The Leader of the Band

June 15, 2008 | 6 comments
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A song that is synonymous for me with Father’s day is Dan Fogelberg’s Leader of the Band. Fogelberg was a king of the sappy 1970 and 1980-era love ballads, with über cheesy-hits like Longer, but Leader of the Band was different (at least for me). It was a tribute that came off as a little more sincere and a little less fluffy than Fogelberg’s standard fare. Growing up my dad used to listen to it often, remembering his own father who died in the mid-eighties. When Fogelberg passed away last December, my father and I exchanged emails reminiscing about both the song and my grandpa. While it’s not an overtly religious song, it still strikes a spiritual chord in me (I guess you could add it to my list). It makes me think of family, home, growing up, and my own dad — the Leader of the Band.

An only child alone and wild, a cabinet maker’s son
His hands were meant for different work
And his heart was known to none
He left his home and went his lone and solitary way
And he gave to me a gift I know I never can repay

A quiet man of music, denied a simpler fate
He tried to be a soldier once, but his music wouldn’t wait
He earned his love through discipline: a thundering, velvet hand
His gentle means of sculpting souls took me years to understand.

The Leader Of The Band is tired and his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument and his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man
I’m just a living legacy to the Leader Of The Band

My brothers’ lives were different for they heard another call
One went to Chicago and the other to St. Paul
And I’m in Colorado when I’m not in some hotel
Living out this life I’ve chose and have come to know so well

I thank you for the music and your stories of the road
I thank you for the freedom when it came my time to go
I thank you for the kindness and the times when you got tough
And, papa, I don’t think I said ‘I love you’ near enough

The Leader Of The Band is tired and his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument and his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man
I’m just a living legacy to the Leader Of The Band

I am the living legacy to Leader Of The Band

6 Responses to The Leader of the Band

  1. Alison Moore Smith on June 16, 2008 at 12:31 am

    Marc, that’s a sweet memory. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Ray on June 16, 2008 at 1:05 am

    Marc, I loved that song when it first came out, because it described my own father – and my band and choir directors in high school. Whenever I heard this song, my mind automatically jumped to the following lines:

    “He earned his love through discipline: a thundering, velvet hand.
    His gentle means of sculpting souls took me years to understand.”

    “I thank you for the kindness and the times when you got tough,
    And, papa, I don’t think I said ‘I love you’ near enough.”

    My dad never said, “I love you,” so I never said that to him growing up. I say it every day, generally multiple times each day, to my own children (each and every one of them individually), and I made a point a few years ago to start saying it to my dad whenever we talked on the phone. I can’t express how glad I am that I made that decision.

  3. lamonte on June 16, 2008 at 7:29 am

    Marc – I think it’s a perfect tribute for father’s day. Like Ray, I always felt this song described my own father as well, but not for the same reasons. The line “He tried to be a soldier once, but…” at least partially describes my father. He joined the army in 1938 as a means to better his own life. There was little opportunity in his small home town in the latter years of the Great Depression and he felt the army was one way out. Four years later he found himself in the midst of a world war and he served in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and in Southern Frane. By the end of the war he was a Chief Warrant Officer and he wanted to go to Officer Candidate School and become a commissioned officer. But my grandfather talked him into leaving the army and coming home to run the family farm – a decision I think my father has regretted ever since.

    My father is approaching his 89th birthday now and the one thing he instilled in me, probably because of his own decisions, is the desire to follow my dreams and do all I can to find happiness in this life. I love him for that encouragement and I have tried to follow his lead. Thanks for helping us all remember what good fathers do.

  4. kenjebz on June 16, 2008 at 11:53 am

    i remember that song being played by my uncle when i was 10 years old! but the lyrics is wonderful, as well as the voice of the singer. i never thought the lyrics is so beautiful that is perfectly fits to the fathers of today. i cannot say its a tribute to my father since i have had terrible experience with my father since i was six, but it is truly applicable to the fathers i know, and come to love.

  5. Jia on June 16, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    Lovely to read. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Raymond Takashi Swenson on June 17, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    Wow! I had no idea that other people identified with that song. My own Dad, now 80, served in the military as the drum major of a marching band in Japan. His only professional playing was with dance bands and combos that would play for weddings and such on weekend evenings. However, he served for decades as drum major of the Salt Lake Letter Carrier’s Band, a band sponsored by his union when he delivered mail. He continued with the band even when he became a security guard and then retired. For many years, he marched at the head of the band in the 24th of July parade, wearing his tall Drum Major hat, blowing his whistle to signal the band, and tossing his baton high in the air to catch it again, or twirl it and gesture with it as the band marched drills while it progrssed down Main Street.

    For his 80th birthday party, the family assembled a lot of pictures from his life, and I created a video, entitled, of course, “The Leader of the Band.”

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