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Leaders of the Band

Remembering Mark Heard and Dan Fogelberg

The Greek philosopher and musicologist Damon of Athens reportedly said, “Give me the songs of a people, and I care not who writes their laws.” That’s one reason I occasionally remember great songwriters here, and today is a milestone date for two great singer-songwriters: Mark Heard and Dan Fogelberg. Mark Heard was born on this date, December 16, in 1951. That means he would have been 65 years old today. Nearly a quarter-century after his death, many artists still remember and play his songs. He influenced Bruce Cockburn, The Call, Phil Keaggy, Pierce Pettis, Andrew Peterson, REM, Rich Mullins, Buddy and Julie Miller, Olivia Newton-John. . . . Indeed, at some point you simply have to stop naming names, the list gets so long.

He was a pioneer in the Christian music genre, but he never quite fit comfortably in the CCM box.

Arsenio Orteza, writing about Heard for WORLD, said Heard “was unsatisfied with easy answers.

Even as the developing quality of his work and the respect it engendered among the more serious circles of the singer-songwriter community nudged him toward crossover popularity, he never stopped asking tough questions.”

Heard was performing at the Cornerstone Christian music festival when he suffered a heart attack onstage on July 4, 1992.

He seemed to recover and was released from the hospital, but in his weakened state he succumbed to another heart attack on August 16, 1992. A grainy video of a portion of that last performance is on YouTube, here, with a very young Pierce Pettis on background vocals.

Another artist I remember on this day is Dan Fogelberg. Fogelberg died of cancer on this date in 2007, though had he lived he would be 65 this year (2016), too.

Fogelberg’s life was one that is not as obviously related to Christianity as is Mark Heard’s. In fact, Fogelberg was—in many ways—a symbol of the decline of Christian influence in American life. Raised in a middle-class home in Peoria, Ill., in the 1950s and ’60s, he shared Mark Heard’s intuition that something was not quite right with the world. Fogelberg, however, turned to New Age and Native American spirituality and quickly burned through two marriages as his career flourished. Today, most people know him only for his version of “Same Old Lang Syne,” which all-Christmas-music-all-the-time-stations play every December. However, he was everywhere on the radio in the late ’70s and early ‘80s. And even his pop hits—such as “The Power of Gold”—often asked tough questions about modern American life.

Yet something happened to Fogelberg as he got older. His quest for spiritual truth finally caused him to reject the vague New Age spirituality of his early adulthood. He said in an 1999 interview that he had converted to Catholicism. A heartfelt Christmas album he recorded in the final years of his life has seven original songs, including “The First Christmas Morning,” in which Fogelberg writes:

The Lord in His wisdom, the Lord in His grace Has given to man a redeemer To save us from sin and to show us the light That shines on this first Christmas morning.

In memory of both of them I say, “Rest in peace, and thanks for the great music.”

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