was very sad."

She and Fogelberg were part of the Woodruff Class of '69. They would date for long stretches, break up, then get back together.

Often, they would head to Grandview Drive, take in the vistas and listen to the likes of Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills & Nash. Fogelberg often would pen poetry, some of which he gave to Jill.

"I still have some of those in a drawer at home," she says.

After high school, Fogelberg went to the University of Illinois in Urbana to study theater, while Jill attended Western Illinois University to major in elementary education. They stayed in touch, even continuing to date for a while. But the romance ended for good when he left the U of I early to head to Colorado and pursue his music career. After graduating college, Jill relocated to the Chicago area, where she worked as an elementary teacher and flight attendant. Not long after college, she married a man from that area, and her connection to Fogelberg faded to memories.
But on Christmas Eve 1975, Jill and her husband visited her parents, who still lived in the Woodruff district. Also at the home were some friends of the family.

During the gathering, Jill's mother asked her to run out for egg nog. Jill drove off in search of an open store.

Meanwhile, a few blocks away, a similar scenario was playing out at the Fogelberg home, where Dan Fogelberg was visiting family for the holiday. They needed whipping cream to make Irish coffees, so Fogelberg volunteered to go search for some.

By happenstance and because almost every other business on the East Bluff was closed, Jill and Fogelberg both ended up at the convenient store at the top of Abington Hill, at Frye Avenue and Prospect Road. She got there first, and Fogelberg noticed her shortly after arriving.

They bought a six pack, sipped beer in her car and gabbed away. "We had some laughs," Jill recalls.

As two hours flew by, Jill's family and friends grew worried. "We were like, 'Where is she?'" says a laughing Eileen Couri of Peoria, one of the friends at the gathering that night.

When Jill returned, she simply explained that she had run into Fogelberg, and the two had caught up with each other. No big deal.

Five years later, Jill was driving to work in Chicago. She had on the radio, and a new song popped on. First, she thought, "That sounds like Dan."

Then she listened to the lyrics, about two former lovers who have a chance encounter at a store.

"Oh my gosh!" she told herself. "That really happened!"

They would not discuss "Same Old Lang Syne" until years later, during a conversation backstage at a Fogelberg concert. Two parts of the song are inaccurate. Blame Fogelberg's poetic license.

Jill does not have blue eyes, but green. In fact, when they dated, Fogelberg called her "Sweet Jilleen Green Eyes" - a combination of her full first name and his twisting of a song title by Crosby, Stills & Nash.

Fogelberg explained that he took the easy way out for "Same Old Lang Syne." As he told Jill, "Blue is easier to rhyme than green."

Also, her then-husband was not an architect but a physical-education teacher. Jill doubts Fogelberg knew what her husband did for a living. She thinks Fogelberg probably just thought "architect" sounded right for the song.

But those are minor details. The heart of the song hangs on its most chilling line: "She would have liked to say she loved the man, but she didn't like to lie."

Still, even decades later, she declines to discuss that line of the tune. "I think that's probably too personal," she says.

But the song had no impact on her marriage. By the time of its release, she had divorced.
"Somebody said he waited until I was divorced to release the song, but I don't know if that's true," Jill says.

In 1980, the same year of the song's release, Jill married Chicago-area native Jim Greulich. Eventually, they would move to a St. Louis suburb, where she now teaches second grade.
A few of her school associates have known her secret about the song. So has Fogelberg's mother, who still lives in Peoria and exchanges Christmas cards with Jill.

This week, Jill sent e-mails to a few old pals in Peoria, lifting the lid off the "Same Old Lang Syne" mystery. One of the e-mail recipients was Wendy Blickenstaff, a Woodruff classmate of Jill's and Fogelberg's.

"I had a big suspicion" it was Jill, says Blickenstaff, now the head counselor at the school. "I'm happy for her. It's really cool. ... That's a memory that she treasures."

Jill agrees. Yet her memories of Dan Fogelberg stretch far beyond "Same Old Lang Syne."

"I'll always have a place in my heart for Dan," she says. " ... Dan would be a very special person to me, even without the song."

Thanks to Phil Luciano for allowing me use of his work. As an aside, I thought it was tastefully done, not as tabloid-ish as we might expect today, just a couple of years later.

"Same Old Lang Syne" has meant a lot to me over the last 35 years or so. And at different times it took on a new meaning like a lot of songs do. For the most part though, it makes me think of what might have been, but without regrets. The author and the old love part ways at the end of the song, as it should be. It's about life, loss, and what happens when reality intrudes on your old hopes and dreams. But it's really not sad. They had the chance to dream out loud for a couple of hours, but also the common sense to realize that it is what it is. The song touches something so universal. The sentimental yearning for things in our past. Our youth. It makes you wonder if your first love ever thinks about you, while still being a little comforting even if they don't. It makes me remember the people I took for granted and the love I overlooked. I guess we all feel like we passed on some good ones. An ex-lover, especially your first love, is still a lover, and they'll always have a place in our hearts. "Same Old Land Syne" reminds us of that.

I hope you're all having a wonderful Christmastime. tb

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copyright, 2009

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11, 2001

It was only 8 short years ago today. Everyone has their story of 9/11. Here's mine.

For a lot of years, Tuesdays were my scheduled day off. I'd get off work early on Monday and didn't have to be back until noon on Wednesday. It was almost like a "weekend" close as you ever got in the car business. This Tuesday started like any other. I got up and walked, made some coffee, then dropped off clothes at the dry cleaners and the laundry. I was looking forward to a day of relaxing. Maybe go hit a few golf balls or do a little shopping. Things were very good for me, for a lot of us, in 2001.

I was a creature of habit. I had the radio on The Ticket, listening to the Dunham and Miller show and had the TV on with the sound turned down. They came back from a break and announced that they were watching what appeared to be a plane crash at the World Trade Center. I tuned the TV to CNN or whatever channel was already covering it live. The rumors were already rampant. It was a small plane, possibly a Cessna. It was a police helicopter. But as the pictures started coming in, the size of the hole and the fire told me it was something much bigger. A few minutes passed and then the unthinkable happened. We all watched in horror as the second massive plane flew into the other building. I felt weak and sick at my stomach, sat down on the edge of the bed and realized my country was under attack. Time slowed down. I walked outside and looked around. Neighbors that were home that day had done the same thing. There was small-talk and speculation. I don't remember when I realized the Pentagon had been hit but I recall hearing there was still a plane in the air, possibly headed towards D.C.

It was then that I realized that no one knew the scope of this. Was every major city going to be under attack? Where were we safe? I tried to make a few calls. I called mom on my landline, then tried to call the store. No answer. I was worried about the people at work. I was single but most of them were married with young families. This was 6 months before I'd move to the country and the store was only a mile from my condo. I jumped in my Yukon and raced up there. My department was huddled around a little black and white 12" TV that we'd pitched in and bought to pass the time late at night or on Saturdays to watch college football. I just remember a lot of hugs and a swirl of emotions...People went from being shook up, to angry, to worried. The feeling of uncertainty was pretty thick.

At some point Buz got there and his managers gathered in his office where we could watch the news on a bigger, color TV. A few of us wandered out to the I-20 access road, smoking and talking. It was eerie. It wasn't noon yet but the traffic on the interstate was just a few random cars in each direction. We were paged. A decision had been made. We were told to start sending people home to be with their families. At 1pm or so, we locked up the back door of the main building. There were a handful of us still mingling around, not really sure what to do next. Any time the conversation trailed off, the silence was deafening. No planes overhead. No traffic. No pages over the loudspeaker system. Just silence. I had plenty of offers to spend the day with friends. They knew I'd be alone if we all drove off in different directions, but I declined. I needed to be alone, at least for a while.

The rest of 9/11/01 is a blur. I remember driving around for a while, then going home and watching the TV for hours. Ronda came by late in the afternoon and we had dinner together. I don't really remember sleeping. Our lives had changed forever. In the following days as people arrived back to work, the girls made ribbons for everyone to wear. Here's mine:

9/11 Ribbon

The next few days were spent in mourning. For all those that lost their lives and their families, but also for ourselves and our lost sense of innocence. For days we prayed that there might be survivors, but none were found. President Bush rallied the Nation in addressing a joint session of Congress and the world on live TV. "Freedom itself is under attack". "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists". It was his shining moment and it helped us all feel a little safer. Days later, "America: A Tribute To Heroes" was broadcast on all networks. Springsteen opened the show with no fanfare to a haunting, gospel version of "My City of Ruins". The next few days and weeks were a confusing time. We wept for our fallen brothers and sisters but we also wanted to carry on, stronger and more unified than before. We returned to work, to school, all while Ground Zero was still a smouldering heap of twisted steel and concrete and humanity.

I remember the first time I really let myself feel good after that Tuesday. On a beautiful Sunday afternoon on September 23rd we went to Texas Stadium. It was our first Cowboys game since 9/9. Security was unbelievable. My vehicle was searched because we had VIP parking. As we approached our gate I noticed the Irving PD tactical officers, strategically placed, and every one was armed with a rifle. We were wanded and frisked upon entering the stadium area. We got to our seats early, and the casual greetings usually exchanged with the people in our section, the handshakes or nods, were replaced with big hugs. It felt good for us all to be doing something normal. I don't remember the invocation, only that it started, "Praise God, from whom all blessings flow." The field was completely covered with an American Flag, held up by dozens of volunteers. During the singing of "The Star Spangled Banner" I looked around at one point toward the end and there wasn't a dry eye in the house.


In the weeks to come, there were many small moments of healing. The U2 show in October, when Bono wept onstage while wrapped in an American flag, and then in the encore during "Walk On" they scrolled the names of the 9/11 dead on a huge screen behind the stage. Eventually, the feeling of solidarity returned to partisan politics. A lot of those that said "We Will Never Forget" have forgotten. I never will. Take a moment today and remember those that lost their lives that day and their loved ones. Remember the men and women of the United States Armed Forces that have given their lives to protect our freedoms. And remember the way you felt on 9/11/01 and in the days to follow. This country came together to fight a common enemy, if only for a moment. It would be a better place if we put ourselves back in that frame of mind occasionally. Have a safe weekend. More soon. tb

All original content on this site is protected by copyright. Information, articles, pictures or artwork may not be reproduced without written permission from author. Please contact for information.

West Texas Insomniac and all content copyright, 2009