I’m excited to announce I’ll be performing with Sterling Cottam in New York City on June 8, 2018. Tickets are available here. And I’m performing with Jeff Hall in London on 29 June, 2018. Tickets for that show are available here. Mike will also be doing several shows in the Netherlands and Germany with Sterling Cottam in April, 2018. For a full listing of dates and ticket links, visit https://mikemasse.com/concerts/. See you on the road!
I’m excited to announce that I’m performing in Chicago with Bryce Bloom on Saturday, February 3rd, 2018, at the Beat Kitchen. Tickets are available here. And I’ll be playing in Phoenix with Sterling Cottam exactly one month later, on Saturday, March 3rd, 2018, at Last Exit Live. Tickets can be found here. The Phoenix Chapter of Guitars For Vets students and alumni will open up that show. The evening is sponsored by RE-AXE Products and Serastar Technologies. Should be a great night!
Mike announced the “Jam with Mike and Jeff in NY” contest on Facebook today. Win two front row tickets to the show, and sit in with Mike and Jeff on stage at their show on Long Island on Friday, September 29, 2017 (tickets available here). The contest details are available in this Facebook post. Good luck!
Written by David Bowie and Brian Eno
Title Track of the album “Heroes”
Released in 1977
Mike’s cover of “Heroes” is now available on Mike’s loudr.fm store and iTunes.
Ken Benson provides this excellent write-up of David Bowie’s “Heroes”, including a look at Mike’s acoustic take on this classic.
Dedicated to the one who reminded us that life on our blue planet is all worthwhile.
What can be written about David Bowie that hasn’t already been put to print? What new revelations can be unmasked by a simple write-up of a song that most rock and roll lovers know by heart? Well, not much – but I love this song, I love Mike’s passionate take on it and the more I explore Bowie’s life and legacy, the more awe-struck I am by our beloved fallen Starman. Let me just start with what I’ve pieced together about the man and the times.
“Heroes” is a song written by David Bowie and perennial mood artist and producer and former member of Roxy Music, Brian Eno, (who has collaborated with the likes of Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads and U2 just to name a few). It is the third track from the “Heroes” album, the second of the “Berlin trilogy” albums, which was bookended by 1977’s Low and 1979’s Lodger. Bowie left the hedonistic Los Angeles scene for Berlin, West Germany in the late 1970s, where he sought anonymity and a fresh start in his career and more importantly, his health during that time. Germans weren’t as star-struck as the Americans and weren’t doing as much cocaine either.
A bit about the Berlin Trilogy. In the wake of the superstardom ushered in by Bowie’s alter ego Ziggy Stardust, the artist had gone through a number of changes in his professional and personal life. Some of it this was contrived, some of it was just the course of a glam rocker’s life. In the wake of the world-wide smash hit tour, Ziggy became David once again with his album Aladdin Sane (the wordplay of this album title is quite telling: “a lad insane”).
Bowie had a string of hits during the mid-70s including Diamond Dogs, The Jean Jeanie, Rebel Rebel (apparently his most covered hit, followed by “Heroes”), Young Americans, and the most autobiographical of tracks, the number one smash hit Fame which was a song he co-wrote and recorded with John Lennon. Both artists were living examples of the ebb and flow of the lavish lifestyle and he probably didn’t have to stretch too far when Bowie sang “fame…puts you there where things are hollow.” His was having an existential crisis and a physical one as well. Apparently, the already slender Bowie was losing weight and engaging in self-destructive behavior and needed rescuing. A change of scenery was in the offing.
With the encouragement of friends and family, Bowie moved to Paris and then West Berlin to start his life and career anew. His first new project was an album entitled Low, which is probably a description of the state of his psyche and overall well-being at the time. With the help of his producer Tony Visconti, Eno and other session musicians, Bowie ushered in the avant garde era of the Berlin sessions. Low’s second side (most music was listened to on vinyl still, with two sides) is mostly ambient music with minimal lyrical contributions. The second two albums, “Heroes” and Lodger were also more industrial in nature, echoes of the brooding surroundings. Some critics consider this period to be a high watermark of Bowie’s creativity, where he was not constrained by expectations and tempted by the largesse of stardom. His biggest hit from the Berlin era was “Heroes” which would later become an anthem to so many people around the world, especially those in the former communist bloc.
According to Bowie, the song “Heroes” is about two lovers who are embraced below the gun turrets of the Berlin Wall (Visconti claims it was about him and his girlfriend, and at the time Bowie disputed that, but later opened up about it. Apparently Visconti was in the last months of his marriage when he met the German girl, and Bowie didn’t want to meddle in his friend’s personal life). The Wall was apparently only a few blocks from the studio and one could actually see it from the studio control room.
An interesting side-note: both the song and album are in quotes, which has never quite been explained but oft-discussed in music nerd circles. One common explanation is that it elucidates the irony of lovers embracing in the most Cold War of settings, either in an act of defiance or oblivion. Nonetheless, the most common refrain of being a hero “just for one day” strikes at the heart of a generation of teenagers trying to make sense of their dark and polarized world. In other words, the only way to overcome the division of the Wall is a fleeting act of passion.
The song was inspired not only by political events in late 70s Berlin, but also musical developments in technology and production. The cringe-worthy moniker Krautrock was in full swing in Germany at the time, spearheaded by the indisputable gods of the genre, Kraftwerk. Bowie and Eno had befriended members of the band and traded artistic ideas (Bowie and his friend and collaborator Iggy Pop are briefly mentioned in Kraftwerk’s “Trans Europe Express”). Bowie now had a social scene based on a love for pushing music’s boundaries – a far cry from the desultory limbo of the Los Angeles nightclubbing scene.
The song itself is actually quite basic, with a standard D-C-G chord progression on the verses and chorus and is absent the obligatory bridge found in so many pop songs. The rhythm section is rather ordinary with a steady beat and 4/4 time signature. The song stays within a narrow dynamical range excepting for Bowie’s vocal performance. It employs echoes of the Wall of Sound production technique popularized by Phil Spector in the late 60s and early 70s. Eno’s use of the EMS VCS 3 analog synthesizer gives the song lush depth beyond the standard guitar, bass and drum arrangement.
Robert Fripp of King Crimson fame was invited to play electric guitar on the track. Apparently Eno phoned Fripp in New York and cajoled him out of retirement. Fripp then spoke directly to Bowie: “If you’re prepared to take a chance (with me) then so am I. (Bowie met his first wife at a King Crimson concert, so maybe this was his way of paying back the favor)”. Fripp’s contribution to the song would prove to be a game changer. Using a technique called “pitch feedback” Fripp was able to alter the pitch of the feedback by sitting in different parts of the studio. His guitar carries an electric melody atop the track and is notably hard to emulate in live performances.
The recording was cutting edge and edgy. None of the recording finesse would matter however, were it not for the Thin White Duke’s fervent vocal performance. In the single version of the song, he starts out his wistful baritone, but by the halfway mark, he jumps up an octave turning the song into a desperate plea. The words barely change, but emotionally, the song explodes.
Mike’s performance of “Heroes” has a certain sense of urgency that Bowie would have appreciated. It’s stripped down, like Lennon’s first post-Beatles album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, which obliterated the Walls of Sound and left in its wake raw emotion. Similarly, Mike’s version of “Heroes” is honest, edgy and earnest. He captured a moment that can only be caught on a single take, with just a guitar. Wall of Sound be damned.
As a bass player, I struggle sometimes with live acoustic renditions of songs (of just guitar and vocals), because to me it seems like a house without a foundation. There is nothing to support the song underneath – it feels hollow, like Bowie in his Fame days. Mike was careful to address this in his take on the Bowie hit. Listen to his fingering from the very beginning: he plays a repeating D-B-A-D, which emulates the bass part in the original. He even follows up with the chromatic bass riff of D-B-C-C# at the end of the fourth bar. That is music to a bass player’s ears! Even better is his treatment of the bass during the second half of the chorus. Rather than lazily rest on his laurels and play the basic chords of C-G-D (ho hum), he incorporates the walking bass run into those chord progressions, while singing on top of it all! (We can be us…just for one day – listen to whole chorus at 1:22, with the second half and the cool bass run at 1:31).
Mike also takes the effort in this song to mimic the backing vocals from the original track. Right after the chorus, he launches into the next verse “I- I remember, standing by the wall at 1:38). Here you can hear Mike use the guitar to once again fill in for a lack of studio musicians and sing the echoes of “I remember” and “By the wall”, followed by “over our heads” and “nothing could fall”. This is the most poignant part of the song – recall the two lovers embraced below a guard tower with shots being fired. Do they run and hide out of fear? Or do they embrace and block out the Cold War raging on outside? Mike captures this moment in the way he sings the word “kiss”. It’s tender and tragic. They are heroes because no political or military machine can stand in their way. At least not today.
Bowie was a musical chameleon. His reach extended so great due to his restlessness and his constant attention to new sounds and musical directions. Check out this chart from The Economist magazine that connects Bowie’s discography with influences and genres:
Bowie’s studio albums criss cross with musical genres like an analog Ma Bell switchboard. Upon completion of his Young Americans album, he famously stated that he was done with rock n roll. His subsequent years, including those in Berlin, were a testament to that, as he experimented with art rock, electronic, ambient and the Teutonic-tinged Krautrock.
As previously mentioned, “Heroes” is one of the most covered in Bowie’s catalog, and his biggest hit from the Berlin era. This is probably due to the fact that it has a resonating message – even for just one moment in time, we can all be heroes.
I found some interesting versions of this song, starting with the artist himself, performing the song in German. He wasn’t the first Brit to sing hits in German, nor the last, but his version is just as urgent and his German is clean and powerful (The Beatles sang a couple of their early hits in German, while Peter Gabriel recorded two whole albums in the language). The word for heroes in German is “Helden”. As a German speaker myself, I find it interesting that he sings “werden wir Helden für einen Tag”, which can be translated as “We’ll become heroes or we will be heroes for a day”. I understand that words have to fit in the rhythm and melody of a song, but does the slight difference in meaning…mean something?
Here’s the Starman’s German version:
Here is a great version of the song, with just guitar and vocals by someone calling himself Geographer. I love how he capos on the ninth fret and plays some of Fripps’ pitch feedback. A very tender facsimile.
Here is a bare bones version of “Heroes” by Peter Gabriel on his “Scratch my Back” album, live in Verona, Italy. It’s just Peter and an orchestra and is quite haunting.
Thank you, David Bowie, for inspiring so many legions of musicians and fans and for never compromising or selling out. How great it is to be alive at the same time of this iconic legend. Thank you, Mike for capturing his and so many artists’ essence in your musical renditions. You are both heroes for more than just one day.
Mike’s cover of “Leader of the Band” is now available on iTunes and loudr.fm.
Scott Slusher provides us this excellent post, including an exclusive interview with Dan Fogelberg’s niece, Kate Fogelberg.
Written By: Dan Fogelberg
Album: “The Innocent Age”
Release: August, 1981
Label: Full Moon/Epic
Cover Art: “Leader of the Band” by Dan Fogelberg
Written by Dan Fogelberg in the late 1970’s, and included on Dan’s adult contemporary rock magnum opus The Innocent Age in 1981, “Leader of the Band” was a massive hit single for Dan Fogelberg. The song is sincere but not naive or simplistic. It is a fine example of a song written and performed by a man at the peak of his songwriting and musical abilities, and touches on powerful themes of family and the nature of motivation. It is also a largely autobiographical song, providing an insight into Dan’s upbringing. This post explores what makes this song so special, and also includes an interview with Dan’s niece Kate, who provides some very interesting insights into Dan and his family.
First a little history on Dan: Dan Fogelberg grew up in Peoria, Illinois, where his father was a high school and college band director, and his mother was also a music instructor, and a gifted singer in her own right. One can easily imagine the musical upbringing such a family life would provide. Dan attended school at the University of Illinois but dropped out early to pursue a professional music career, eventually landing a record contract in Los Angeles in the early 70s. Dan’s second album, Souvenirs, produced by Joe Walsh, provided Dan with his first top-40 single, “Part of the Plan” (#39 in 1975), and established Dan as a viable professional in the business.
Three more albums (Captured Angel, Nether Lands, and Twin Sons of a Different Mother, with Tim Weisberg) followed before Dan’s big breakthrough came with 1979’s Phoenixalbum and it’s huge ballad hit, “Longer”. Dan also wrote Leader of the Band during this time, but saved it for his next album The Innocent Age, which was released in 1981. I read one post on the internet that claimed Dan held out Leader of the Band from Phoenix because it was too sentimental for that release , but I think he saved it or meant it for The Innocent Age because it fit the concept of the later record more completely. Which may be saying roughly the same thing.
And which brings us (finally) to The Innocent Age, and specifically track 3, side 2, “Leader of the Band”. First of all, the album itself. The Innocent Age was a double-album, a self-proclaimed “song cycle” containing 17 songs on a deluxe double-platter vinyl release. Epic, Dan’s record company at the time, really stepped up with the packaging on this release, with a gatefold sleeve and a full-size booklet insert with lyrics. According to Dan’s website the label was not excited to find out that he wanted to do a double album, but Dan clearly felt strongly about the larger work, even though it meant delaying the release for about an extra year while he wrote and recorded the additional songs . So it’s a concept album! A “song cycle” about the passage of time and the meaning of life. I’m a sucker for concept albums and double-albums. Tommy, of course, The Wall, The River, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, et cetera. So well done, Dan. “Leader of the Band” appears on side 2, sandwiched between other hit songs “Run for the Roses” and “Same Old Lang Syne”, so it’s likely going to be the most scratched up side of the album if you’re lucky enough to find a copy at the used vinyl store.
The album went double platinum and reached #6 on the album charts in 1981. “Leader of the Band” was the third of four singles lifted from the album (“Hard to Say” being the fourth, not yet mentioned single), and peaked at a lofty #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and #1 on the Adult contemporary chart. Dan wrote all of the songs (with co-writing credit on “Empty Cages”), co-produced the album, and played guitars, piano, and did much of his own backing vocals. The album is an example of an artist at the peak of his career, making his most realized statement of musical expression. That may be a backhanded way of saying that Dan never quite reached the same commercial or artistic heights after The Innocent Age, but all artists should be so lucky to have the opportunity to create their best work at the peak of their popularity. The entire album still holds up as enjoyable listening to this day. The recording is unaffected by 80s overproduction that plagued so many other albums of the era, and has a natural, clean sound. It was recorded at several different studios yet retains an impressive consistent tonal quality. Kudos to the mixing engineer and co-producer Marty Lewis for keeping this together.
A simple tonal palette is evident on “Leader of the Band”. The instrumentation is simple; vocals, acoustic guitar, and a brass quintet. Dan provides his own backing vocals. Dan plays a Martin D-41, a beautiful dreadnought acoustic guitar. Coincidentally this is one of Mike Masse’s guitars, which made this song even more irresistible to him as a potential cover song.
The song structure is not complicated, with an instrumental bridge that we visit three times, three verses, and two choruses. No solos, but a brass quintet provides novelty, but relevantly so, given the subject of the song. Each part of the song is well-constructed. It features two outstanding melodies, in the bridge and the chorus each, either of which would make this a memorable song. Between the excellent melodies and the lyrical content and performance it is no wonder that this song became so popular and remains so beloved.
My favorite part is the bridge. The song leads with a solo acoustic guitar version of what we later learn to be the bridge. Written in A-flat, the main bridge melody lasts 8 bars, and it really has nice movement, for lack of a more technical term. It sort of has a legato-staccato (ish) back and forth feel to it (though mostly legato), which gives it a swaying pace and drive. I like to think the melody was stuck in Dan’s mind for a long time before he ever penned it to paper, a little secret that he kept to himself for years before building a song around it. It’s the kind of melody you want to save for a great song that is deserving of its quality. The melody starts with an almost-whole note on the fifth (E-flat), before breaking into a series of syncopated quarter notes in the second measure that settle on the fourth, and rest there for most of the third measure. Then the melody picks up steam in the fifth measure with a nice little run of eighth notes before jumping up to a series of half notes on the beat that fall in a swaying descending line, like the rocking of a cradle. The line gently tracks down from the sixth to the root, which has not been revealed until this point. By not hitting the root of the key until the end of the melody he keeps the listener engaged, waiting in anticipation for resolution. Dan adds a tiny little sixteenth-note flourish on the guitar before it all settles down for four measures on A-flat, a quiet deep breath before the verse begins. The guitar playing is confident and clear. No one is going to run out and compare Dan Fogelberg to Richard Thompson here, but I come away from the intro impressed with his ability. I’m a complete sucker for melodies that track around for several measures before resolving, so I’m hooked in the first 15 seconds of the song.
As mentioned before I also think the melody of the chorus is very well done. This is a 16-bar melody that is more forceful and driving, and of similar quality as the bridge. This time the melody starts on the root and immediately jumps an octave to the A-flat right below high C, the highest melody note Dan will sing on the song. It’s a challenging vocal line to sing, a tricky octave-jump made even more difficult by its precariously high landing point. The high note (on …leader ofthe… in the chorus) is A-flat “4“, just below high C, and you can also hear Dan laying down harmonies hitting D-flat “5”, above High C, in full voice, with no evidence of vocal strain. Dan had a lovely tenor voice with a distinctive tone. Most youtube covers in the original key of this song are sung by women, who have more confidence at that range. To retain control with power and restraint while jumping that large of an interval is not simple, and again, it shows him to be at the top of his form at the time.
The chorus melody lingers for a spell at and near the high A-flat (The leader of the band is tired) before eventually settling back to the fifth (and his eyes are growing old), and then at the end of the first 8 bars actually touches down on the second interval of the root (“soul” on and his song is in my soul), an interval which to most ears begs for resolution. It’s a clever way of keeping the listener’s interest. Dan jumps back to the root-octave jump to allow a quick resolution, as the second half of the chorus starts as a repeat of the first half melody (My life has been a poor attempt…), before breaking off on it’s own into a 4 bar resolution to the entire theme (I’m just a living legacy to the leader of the band).
Then we’re back to the bridge, this time with an addition of a brass quintet. I mentioned the brass quintet earlier. Dan’s big hit from 1979, “Longer”, contained a flugelhorn solo, and I’ve heard “Dan Flugelhorn” mentioned as a somewhat dismissive (but pretty funny) nickname for Dan . It all may seem a bit pretentious for an adult contemporary pop artist to toss in a classical-ish sounding brass quintet into the bridge of his ballad, but the arrangement is nicely done, and includes a wonderful little counter-melody during the run of half notes in the fifth and sixth measures. I don’t have a good enough ear to tell if there is a flugelhorn in the quintet. I’d like to think the entire quintet is comprised of flugelhorns, actually. In another song the presence of the quintet may seem unnecessary, but given the lyrical content of the song it actually enhances and deepens the message of the song. No one is going to run around and start comparing Dan Fogelberg to J. S. Bach, but that level of complexity is not required in a 3 minute pop song. The quintet provides a means to a vision. As a listener it is easy to imagine Dan’s father Larry conducting the quintet during this portion of the song. The presence of the quintet actually reinforces the lyrical content of the song through the choice of instrumentation. Next-level songwriting here, folks.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention another song from a completely different artist featuring solo guitar and horn. “The Saturday Boy” by Billy Bragg, recorded a few years later in 1984, provides an interesting contrast to Leader of the Band in almost every way except for instrumentation, which makes it a delightful counterpoint to Leader of the Band. Billy sings in his “distinctive” (off-key) way about an unrequited love, over a sloppy solo electric guitar. the song closes out with a horn solo, alas I come to find out a trumpet solo (not flugelhorn), but a horn nonetheless. Billy is not a master musician, but there is ample room in my catalog of loved songs for both Billy and Dan here. And in a strange way, if we deem it acceptable for that fisty lovelorn punk-poet Billy Bragg to spice up a solo guitar song with a brass flourish, then we can’t very well disparage Dan Fogelberg for doing the same.
This brings us finally to the actual lyrical content of the song. “Leader of the Band” is an autobiographical love letter from a son to his father, delivered at the time the son realizes how much of an influence the father has had on him, and when the father has finished his life’s work, more or less. As we know Dan grew up in a musical family and must have honed his talents at the feet of supportive and talented parents. Dan himself mentions a powerful early experience, “conducting” his father Larry’s orchestra at the age of four, while Larry ghost-conducted behind him . The lyric he earned his love through discipline, a thundering velvet hand is a reference to the orchestra conductor’s glove, his father’s command of the orchestra, and his reputation as being tough on his students, and earning their love and loyalty through his strict discipline . It’s the sort of experience a young person might not appreciate at the time. I can personally attest to that, having chafed under the bit of my music directors as a rambunctious student, only to appreciate the lessons being taught to me, sometimes only years later.
Even as Dan embarked on a musical career of his own that in terms of mass popularity far eclipsed that of his father’s, I get the sense from this song that Dan always felt in debt to his father, and that his father’s approval and praise would have meant more to Dan than any number of gold and platinum records. To back this up, the same article also mentions that Dan’s gold and platinum records were actually hung at his parent’s house, like so many trophies for winning musical competitions. I think we can make a clear connection between Dan’s drive to succeed as a musical artist and his desire to please his parents. It’s really quite sweet, actually.
A main thrust of the song details how the Dan’s father Larry, the “Leader of the Band”, has hung up his baton, and is an exploration of his legacy as a conductor and an educator. Of course for the most part Dan sings about his father’s influence on himself (his blood flows through my instrument and his song is in my soul), but Dan also throws a significant nod to his father’s influence on countless students he must have conducted over the years (His gentle means of sculpting souls took me years to understand). Larry was a celebrated conductor and a beloved teacher in his community, and the lyric captures this sentiment deftly.
Much of the rest of the song is a history of his father, who actually was in the army briefly before taking his position as music director in Peoria (tried to be a soldier once, but his music wouldn’t wait), and a bit of biography of the family (and I’m in Colorado, when I’m not in some hotel). The final verse reads a list of “thank yous” from son to father, concluding with the very emotional papa, I don’t think I said I love you near enough.
Dan’s father was largely retired from work by 1975, and sadly passed away in 1982, only a year after the song was released. But it’s nice to know that he was able to hear and enjoy the song his son wrote for him. And sadly Dan is no longer with us, having passed away in 2007. As the song indicates, Dan made his home in Colorado for much of his adult life, which is my (and Mike’s) home, as well. As a result, Fogelberg was on heavy rotation in my house growing up, The Innocent Age being one of a select few albums our entire family enjoyed. It’s syrupy-sweet to be sure, but Leader of the Band really is a fine song, with excellent melodies and lyrics, expertly sung by a musician at the top of his form. Cheers to you Dan, and thank you for the music.
As mentioned at the top, Dan’s niece Kate Fogelberg was kind enough to let me interview her for this post. It’s really interesting to hear her perspective:
Me: First things first, is your family from Chicago, or St. Paul? From the lyrics of the song I think we can narrow it down to one of those two places!
Kate: My Dad, Dan’s oldest brother is the one who went to Chicago. The three boys grew up in Peoria, Illinois, but my Dad went to Chicago for law school and settled in the area with my Mom.
Me: Dan’s parents, Larry and Margaret, sound like wonderful people. Did you have a chance to know Larry before he passed away? And how is Margaret doing?
Kate: I was very young when my Grandpa passed away so didn’t have the chance to know him beyond the stories that my Dad and uncles would tell. My Grandma is doing very well considering that she is approaching 95! Her mother – my great-grandmother – lived well into her 100s, crediting her longevity to haggis and port, a nod to her Scottish roots.
Me: So there is a purpose to haggis! At what age were you when you realized your uncle was not only Uncle Dan, but “Dan Fogelberg”?
Kate: Pretty young, must have been about 5 or so. When we were kids and Dan was touring, we would go to his summer concerts at a really neat venue called Poplar Creek outside of Chicago. Getting to go backstage and on the tour bus always felt special, even more so as a kid. I was a bit of an attention-seeker as a child, so remember very well screaming “yea, UNCLE Dan” at concerts at a young age and getting curious stares from the people sitting around us. Fogelberg is not a very common last name in the US, so from a very young age, I remember many people – from my dentist to grocery store employees – inquiring about the potential link to Dan when they heard my last name.
Me: Dan and you both ended up in Colorado at the same time. Were you able to spend much time with him in Colorado?
Kate: He lived in Colorado for many years before I moved there as an adult, but I did start to fall in love with Colorado during ski trips to Dan’s at a young age. As a kid, one of my favorite things to do was sled down the seemingly endless driveway at [Dan’s] ranch at night under the starry nights. Dan was a great skier, and he introduced me to skiing at Wolf Creek. (a ski area in southern Colorado)
Me: If you know or can speculate, how do you think Dan felt about his career and the success of Leader of the Band in particular?
Kate: He did what he loved and was a huge inspiration to me to follow my heart and do what I love.
Me: Leader of the Band is very autobiographical, which I imagine can be both flattering and a bit overwhelming. how does it feel to have a huge hit song written about your family?
Kate: It is a bit strange, but it’s all I’ve ever known. I’m very used to people hearing my last name and inquiring about the link. Since I didn’t get to know my Grandfather, it’s unique to have a way to connect to him through this song.
Me: Can you tell us your favorite song by Dan? It’s quite all right if it’s not “Leader of the Band”! My favorite might be “The Reach”, a deep cut from The Innocent Age.
Kate: Hard to narrow it down to just one! I do love “Leader” because it’s a connection to my Grandfather, whom I didn’t get the chance to get to know. As a child, I loved hearing “Power of Gold” live at Dan’s shows; some of my favorite lyrics are in “Part of the Plan,” but one of my all-around favorite songs is “As the Raven Flies.” (from Souvenirs)
Me: Sounds like the Fogelberg household was very musical. Do you have any musical talents? Flugelhorn, perhaps?
Kate: I studied the piano for close to 8 years, and still tickle the ivories from time to time, but I’m very rusty.
Me: Thank you Kate for spending some time reminiscing with me about Dan, and Leader of the Band. You mentioned he inspired you to follow your heart and do what your love. Do you mind telling us a little bit about how you follow that inspiration in your own life?
Kate: From a young age, I had an insatiable curiosity about the world. As I grew up, I became increasingly interested in the inequalities that exist and the different opportunities that are afforded to people simply based upon where they are born. Although it hasn’t always been a straight path, I’ve dedicated my career to trying to make the world a little bit better. Dan was able to do that through his music for so many people, and through my career thus far, I like to think that I too, am doing my part to make this world a little bit better. From teaching English in post-war Guatemala, to working with HIV-positive widows in Kenya, to supporting communities and governments to solve their water and sanitation problems in Latin America, I have been witness to some of the most frustrating situations, as well as the life-changing impact very basic services – like water and sanitation – can have.
And finally, a couple other youtube covers of this fine song:
“tupazcousins” from the Philippines:
Not the most technically perfect performance by any means, but very authentic.
Very confident playing and singing from Lea.
Gets a great sound out of his Taylor.
How and Why Mike Plays It
When I was 14, I moved to Boulder, Colorado, from Satellite Beach, Florida. I really, really didn’t want to leave Florida. But my dad had accepted a position in Golden, CO, working at (and eventually running) the National Earthquake Information Center. So I spent half of my junior high and all of my high school years in Boulder. I look back now at how incredibly lucky that was. I made two lifelong friends (and bandmates) in Scott Slusher and Ken Benson. And I eventually met Trent Hickman, another lifelong friend who has had a profound influence for good in my life. And the Beatles taught me how to play guitar! Well, I sorta taught myself by listening to the Beatles. 🙂 I guess I coulda done that anywhere, but still. CO is awesome! I’m so glad to call it home again.
I think I was aware of Dan Fogelberg before moving to Colorado, and it was difficult to escape him once I was here. Not that I wanted to, mind you. Unlike Scott, I’ve actually heard very little Dan Fogelberg outside of his hits. (Maybe someone could recommend a good YouTube playlist or something…?)(Slush responds: Start with “The Innocent Age” album. The whole thing. Front to back.) But man, did I love his hits. I’ve always been a sucker for a good ballad, especially when guitar and/or great harmonies are involved. So I loved “Longer”, “Same Old Lang Syne” and “Leader in the Band”. If those latter two haven’t made you misty at some point in your life, you’re doing it wrong.
I learned “Leader of the Band” basically when I was competent enough at guitar to attempt it. I had to learn it by ear, what with it being the early 90’s-n-all. I learned it *mostly* right. I had to re-listen recently and correct a couple of little things (accounting for the capo, the second chord of the chorus is really a Bm? Weeeeird.) I now play it the way I hear it, so that’s me hedging on any claims of playing it exactly “right”. It’s in Ab, but for the recording I chose to tune my guitar up a half step rather than play it capo’ed on the first fret, so the strings would ring more cleanly on the open notes. I used a capo in the video so as not to confuse people trying to play along. 🙂
I’ve been wanting to cover this song for YouTube for years, and as Scott mentioned, when I got the Martin D-41 (the same model Dan used to play), I knew I had to make it happen eventually. I didn’t want it to be a live recording though, because I wanted to take a crack at those beautiful harmonies, and I wanted them all to myself! 🙂
When I moved back to Colorado in August, 2014, I found myself wanting to play “Leader of the Band” at nearly every gig. The lyrics just hit home on a new level, since I now live in CO again and am a full-time musician who spends his share of time traveling.
“And I’m in Colorado when I’m not in some hotel, living out this life I’ve chose and come to know so well.”
Thanks again to Scott for his excellent write-up of the song.
Mike’s acoustic cover of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” is now available on YouTube and iTunes.
My good friend and fellow musician Scott Slusher provides us this excellent post about the significance of this classic 80’s hit, and I end the post with a little bit of why and how I chose to cover this great song.
Written By: Keith Forsey & Steve Schiff
Album: “The Breakfast Club” original soundtrack
Release Date: February 20, 1985
Studio: Record One, Sherman Oaks, CA
Cover Art: “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds
Post by Scott Slusher
#1 hit for Simple Minds in 1985, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” is an iconic song of the 80s. Inexorably linked to and assuredly helped along by its prominent placement in a defining movie of the decade, The Breakfast Club, the song catapulted Simple Minds into a glorious period of USA superstardom. “Don’t You” has tremendous staying power, and remains a popular song 30 years later.
Although it is Simple Minds’ biggest hit, “Don’t You Forget About Me” was not written by Simple Minds. Nor will you find it on any of their studio album releases. “Don’t You” was actually written specifically for The Breakfast Club movie by a pair of Hollywood-based songwriters, Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff, and recorded by Simple Minds. Keith Forsey was hired to write and compile music for The Breakfast Club based on his involvement and success with another 80s classic, Flashdance (Keith co-wrote “Flashdance… What a Feeling”).
Truth be told, the soundtrack to The Breakfast Club is rather forgettable aside from “Don’t You”. But all it takes is one hit song to move an album, and working with Steve Schiff from the Nina Hagen band, Keith Forsey thought he had a killer tune. If they could only find someone to record it. The songwriting pair tried to convince several artists to record the song, but to no avail. Simple Minds were their first choice, but the band turned them down initially. Simple Minds were reluctant to record and release songs that they didn’t write, and quite frankly they didn’t think it was a very interesting song when it was initially presented to them. The song was passed around to several more artists, including Bryan Ferry and Billy Idol. Eventually Simple Minds did record the song, after adding the breakdown and ending. Indications are that Simple Minds’ US label, A&M, leaned on them a bit to do the project. And for all their reluctance, “Don’t you…” became the biggest hit Simple Minds would ever have (at least in the US), which ironically caused them some angst even as it advanced their career tremendously.
By late 1984 Simple Minds were already six albums into a career, established and quite popular in the UK. But even after six albums, they were only just starting to make tiny inroads into the USA market. In the US they would have been known only to devoted anglophiles and fans of college radio and “new wave”, not having a single charting song in the US up to that time. “Don’t You…” then became a sort of trojan horse for the band, a number-one hit that immediately took them from relative obscurity to massive popularity in the USA. And happily for them, they were able to capitalize on that success with an excellent studio album later that year, Once Upon a Time, which went platinum three times over in the US, and spawned three more hit singles.
While in hindsight the band is thankful that they recorded the song, at the time they were actually resentful of the fact that their most successful song was written by someone else. This type of artistic integrity mattered to them. Hence the angst. Simple Minds specifically left it off of their next album Once Upon A Time, determined to let the music they wrote stand on its own as much as possible. Admirable, as I can imagine their label strongly encouraging them to include “Don’t You” on the release, if not call the entire album Simple Minds Sings ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ and Some Other Stuff, or something to that effect.
And all of this it leads me to a nagging thought; were Simple Minds’ instincts correct? Is this song actually good? Is it even possible to make that determination? The song is undeniably popular. How much of that is because we love the song on its own terms, and how much is because we associate the song with the movie? Try to think of a world where The Breakfast Club never happened, but the song did happen. I don’t think it’s possible. Particularly if you are of an age where you actually saw this movie in 1985, your sense-memory of this song is tightly bound by your experience of the movie. And even if you were born long after the song came out, eventually you are going to be bound to it in the same way. It is pointless to try separate the two. You like the movie, you like the song. They are inseparable.
And I think this is important: the song wasn’t simply bolted on to the movie. This song was meant to be in this movie. Steve and Keith literally wrote the song for the movie. They went to Chicago, watched filming, read the script, and wrote a song that tried to capture that vibe as best they could. The song wasn’t created in a vacuum. They also wrote the song with the idea that Simple Minds would be the perfect band to record it. Anglophiles! Well in point of fact Keith is English, so there you go. And though it took some convincing, eventually they got their band. Imagine this song recorded by Brian Ferry, Cy Curnin of The Fixx, Billy Idol, or Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders (all British, or close enough in Crissie’s case). These were some of the other artists that Keith and Steve tried to enlist, who also turned them down. In Crissie’s case they may have been buttering her up to try to wind their way back to Simple Minds, seeing as Chrissie was married to Jim Kerr, Simple Minds’ lead singer, at the time. And actually you don’t have to imagine the Billy Idol version, he ended up covering the song himself years later:
Billy Idol cover version:
One wonders how his version might have sounded had he chosen to record it originally, since this “cover” is inevitably informed by the Simple Minds’ version. So it’s quite easy to imagine this song performed by another artist. I wonder if it would have been as popular in the hands of a band not hand-picked for the task. I also wonder what might have happened had John Hughes decided to put a different song in the movie. I think if “Don’t You” had been removed from the movie, then Simple Minds would have never released it, and the success of their entire subsequent career would have been muted as a result, certainly in the US. It’s possible that another song would have done well in place of “Don’t You”. Given the popularity of The Breakfast Club, there were probably a great many trojan horses at the ready.
Listening to the rest of the soundtrack nothing jumps out as a lost gem, and that’s putting it charitably. The soundtrack to Pretty in Pink is much more solid. But it’s not a fair comparison, since Pretty In Pink was compiled from hand-picked songs, while The Breakfast Club was mostly composed by a single music director. But I digress. Placement counts for a lot. Maybe they stuff Billy Idol singing “Dancing With Myself” over the credits. Boom, instant hit. Or Dokken. Well maybe not Dokken. But “Don’t you” was the song written specifically for this movie, and performed by the band that was meant to perform it. Given that specificity of intent, I make the argument that no other song could have hit the mark as close to the bullseye.
But is it good? Is it a good song? Listening to the rest of that soundtrack gives me reason to doubt. And the song certainly has its detractors: It’s difficult to find reviews from the period, but Jack Rabid from “The Big Takeover” derided it as nothing less than an artistic betrayal of Simple Minds’ musical values (I found a brief review on Allmusic). In hindsight his criticism seems hysterical and overly protective. Nonetheless his viewpoint is worth some exploration: “Now they get to do a hit song for a bad movie, and they suddenly turn into every cliché you’ve ever heard”, pens Jack, after noting that he thought their musical output to that point was “creative and interesting”. Yes, Simple Minds are getting slapped with the dreaded “sell out” label. This type of criticism, in my opinion, must have contributed to Simple Minds’ angst over how to feel about the song’s success, and the opportunities it afforded them. The criticism seems oddly quaint and nostalgic today. There was a time when “selling out” was a serious accusation. I don’t think we live in a time like that anymore. Or more realistically (and sadly), today’s bands can’t afford not to sell out when the opportunity presents itself. But it meant something at the time.
We still really haven’t answered the question. I’m not sure that we can come to a general consensus. I think the best I can do is explain why I like the song, making the admittedly arrogant presumption that if I like the song, then it must be a good song. I don’t have to be worried about what it did to Jim Kerr’s mental health. As a fan, I can just listen to and enjoy the music for what it is. And it is a classic 80’s song. I like this song for three specific reasons: one, I like the way Jim sings the song. Two, I like the way it “sounds”. And three, I like the killer breakdown that concludes the song.
For me, “Don’t You” locks in place the feeling of being a teenager in white suburban America. It’s a powerful sense-memory. Clearly this is as a result of it’s placement in The Breakfast Club, which simply everybody saw. But it’s also the way Jim Kerr sings the song. I don’t think the message of the song is terribly profound or deep. Which is fine. It’s a pop song written for a teen movie. It’s not “Strange Fruit”. But with perhaps unintentional irony Jim sings the lyrics with bombastic authority, and delivers the lyrics with sincerity. He walks a tightrope between passion and maudlin dramatics, which is part of the fun. Listen to how he sings When you call my name… at the end of the breakdown. Channeling a bit of Jim Morrison, aren’t we? But from what I’ve heard of his output, Jim Kerr sings everything like that. So what do you expect? He has a dramatic baritone voice, a strong voice. And he wasn’t alone in singing this way. At the time, certainly in the UK, many other artists were singing like this: Ian McCulloch. Dave Gahan. Stuart Adamson. And of course, though they were over in Ireland, look no further than Simple Minds’ oft-compared contemporaries U2, and Bono (more of a tenor, I know). I could go on. Suffice to say, there was an epidemic of British baritones singing pop songs with big serious dramatic voices at the time. Everything was just so damn important. This was first generation of singers that grew up on David Bowie and Jim Morrison. It was and remains a lot of fun to listen to. All those artists, particularly the way they sing, take me back to a time and place when I was a teenager, and everything in my life was also so damn important. It all went a bit off the rails at times (see Sisters of Mercy, The), but they sang the way I felt. It’s possible the way they sang even shaped the way I felt.
I have a couple of theories as to why Jim Kerr and his contemporaries were singing with so much dramatic intent. Some of it feels like a New Wave counter-reaction to the punk rock way of singing, made popular, at least in the UK, by Johnny Rotten and that lot. But just as much, I think this way of singing went hand in hand with the way these songs were produced. The entire musical soundscape of “Don’t You” is dramatic. This is due to what I call the “Steve Lillywhite” effect. Steve Lillywhite is a legendary record producer who produced records for some of Britain’s biggest bands of the era: U2, Peter Gabriel, XTC, Psychedelic Furs, a lot of classics. Steve had just produced the last Simple Minds album, Sparkle in the Rain. “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” contains all the hallmarks of the grand Lillywhite sound: A big drum martial sound. A moderate tempo, with a fair amount of breathing room for ringing guitars. Washes of synthesizer keyboards. And on top of it all, dramatic singing, with long drawn-out notes. The music itself encourages dramatic and forceful singing. It may have been the only way to be heard over those big sounds. It’s a wonderful, uplifting listening experience that dates itself to a time and place, but still holds up today.
Finally, I love the breakdown. And this actually might soothe the angst. For you see, the breakdown at the end of the song was the bit that Simple Minds added to the song themselves. And although they didn’t get actual songwriting credit for it, I think it’s the best part. The “breakdown” is, of course, the bit after the second chorus where everything gets stripped down to an on-the-beat, keyboard-drenched, made for arena-rock, clap-along masterpiece. After 8 measures of this Jim starts back in, singing in an almost dream-like state: will you walk away? Will you walk on by? Come on, call my name, Will you call my name?, before the song comes roaring back into the chorus progression with one of the all-time classic drum fills courtesy of Mel Gaynor. Then it’s off to the great sing-along la la la las, to the end. I think it is the crux of the song. Try to imagine “Don’t You” without it. Seems almost pointless to listen to the song, if you knew you would be cheated out of your opportunity to clap your hands and sing la la la la! Clearly this was a band with extensive live performance experience. This was made to kill it live. They regularly extended the sections of the breakdown live, doubling the length of each section to milk as much drama out of the performance as possible. Here’s a good example from 1985:
Of course they went back to this bag of tricks with one of their subsequent singles, “Alive and Kicking”, from Once Upon a Time. And why not, loads of bands do it. One of the things I like about Mike Masse’s performance is how he carries the breakdown on the guitar. Mike strums the keyboard notes on the eighth notes, essentially capturing the important bits of both the guitar and the keyboard during this section.
See and hear Mike’s version here!
And here are a few other interesting cover versions for your enjoyment!
Boasting Scottish credibility and a voice like Dolores O’Riordan, Nicole Mason throws on a 90s trip-hop beat over a laid back version with outstanding results.
Mr. and Mrs. Fox, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” with “Midnight City” by M83:
Mr. and Mrs. Fox give it the modern touch, with a version that mashes “Don’t You” with the smash alternative/dance hit from 2011, “Midnight City”. Very cool. Good vocals by Mr. Fox.
Marcello adds a Latin flair to a solo acoustic interpretation. I like what he does with the breakdown.
So what makes a good song? What makes a song stand the test of time? It’s impossible to say, exactly. Maybe it’s as simple as being in the right place at the right time with the right sound. But I think there is something more to it than that. It’s not simply luck. Simple Minds knew what they wanted and what they were doing, even if they struggled with the decision and ultimately felt like they had made some sort of artistic Faustian bargain in the process. But all is forgiven. Maybe, even, there is nothing to forgive. They did what they thought was best, they put their heart and soul and craft into it, and ultimately gave us all a touchstone to another time and place. Even if it was just something with which we can all sing along together, it’s still something good.
How Mike Plays It
Thanks to Scott for that great write-up!
Mike here. My concern about playing this song initially was the vocal range. No, not the high end, the low end! Those “down, down, down down” notes are a low A, which is pushing it for me. Most gigs I can hit it. Most. 🙂
But I’ve always loved singing along to this song. Why? Because I’m like every other human with ears and a voice–how could you possibly NOT sing along to this song? While it doesn’t have any real vocal fireworks, it’s a pretty amazing vocal performance, all the same.
My approach to the guitar was principally about finding the right dynamics, and representing all of the parts. During the opening, the guitar is the “band”, rather than emulating the actual guitar part played. The electric guitar has hints of E minor in it, whereas I play the intro with straight major chords, for the most part. Em arguably works just as well (or open fifths with no 3rd). The verses are just muted versions of E major (which works fine in the verses), D and A. The little bridge section throws in C and G with the D and A. The chorus is still E, D, and A, but with that keyboard riff. That keyboard riff!
Man, what a great riff. This was one of those songs that every time I heard it, I wanted to figure out what those chords were, since they didn’t *sound* like what you’d think they would be. You try to make a mental note to yourself: “I wanna learn that song.” And then you forget, and you hear it again and think, “Oh man, I still really wanna learn that song.” That went on for decades with me and this song. Anyway, it sounds like it should be something like E to A, hearing that G# to the A on the top. But it’s *not* that, clearly. So what is it? It turns out to be E to D, which is awesome. Descending chords, but ascending inversions. The E is in 2nd inversion, so the G# is on top, which leads to the top note of the D triad, A. OK, some of you with more awesome ears than me are saying “Duh!”, but sometimes music can make easy things sound deceptively hard, especially if you’re not sitting in front of a piano or a guitar where you can sound things out.
So back to that riff: I wanted to maintain the main melody of the G# to A, so I had to do a little inverting of my own. I ended up playing the E on the 4th fret with the same fingering you’d use for a D chord (strings 1-3), and then I’d go to a D on the 5th fret, basically just playing the bottom three strings of a D barre chord.
A word about rhythm. I usually try to emulate to rhythm of the band as a whole, although following the galloping bass, with its alternating 8th then two 16ths pattern would admittedly have given it a cool feel. But playing that rhythm becomes very difficult while singing the vocal line, which rhythmically has very little in common with that bass part. So instead, I try to play with a bass player whenever possible. 🙂
The rest of the arrangement is pretty self explanatory, with me attempting to ride the dynamics a bit, especially on the breakdown. At that point, I’m practically only playing the 1st string, echoing the melody of the keyboard on the original. Cool stuff. It’s fun to play. I hope my arrangement will help you develop your own. And it wouldn’t take much of a guitar player to come up with something even cooler.
 Simple Minds video: https://youtu.be/CdqoNKCCt7A
 Breakfast Club Opening Credits: https://youtu.be/ZF–IfvbioQ
 Slow Change May Pull Us Apart: The Oral History of Simple Minds’ ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ http://www.spin.com/2015/02/simple-minds-dont-you-forget-about-me-oral-history-breakfast-club/
 Allmusic.com scathing review http://www.allmusic.com/album/dont-you-forget-about-me-mw0001304839
 AV Club interview with Steve Lillywhite: http://www.avclub.com/article/super-producer-steve-lillywhite-39124
 Music Radar interview with Steve Lillywhite: http://www.musicradar.com/news/guitars/production-legend-steve-lillywhite-on-16-career-defining-records-375589
My acoustic cover of “The Boys of Summer” is now available on YouTube and iTunes. I thought I’d share a little bit of its history, and a little bit of why and how I chose to cover this great song.
There are a few songs that instantly take you back to a certain time and place. This is one of those songs for me. It is somehow both dated and timeless. This song endures, due to its great melody, lyric and vocal. And that relentless synth riff that drives the song.
Mike Campbell– Tom Petty’s lead Heartbreaker, collaborator, and longtime writing partner had a version of the melody and rhythm that he offered to Tom Petty. Tom was working through Southern Accents which a sprawling ode to all things Southern. A synth driven song wasn’t part of the plans. So Mike Campbell called Don Henley. Because of course he did. “Don’t look back, you can never look back.” Apologies, Don, but we’re going to look back anyway!
Why I Picked This Song
Some of my fans may remember that I had my own March Madness tournament in March, 2014, to determine my next YouTube acoustic cover. My Facebook followers voted for their favorite song in each round until the winner was crowned.
“The Boys of Summer” was runner up. At the time, I confess I was a little glad it didn’t win (although I love the song!), because I hadn’t sorted out what an acoustic arrangement would sound like yet. There’s that repeating descending synth riff that needs to be accounted for somehow. My initial thought was to loop it, but I’d never played to loops and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go down that road. So I tabled it, watched a couple other cover versions, looking for a little inspiration. I didn’t really see anyone else’s approach that captured the rhythm and movement of the song as I wanted to, so I just started hashing it out.
How I Play It
The original song is in Eb minor (or in the relative major, Gb), so I tuned down a 1/2 step (as one does) so I could properly play those opening chords, which end up being Ebm Cb Db, when tuned down (played as the usual Em C D, with a little bit of suspension/embellishment here and there). The chorus then became G D C. I wanted the arrangement to “go” somewhere, so I didn’t throw the synth riff into the first verse, but played fuller, more traditional chords. I saved the riff emulation for the second and third verses. I learned the little muted riff during the break after the second chorus, and that was pretty much it. Oh, and I decided to trim some of the instrumental, since I wasn’t trying to tackle the solos (you know me!) while playing the rhythm stuff.
I debuted the song live at a private birthday party near San Antonio, TX. The guest of honor was turning 40, so she was old enough to remember the song, but didn’t recognize it by name. She said, “What are you playing next?” I said, “The Boys of Summer”. She sort of politely smiled/shrugged and walked away, clearly not recognizing the song name. But as soon as the first verse kicked in, she and all of her girlfriends sang along the entire song. It was such a memorable first performance for me—such a huge validation that I’d captured the essence of the song, having people sing along like they were cranking up the original version 30 years earlier. I didn’t play it for awhile after that for some reason. After reviving it, it took time to feel comfortable enough with it to try to record it for YouTube—I trimmed it down a little, sped it up a little (sort of unconsciously, but I think the quicker tempo makes the instrumental parts (sans solos) not feel quite so long), and eventually performed it well enough to post online. I don’t know if I’ll ever match the energy (anxiety!) of that first performance, but having the audience sing along certainly wouldn’t hurt.
Written By: Mike Campbell & Don Henley Album: “Building the Perfect Beast” Year: 1984 Label: Geffen Studio: Record One, Sherman Oaks, CA Producer: Mike Campbell
Mike Campbell on recording the song: (via Songfacts)
“I showed it to Tom, but the record we were working on, “Southern Accents”, it didn’t sound like anything that would fit into the album. Jimmy Iovine called me up one day and said he’d spoken with Don, who I hadn’t met yet, and said he was looking for songs. He gave me his number and i called him up and played it for him. He said he put it on in his car and had written some words and wanted to record it. That’s how it started.”
This song was a huge hit in the 1985 VMAs on MTV. The song won Video of the Year, Best Director, Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography. The original video featured filmmaking techniques that aren’t always in use today.
The Ataris, 2003.
Some of the Most Viewed YouTube Covers
Of course, I’m not the only one that’s done “The Boys of Summer.” Here are some other cover artists’ renditions:
Lana Nesnas and Paul Winn give a nice blues-tinged live rendition.
Ben Littlewood’s lovely acoustic/piano rendition.
Steven Kelly Hunt gives his fun live rendition a little hint of a country flare.
I consider this song to be hallowed ground. As a piece of music, it’s beautiful, haunting, and even uplifting somehow. As an expression of grief, it’s devastating. I approach this song with sincere reverence for the very real pain felt by very real people. I didn’t know little Conor, but as a father, I know the innocence and purity of a little boy his age and how precious those little souls are when they’re with you in your home, in your life. [If you don’t know what inspired the lyrics, Google it at your own risk, and prepare yourself to cry your eyes out, and prepare your heart to feel the pain of a deeply wounded artist.]
When I perform this work, I try to wall off some of my own emotions and not think too hard on the song’s meaning and origin, lest I break down mid-song. I can’t imagine how hard it is for Eric Clapton to perform this. After everything we went through with our own little Noah, I feel a type of kinship with the pain and fear expressed in this song, but I don’t pretend to fathom even a glimpse of the heartbreak and loss that brought Mr. Clapton to write this modern masterpiece. I hope my rendition will remind you of how you felt the first time you heard this song, knowing what it was about. And maybe help you feel connected to your own kids and/or family—every moment you have with them. For me, these quiet moments of extreme empathy for another’s loss make me feel more connected to those around me, family and strangers alike. They make me feel more human. They make me want to be a better human. What more could we want from art? What more could art want from us?