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The Scarlet

The student newspaper of Clark University

The Scarlet

The student newspaper of Clark University

The Scarlet

Another Auld Lang Syne: My Odyssey Into Discovering the Best Christmas Song

I took way too long to learn how to drive. I got my license months after everyone else (which, if you remember from high school, felt like eons). I mastered the slow brake, the three-point turn and the lane change: after I passed my driving test, I made sure to only drive on desolate roads, lest I be met with any challenge.

As I was stopped at a red light driving home from my retail job one early January, I saw across the way, on the street I usually take, the dreaded orange diamond sign signifying a blocked road. My usual route home was now closed off, and I’d need to make a right onto Route 44. With my adrenaline pumping and the stiffest posture you can imagine, I made the turn, stayed in my lane, checked my mirror every few seconds, and did not pay any attention to what was playing on the radio.

After a perilous four minutes of driving, I emptied onto a familiar road and was able to calm down. Usually, I have a habit of changing between the preset radio channels when I get bored, but the one that usually keeps my attention is 107.5, the local FM station that strictly plays 1970s music. But this time of year, it is different: 107.5 carries on the annual practice of playing Christmas music from Thanksgiving into mid-January. Now, since it was nearly two weeks after the holiday, I was simply not in the mood to hear any more children discovering the magic of Christmas or Santa’s most recent caper. So, when I came back from crisis mode and began hearing the somber piano chords and string section of one such holiday song, I was ready to turn it off. I had heard the song before, but I had not listened to the lyrics and didn’t like the repeated melody. But today, I decided to listen. 

In case you’ve never heard “Same Old Lang Syne” by Dan Fogelberg, here’s the story: A man walks into a grocery store on Christmas Eve and, to his surprise, his former girlfriend is also shopping there. They greet each other and offer to visit a bar to catch up, but since the locations are all closed on Christmas Eve, they buy a pack of beer and drink it in her car. They congratulate each other on the success of their lives, but it becomes clear that neither of them is very happy in their current state—him in his career, and her in her marriage. He gets out of the car and watches her leave, and the tale ends there as the song breaks into a minute-long saxophone solo – it’s an instrumental that feels sorrowful, forgiving, romantic and regretful all at once.

What stayed with me most on that first listen in the car were the final lines: “And as I turned to make my way back home / The snow turned into rain.” There is both a transformation of weather and emotion: from indifference to hurt, from the snow of repressed emotion to the rain of tears. But, of course, this line, along with many others in the song, has multiple interpretations that fans have debated since it was released.

A great Christmas song needs to achieve a few things: to have a great hook, be memorable and be a little cheesy. In every aspect, Dan Fogelberg is the songwriter to create a Christmas song fitting these qualities. He became famous in the early 1970s due to a string of easy-listening, country-pop hits that fit him right in with other artists of his time. However, this also led to the unfortunate paradox of his work being revered by fans and reviled by critics. Fogelberg, to be fair, wears his earnestness and inspirations on his sleeve: the main melody of the verses is borrowed from Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” and that final saxophone solo is an interpolation of the New Year’s standard “Auld Lang Syne.” 

For listeners like me wondering about the variety of the lyrics, a quick Google search reveals that nearly everything that occurred in the song also happened in real life. Dan did meet his old lover at the grocery store, in Peoria, Illinois, in 1975. Jill Anderson, the subject of the song, did not reveal her identity until after he died in 2007. 

“Same Old Lang Syne” is a great Christmas song because it acknowledges that the holidays come with their own complex set of feelings: happiness, yes, but also great melancholy, longing, grief, trauma, anger, confusion and fear.  It leaves me with something to think about every time I listen, and it’s that storm of emotions I’ll be reminded of the next time I roll down the road and hear those piano chords start up again.

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  • Brendan Keough ~ May 7, 2024 at 10:25 am

    If you think Taylor Swift can write about unrequited love, Dan Fogelberg filled a couple of albums on the topic long before she was born
    Same Auld Lang Syne was and is the All Too Well of its day .

  • Joe McCarthy Jr ~ Feb 21, 2024 at 3:42 pm

    Allison, love your revelation and you nailed this. Hope U don’t stop discovering other tracts as well. He left us with so much. God bless

  • Pete B ~ Feb 1, 2024 at 4:37 pm

    I enjoyed the read Allison! Take some time to check out his vast catalog of songs.

  • Kathy ~ Feb 1, 2024 at 12:21 am

    What a great story about you and Dan Fogelberg’s great song. I always relate to coming home and seeing my high school boyfriend. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Karen Guevara ~ Jan 31, 2024 at 4:36 pm

    Thanks for sharing. I remember the 1st time I heard this amazing song back in the 70’s at one of Dan’s concerts. Great song that stands the test of time. You captured it perfectly.

  • Laura Hodges ~ Jan 31, 2024 at 4:15 pm

    I hope you will dig deeper and listen to more of his music and study the lyrics. They always paint a picture and his musical craftsmanship and artistry will leave you wanting more. Try ‘Leader of the Band’….

  • Mike Payne ~ Jan 31, 2024 at 3:07 pm

    Hi Allison, thank you for that wonderful Another Auld Lang Syne review. Dan Fogelberg has a way of gently lifting you and setting you down in the middle of his life. Nearly all of his songs mirror his actual events.
    I invite you to dig deeper into the man, for instance, The Last Nail is a true story about a girl that wouldn’t reciprocate his love.
    If you’d like to learn more about Dan Fogelberg, consider joining our Facebook page, The New Dan Fogelberg Group. We’re a fun and informative bunch, you’ll learn things about him you won’t believe. He could write, sing, and play multiple instruments expertly. Best part a genuinely good dude.
    Regardless, thank you for the article, his widow Jean Fogelberg was thrilled and posted it on her site.
    Thank you!
    Mike Payne
    Administrator, TNDFG.

  • Keith ~ Jan 31, 2024 at 2:35 pm

    I hope you take the time to explore more of his music. I always tell people that Dan Fogelberg is a poet who happened to put music to his poems. He’s also in many ways a masterful storyteller. I think his radio hits don’t do justice to the diverse catalog of songs he wrote and performed over the years.

  • Carmel Kearns ~ Jan 31, 2024 at 1:22 pm

    Beautiful words about one of my favorite songs of Dan’s. I discovered Dan on arriving from Ireland with my now departed sister into my uncle’s house in Toronto, Canada in 1975. Our first trip away from home. As we walked in I heard this beautiful music. It was Dan’s album Souvenirs. I was hooked and bought the album to bring back home with me. The thing that struck me about your piece was the mention of that last line. I am living in Massachusetts now 31 years and the day Dan died the snow really did turn to rain where I was living at the time. May he rest in eternal peace.. EVER ON..❤️❤️

  • karen hanshaw ~ Jan 31, 2024 at 1:09 pm

    You should treat yourself by listening to more of his soul touching songs from his immense catalog.