This Friday is the nine-year anniversary of Dan Fogelberg’s death, so, as I did for John Lennon last week, I felt it would be appropriate to honor Fogelberg’s memory with an entry in the Song of the Week series.
I should confess here that my mother is the real Fogelberg fan in my house. I’ve only just recently started to really listen to his work. At any rate, “Illinois” is far and away my favorite of his songs, and was from the first time I heard it many years ago. At that time, I think I was too young to really grasp the lyrics, but I knew regardless that it was a beautiful song. Now that I’m older, I can really appreciate the lyrics and understand why it’s a beautiful song, beyond the instrumentation.
There are a few reasons I picked this song. First off, I do often tend to stray more towards album tracks than hit singles, and “Illinois” seems to be, from my limited knowledge, a bit of a lesser known track. People hear his name and are more likely to think of “Same Old Lang Syne,” or “Run for the Roses,” perhaps. Second, it’s one of my favorite songs, period. And third, it’s one of my favorite guitar parts, simple though it may be. There’s a lot of depth to it despite the simplicity, especially when played on a 12-string (which, fun fact, is exactly what Joe Walsh, of the Eagles, played on this track).
“Illinois” is a song about homesickness. It’s a song about how you can never leave your home behind, no matter where you go. You can move across the country a build a life somewhere new, but your home is your home no matter what. Eventually all roads will lead you back. It’s about youth, but also about aging. It’s nostalgic and regretful. It’s the prefect embodiment of that bittersweet feeling of longing to be back home when home is just out of reach.