Same Old Lang Syne

Fifty six is too young to die.

I remember my mother saying people in their forties were young and my sisters and I laughed. Youth is about exuberance, a sense of invulnerability, you believe what has happened to the rest of humanity will never happen to you. If you’re lucky, you get old. But some don’t get that benefit.

My father died at seventy. I thought he had a pretty good ride. Now I’m frightened that my life will be snuffed at the same age. In my prime, when the world’s wisdom has finally come to me.

I always wondered how these songwriters could be so insightful in their twenties, how they could know so much about life, and love.

Some people find the right person in grade school. They grow old together. Still others search for so long, they ultimately give up, the pain is too severe, they tell themselves they’re fulfilled as they eat dinner alone in front of the TV. And then there’s the rest of us. We live with one person, get married to another, we don’t know whether to stop where we are or to break up and begin anew. We hear talk of soulmates, we hear of people shooting significant others. Does everybody really just live in between? So close to that line of exasperation, with satisfaction just outside our grasp?

We’ve got moments. With others. But do they really love us? Are they going to leave us? Can we trust them? Can we trust anybody?

I’ve trusted the music. I know the notes on the records never change, the insights remain. They get me through times of despair, when I’ve got more questions than answers. They make me feel like I’m not alone in this world. "Same Old Lang Syne" makes me feel like I’m not alone in this world, that I’m part of a continuum, part of humanity. True love may be professed in the media, at cocktail parties…but for most of us, it’s elusive. Maybe because there’s no such thing. Just a continuous string of moments. As one moves forward. But occasionally, you move backward.

They course through your memory. You wonder if you reconnected…would your life work? Was she the one? But when you bump into them, it’s awful. Because although you share something, you’re no longer the same people. And now the pristine memory has been shattered by this interaction, with someone who’s gotten older, just like you.

I was hung up on some woman I met in high school. She called me years later when she was in L.A. We sat in the lobby of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. She looked the same, but somewhere along the line, she’d taken a left turn, we could no longer connect.

The last time I saw my ex-wife, she treated me as if I was a stranger. And after forcing her to stay and have a conversation, she revealed that all her hopes and dreams had not come to fruition. She asked me for money. Could this be the same person I was married to?

You reel after the experience. After meeting that old high school classmate, I let go of her memory and started a new romance. Breaking up with this woman after years of living together just about killed me. But when she e-mailed me two decades later, I kept my distance. She was searching for something. I could not go back there. A week later, I met Felice.

And we’re both battered and wounded from our previous relationships. Yet we soldier on. Together. We have each other. But what if you lose your significant other? What if they don’t break up with you, don’t dump you, but die. Dan Fogelberg died.

I’d be lying if I said I was a fan. He was just a bit too wimpy. But in the early nineties, I had a change of heart. When his live album, "Greetings From The West", arrived in the mail. When I put "Same Old Lang Syne" on endless repeat.

Met my old lover in the grocery store
The snow was falling Christmas Eve
I stole behind her in the frozen foods
And I touched her on the sleeve

Can’t you just SEE IT? That’s great songwriting, universal because it’s personal. Usually, when I see an old acquaintance, I run. I give Dan credit for making the effort, for making the connection. He touched her on the sleeve, he surprised her. You can feel that youthful exuberance.

She didn’t recognize the face at first
But then her eyes flew open wide
She went to hug me and she spilled her purse
And we laughed until we cried

You want to believe they remember you, that you haunt their memories too. I’ve been researching an old camp girlfriend since the advent of the Internet. It’s hard with women, if they’re married they don’t have the same last name. Is one of those single women around the country with the same appellation her? And, if so, does she think back to when she was eleven?

We took her groceries to the checkout stand
The food was totaled up and bagged
We stood there lost in our embarrassment
As the conversation dragged

After the rush of excitement, then what? It’s been years. How do you explain who you are now? You shared something back then, but that was a long time ago. You don’t want to run, you want it to be comfortable, but it’s not.

We went to have ourselves a drink or two
But couldn’t find an open bar
We bought a six-pack at the liquor store
And we drank it in her car

Conversations in automobiles are real. There are no distractions. You can’t play the radio, you’re afraid of running down the battery. You dig down deep, and get to the bottom of things.

She said she’d married her an architect
Who kept her warm and safe and dry
She would have liked to say she loved the man
But she didn’t like to lie

Do you do what your parents want you to? Play it safe? Or go with your gut? Felice’s grandmother was completely unsupportive of her daughter’s marriage. Musicians were not the right choice for matrimony. But Felice’s father’s world famous works resulted in this condo we’re inhabiting in Colorado over a decade after his death.

She said she saw me in the record stores
And that I must be doing well
I said the audience was helping me
But the traveling was hell

I always think of my sister Wendy when I hear this verse. Because we both believed it was HEAVENLY, but on the original recording it’s HELPING ME! And that’s what the audience does, help you get through. But they can’t travel for you. You enjoy the adoration of thousands for two hours, then you’re alone, on the road again. Fame truly isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The more famous you are, the more you yearn for normalcy. To be able to shop without being recognized, to leave the house without putting on your look, to fuck up.

The beer was empty and our tongues were tired
And running out of things to say
She gave a kiss to me as I got out
And I watched her drive away

And as their taillights fade, you wonder if you’ll ever see them again. Think of all those old friends, both romantic and platonic, who you swore loyalty to forever. They’ve faded away. If you reconnected, you’d have almost nothing to say. But once upon a time, you were thick as thieves.

Just for a moment I was back at school
And felt that old familiar pain
And as I turned to make my way back home
The snow turned into rain

That’s what romance during school days is full of…pain. The unrequited crushes, the unfruitful dates. You’ve got a plan in your head, but life never turns out that way.

We drank a toast to innocence
We drank a toast to time
Reliving in our eloquence
Another ‘auld lang syne’…

We were innocent once. Our whole lives were in front of us. We lived and laughed. Then loss crossed our path. We couldn’t make sense of what life dealt us. We became beaten down. The goal is to make peace with the changes, to realize that life’s about keepin’ on, that you never know what’s going to appear around the bend.

But Dan Fogelberg no longer has that option. His wife is now a widow. His flame was snuffed in the prime of life. It’s not fair.

But it’s truth.

My heart sunk, skipped a beat when I read of Dan’s passing on the Net last night. Based on his Website, I thought he might come back. It appeared he’d beaten his cancer. I was hoping he was retired to enjoy life, that he was no longer battling this deadly disease.

But that was untrue.

He didn’t O.D. He didn’t drive too fast. Life just got him. Nipped him in the bud.

My father lived a lot in his seventy years. But everybody deserves more. But not everybody gets more.

So where does that leave us? With more questions than answers. Pain. It’s the human condition.

Dan Fogelberg wrote about the human condition. In "Same Old Lang Syne" he captured the pain of reconnection and high school romance. I can’t think of another number that comes close. I quote the lyrics to myself all the time.

Maybe it’s fitting that Dan died during the winter season, just before Christmas Eve. So we’ll remember him at this time. When we’re not out on the beach being fabulous, but inside in front of the fire, thinking.

Dan Fogelberg thought. I became a fan long after his last hit. It just took me that long to discover his eloquence. I will continue to play "Same Old Lang Syne". But now it will sound even more bittersweet.

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