My song today is ‘The Leader of The Band’. This song was written by Dan Fogelberg from his 1981 album ‘The Innocent Age’. The song was written as a tribute to his father, Lawrence Fogelberg, a musician and the leader of a band, who was still alive at the time the song was released. Lawrence died in August 1982, but not before this hit song made him a celebrity with numerous media interviews interested in him as its inspiration.
Released as a single at the end of 1981, the tribute peaked at Number 9 on the ‘Billboard Hot 100’ chart in March 1982. It became Fogelberg's second Number 1 song on the ‘Billboard Adult Contemporary’ chart, following his 1980 hit ‘Longer’.
Lucie Arnaz performed a version of the song as a tribute to her late father, Desi Arnaz. Regine Velasquez also recorded this song in 2008 for her album ‘Low Key’, and she also performed the song to her father, Gerardo Velasquez, he was still alive. Zac Brown recorded this song in 2017 as part of a tribute album to Dan Fogelberg. He also dedicated it to his father.
The love of a father and a mother are different. While we would like to think that we loved each parent the same amount, we most certainly will not have loved them in the same way. If I had to distinguish how I loved each of my parents, and what each gave me to go forward in life, I would have to thank my father for giving me my head and my mother for giving me my heart.
I always felt closer to mum and more emotionally distant from dad, not because I particularly wanted it that way but simply because that was the way it was. Both parents had been brought up in Ireland but while my mother’s upbringing was not unusual for the times in any way, my father’s early life was lived in abject poverty.
My mother was the most emotional of my two parents and she gave instant expression to her feelings at the moment of their birth, whereas my father was a man who was brought up never to show his feelings and never to behave in any way that did not come across as being ‘manly’. Consequently, mum was the one who gave us the comforting hugs whenever we needed them. When we hurt and cried, she naturally cried with us. On the other hand, dad devoted most of his time, working all the hours God gave him to put food on the family table and pay the weekly rent. As far as our household and my father’s work went, overtime for dad in his job was more a survival rule than an employment exception.
Mum did everything to excess; she lived life to the full, enjoyed telling stories and making stories up. She sang all day long as she worked around the house as the mother of seven children and the wife of a miner. Mum sang because she was happiest when singing, even though she was unable to hold a note because of the cigarette that constantly drooped from her mouth or remember the words of the song. The words of the song that mum didn’t know, she merely made up from her own imagination to insert into the song. As long as they rhymed with the end of the song line, whatever the message of the song, the word ‘bread’ would be as suitable to insert as ‘head’ or ‘said’ or ‘led’, as would, ‘fast’ or ‘last’ or ‘past’ or ‘cast’ etc.
Dad did sing, (but only in private) while he was perfectly happy to whistle in public. He sang only two songs (‘Some Enchanted Evening’ and ‘Sweet Sixteen’). Dad would be heard whistling about the house (all the men in England whistled then as a matter of course) and it would only be when he went in the bathroom that he would break out into song. He would sing in the lowest of voices so that he wasn’t heard beyond the bathroom door, as he washed the soot from his miner’s body. Me and my two sisters, Mary and Eileen would listen outside the bathroom door and giggle out of devilment. If he heard us there, dad would immediately stop singing and shout at us to get downstairs instantly!
Mum was the social animal of our two parents, whereas my father would generally keep to himself. He was a quiet man in the main, spoke when he had something to say, and then never wasted his breath; saying with a few words what mum might take half a dozen sentences to say. The only close friends who dad seemed to have still lived in County Kilkenny, Ireland. Mum constantly complained that my dad never took her dancing. She used to say, “Your dad has two left feet, Billy, and the times he used them was to kick an old football around!”
Mum loved to have a rum and black current at the local pub with a bingo friend while dad was teetotal (having been brought up by an alcoholic father). Mum was the biggest bragger and story exaggerator whoever came out of Ireland. She would constantly tell us about the time when she won a book from her school after she had come first in the class at learning her Roman Catholic Catechism. The nuns were so pleased that she could recite the catechism word for word and back to front that they presented her with a book. I never once in her whole life saw my mother read a book, any book.
Dad, on the other hand, was the most modest person who ever lived. He had played soccer in his twenties for both his county and his country before getting married. I never learned of this fact until I was 9 years old. It turned out that the early years of my parent’s marriage witnessed mum being a football widow every weekend of the soccer seasons, with three young children under four years of age to look after in my father’s absence while occupying a one-roomed rented flat and carrying naught but an empty purse. These were the days when Irish soccer players didn’t receive a wage; only bare travel expenses. That was why mum probably never mentioned dad playing national soccer before I learned at the age of 9 years; she, having had her fill of it during her early marriage.
Whereas mum saw the value in giving her children a good education, my father prized hard work as being the best character builder there was. Dad had left his schooling at the age of twelve years to join the job market and saw little point in using one’s head to earn a living if one was blessed with broad shoulders and calloused hands which never shied away from hard work. When it came to religious observance, dad was as strict a Catholic as they came (this side of heaven). He would always kneel to say his prayers by the bedside every night and morning, whereas my mother insisted on saying her prayers silently beneath her breath and the warm bed sheets, and at Sunday Mass.
Dad would always set off for Sunday Service in Cleckheaton with time to spare and would be praying in his front pew at least fifteen minutes before Mass started and the priest showed his face. Mum, on the other hand, would always arrive at Sunday Mass, ten minutes late. Our house was two miles away from the church and mum would wait until 9:55 am every Sunday morning before getting her bicycle out of the shed. It was all downhill to church, and once she had pedalled off the estate, she would freewheel all the way to church. It would take her 15 minutes of travel time. Mum always arrived ten minutes late and sat at the back of the church, so she could slip out unnoticed to have a smoke, ten minutes before the service had ended.
I once asked mum why she always cut ten minutes off the start and the end of every Sunday morning Mass? She simply replied with a sarcastic reply, ‘Billy, forty minutes is more than long enough to listen to any priest repeat himself”. She then when on to justify her actions by bible illustration, saying that ‘forty’ was a holy number and that Lent only had forty days in it and that forty minutes was long enough to listen to any parish priest in a captive setting instead of sixty! As for her bicycle getting itself back home; the bike was left for me to push the two miles uphill while mum walked leisurely back, chain-smoking all the way home.
Don’t get me wrong, mum believed in God; she just held a healthy irreverence for some of the things that the Irish priests spouted weekly and which she’d heard throughout her life. She would often tell me that being taught by strict nuns throughout her school years was enough to put anyone off religion and make them turn Protestant.
Dad, on the other hand, literally believed in every single word that was written either in the bible or on church paper, whether it came from the prayer books or the weekly bulletin that the priest printed out for his parishioners. I will never forget after my wife divorced me. It mattered not to dad that I had never sought a divorce, had never wanted a divorce and had done everything humanly possible to avoid a divorce but couldn’t prevent my wife from obtaining a divorce. What mattered to my father was that the church said divorce was wrong and his firstborn was a divorced man. Consequently, when I later fell in love with another woman, there was no way that my father would sanction a second marriage ceremony by his attendance.
Many years later, dad went to church and when he brought the church bulletin home to read, he saw in it an article advising Catholic parents what to do if any of their children were divorced and married again. The article advised all Catholic parents in such circumstances that ‘it was okay’ to attend the second marriage services of their children and ‘to be happy for them’. I will never forget my father showing me this church bulletin. He regarded its message as though it carried the authority of a Papal Bull instead of merely voicing the opinion a more liberal parish priest that his church now had. The priest had written that it was okay for Catholic parents to attend the second wedding of a Catholic child, so it must be okay! For the rest of his life, my dad regretted not having attended my second marriage ceremony.
Both my parents were good people, but they were widely different in their approach to life and the living of it. I often wondered what they had in common with each other, especially after the romantic part of their relationship had passed, following the birth of their first three children of seven? They were as different as chalk and cheese. They probably found each other at a compatible time in their lives when both wanted to get married and move away from home.
And yet, I know that until I was 11 years old and other siblings of mine came on the family scene that mum and dad still physically loved each other as man and wife should. Every Sunday afternoon, the family would walk three miles across the fields from the estate where we lived to the park in Brighouse. As we crossed the fields, mum and dad would sometimes tell the four of us to ‘go off and play for ten minutes’ while he and mum laid down and ‘had a rest’. After the fifth, sixth and seventh child arrived, I noticed that all our Sunday walks across the fields to Brighouse park would experience no more parental stopping posts. I surmised that after having had so many babies, mum must have had enough ‘rest’ to last her a lifetime after her sixth and seventh children were born. After having given birth to seven children, the only ‘house’ that mum played thereafter wasn’t with my dad but with a family friend who went to the weekly Bingo Hall with her!
My father was a man who had few friends although all his workmates respected him as being ‘an okay guy’. To all the women outside the home, dad behaved with the manners of a perfect gentleman. In the house, ‘behind closed doors and thin partition walls’ however, the next-door neighbour would occasionally get an inkling that dad wasn’t as gentlemanly as he seemed to be when placed on public view.
The important thing dad taught me, and which stayed with me for the rest of my life, was that doing the right thing in life never comes easy and wins no popularity contests. Also, he taught me that there comes a time in life when one will have to walk alone if one chooses to walk the straightest path. Dad was independent and fiercely stubborn with it. Once he’d made his mind up, whether right or wrong, he would never change it (viewing such indecisiveness as representing a weakness that John Wayne would never approve of under any circumstances). My father taught me that there is no type of work that is beneath the dignity of any man, and which is unworthy to perform. Dad never let me forget that the best feeling at the end of a working day is to know that you have done your work to the very best of your ability.
My dad’s reading material comprised solely of church bulletins and cowboy novels which he would read at half-hour stretches in the lavatory. His favourite pastime was to quote verbatim from one of his favourite film star’s movies, John Wayne. His most repeated John Wayne quotes respectively came from the films, ‘The Quiet Man’, ‘Custer’s Last Stand’ and ‘She Wore A Yellow Ribbon’. In respective order, his most repeated quotes from these three films were, “Get the tea (pronounced tae) on woman; your man’s home!” and ‘The first is first and the second is nobody!” and “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do!”,
I have been guilty of letting the second quote affect my life occasionally during my earlier life, particularly at times when I was unprepared to accept ‘second place’ in this or that. I have spent the larger part of the past forty years learning to be a passenger on the bus instead of being the conductor or the bus driver. That quote from the film ‘Custer’s Last Stand’ has much to answer for in my own bad behaviour pattern during the first half of my life.
My dad was the ‘Leader of the Band’ for most of his life, but the only trouble was, he was the only member of his one-man-band. He decided what tune he’d play and whose march he’d follow. Mum was the dancer and the singer, and it was mostly in her footsteps that I followed.
Love and peace Bill xxx