Featured, Maine Classics

Wild Child

Like many of us, Dan Fogelberg came up here to look for something. His wife, Jean Fogelberg, shares what he found…

Interview with Jean Fogelberg
By Robert Witkowski

fogelbergWhat first drew Dan to Maine?

Dan’s first wife, Maggie. They were coming back from Europe–she’d taken ballet lessons in Blue Hill when she was young, and she said, ‘You really need to see Maine.’ He just fell in love with this place. Dan wanted an island. The realtor, Vance Gray [of Downeast Properties], told him, ‘You don’t want an island!’ Then he saw the old sea captain’s house on Deer Isle. It had grass coming through the floorboards, and he fell in love with it. He said, “Will you take a check?”

His spending so much time here was a secret, wasn’t it?

Dan guarded it very closely. Our house looks out on Eggemoggin Reach. Fans knew he lived in Maine, but for 25 years no one knew where. It wasn’t until after he died [on December 16, 2007, following a courageous and soul-searching battle with prostate cancer] that the Peoria Journal Star contacted someone on the island, and they accidently gave it away. It’s not a secret anymore.

You’d been a guitar player and vocalist yourself. Are you still performing?

No. That was another life.

What do you do these days?

Mainly projects for caregivers. I work with the Blue Hill Memorial Hospital. I have a blog, dontloseheart.org [named for his song recorded December 1996]. I’m working on a pamphlet for caregivers. The focus is on the patient; the person with them doesn’t have support. I often hear, ‘We don’t know what to say to them.’

So you still live on Deer Island?

I could never move to…well, anywhere, really.

Tell us about Dan’s quest to find The Wild Places in his life, and in his heart.

He found them on the sea, in a series of boats that ended with his 36-foot Minstrel.  He loved that boat. He was sailing her right up to a month and a half before he died. On a whim, he even sailed alone to one of his doctor’s appointments in Boston–all the way from Deer Isle. Did I worry? Yes. Did I tell him? No.

What coves and islands off the coast carry living memories for you?

Our last cruise together was incredible. I had a new camera, and Dan wanted to take a couple of weeks to visit all of his favorite places. We took our time and let the wind and currents decide which way we’d go. We went to Seal Bay, Frenchboro, Northeast Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Holbrook Island, Isle Au Haut, and Vinalhaven. We’d set the anchor for a few days and go gunk-holing for hours in the dinghy. I was constantly shooting, from our feet in the cockpit to eagles and cormorants that seemed to be posing just for us. I didn’t, however, take any photos of Dan. I promised not to, since the cancer drugs were taking their toll. It was a magical cruise, and for the first time I was the one who wasn’t ready to go home.

Take us sailing with Dan.

This is from his logbook, in 1994: “After two nice days of daysailing to get my chops back, headed out to my favorite anchorage–Seal Bay, Vinalhaven. Sailed wing on wing down Reach with NW breeze. Across Jericho. Motored through D.I. Thoroughfare (as usual) against light W. wind. Sailed across W. Penobscot and ran out of wind at 6 off Bluff Head. Motored to my usual spot and had a nice dinner of crabmeat pasta and salad. Never been here this early, but I’ll have a full six weeks of sailing before tour starts in September.”

Which of his songs speaks to you about his wild places the most?

“The Reach”, although he wrote other songs specifically about his time in Maine: “The Minstrel,” “Isle Au Haut,” “Come To The Harbor,” “Reach Haven Postcard,” “Mountains To The Sea,” “For A Carpenter” (written for his friend Bryan), “Windward,” “Magic Every Moment,”and “Song Of The Sea:”

Soundings taken at the edge of darkness
The widest silences the heart can ever hear
You can steer to the stars along your lee
Set you bearings to the song of the sea

Tell us some of his very small and endearing (or infuriating!) traits.

Living with Dan was a joy for me. If I had to think of one “quirk” that bothered me, it would have to be his habit of sightseeing while driving. As his head turned, so would his hands, and we’d start drifting toward the center divider. I’d say “Tack!” and he’d steer to starboard.

I always accompanied him on the road; we just loved being together and couldn’t even imagine being apart for days, much less months.

In Maine, our routine was totally different. We’d have breakfast and turn on his old Realistic Weatheradio and listen to the maritime forecast. Dan dubbed the new computerized voice “Sven,”so Sven would tell us what kind of weather to expect, and we’d plan our days accordingly. If Sven made any mention of sun, Dan would go to the store for provisions. I’d help him carry everything down to the dinghy, then either row out to the boat with him for some cruising or a day sail or give him a kiss and a bon-voyage push.

In rain or fog, we’d tack our way across Maine to go antiquing or run errands, or we’d stoke up the wood stove and read. In the evening, we’d turn on the radio and listen to classic rock, NPR, or baseball or football. We didn’t have television, so when Princess Diana died, we heard it on the radio. By 2001 we had a phone, so on September 11 we were on the back porch drinking tea when my father called to tell us that a passenger plane had just hit the Twin Towers. We had no images flashing over and over on a screen, just the sun shimmering on the water, so we turned on the radio and then sat there trying to imagine the unimaginable.

He seems to have been enchanted by the eternals here–gulls, beauty, the sea, solitude, things you can’t measure.

Dan refused to get a phone at the house in Maine for the first 15 years or so (and this was before cell phones), so when he was here he was totally cut off from the hectic pace of the music business. The only time the office in Los Angeles could talk to him was when he’d drive to a pay phone and call them. He loved that, and being on the ocean only enhanced the feeling that he was out of reach. He was such an introspective, private person. That introspective nature allowed him to write the incredibly personal, philosophical songs he was known for. But the fame he gained from those songs meant that he would be in a different city every day, perform in front of thousands of people, and watch while the songs he poured his heart and soul into were either celebrated or torn apart by critics. So the time he spent “out in the world” was incredibly intense, and physically and emotionally draining. The time he spent “away from the world” had to be equally intense, and physically and emotionally healing. And he could only find that in the wild places.

Was he a night person? Did he write at night? Tell us about seeing him “on the phone” with the universe he was so sensitively trying to understand up here.

Completely a night person.  We were never in bed before 2 a.m. At night he liked to read and listen to music. He’d lie on the couch with a book and listen to classical music on the radio and take notes about pieces he liked and was going to order.

Tell us some examples that illustrate just how ridiculously talented he was.

Ridiculously talented is very apt. Dan played a one-man show at Carnegie Hall when he was 27. He loved all kinds of music, and wrote and recorded songs in many genres: ballads, rock, blues, folk, bluegrass, Latin, jazz, country, and medieval. He played acoustic, electric, lead, rhythm, slide, and bass guitars. He also played piano, electric keyboards, banjo, hammer dulcimer, mandolin, bowed psaltery, sitar, and autoharp. On his last two CDs, he sang every part and played every instrument. He sold millions of recordings: one triple-platinum, four double-platinum, three platinum, and two gold albums. He was a talented portrait painter, illustrator, and photographer, as well as an amazing chef. Oh, and he did a James Mason impression that would slay me every time.

Tell us about his favorite public sailing destinations and waterfront restaurants in Maine, so we can feel him with us when we stop there.

Dan sailed single-handed as far south as Boston, and as far north as Nova Scotia. But his favorite places to sail were the waters between Tenants Harbor and Englishman Bay. You could be cruising in any of these waters with him and point out a small island and he could tell you the name of the island, why it was named that, and its history.

His favorite anchorage was Seal Bay, Vinalhaven. He also loved Roque Island Harbor. For dining, he liked mooring in Burnt Coat Harbor on Swan’s Island, where Kevin Staples would come out in his dinghy with his dog standing in the bow, and take Dan’s order for lobster dinner. They’d talk for a while about life and music. Most of the time,  Dan cooked onboard. He’d make meals like linguini and clams with a green salad and a glass of red wine. It was amazing what he could create in that little space.

For special occasions, we’d get gussied up and go to Arborvine in Blue Hill, where Beth would always welcome us warmly. In Camden, The Waterfront, or Cappy’s for chowder, then down the hill to their bakery for coffee and pastries. On Deer Isle, the old Fisherman’s Friend; then in later years to Lily’s Cafe.

Tell us the most courageous and inspiring thing he said, toward the end, that we can learn from–whether it’s life, music, health, spirit, love, or beauty.

The most courageous thing he said towards the end? That would have to be the songs he sang on Love In Time. He started recording the album right before the cancer diagnosis. The courage and determination it took to return to the studio over the next two years and finish the album, despite discomfort and drug side-effects, and knowing they were the last songs he would ever record, is astounding to me. The CD ends with a hauntingly beautiful chord that’s eerily similar to the chord that opens the first song on his first album, To The Morning. Ask any long-time Dan Fan and they’ll tell you, this is Dan telling us, life goes on. That, “There is really nothing left to say but come on morning.”

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  1. Cindy Yates

    Thank you Jean for this beautifully rich visual interview into life with Dan in Maine. I have never been to Maine, but Dan’s songs and your stories made me feel that I had been.

  2. Don St. George

    Wonderful article. Thank you Jean for sharing another snapshot into your life with Dan. His music has inspired me for over 30 years, and your stories do the same.

  3. Great interview, Jean. It’s a shame you gave up performing though!

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