John Fogerty is one of the few geniuses of modern music. I am not alone in that opinion. I would place him in the company of Dylan, Elton John, Springsteen, Kate Bush, Jagger and Richards, Rod Stewart, Page and Plant, and Stevie Wonder. Only Lennon, McCartney and Nina Simone immediately come to mind as having achieved more. And now, in this sometimes raw, sometimes folksy, but always honest autobiography, Fortunate Son (Little, Brown and Co., 2015), we have his own take on his life and music.
For me, the large question hanging over the entire book was: how does a man come to grips with his past? We all mistakes and we all know sadness. In Fogerty’s case, he suffered more than his fair share of treachery. It was his fate that he should have formed a band with the first people he knew, and however good they were, they were not at his level. You only have to hear how his songs sparkle in the productions which grace Wrote a Song for Everyone, and compare that to the mediocre and plodding work the other members of Creedence Clearwater Revival turned out over some seven albums.
It is no overstatement to say that it is only his songwriting, voice and guitar that lifted CCR above the ordinary. If you think I’m overstating it, listen to “Proud Mary”, and notice how his vibrant vocals shatter the miasma produced by the flat drumming which preceded it. Further proof can be found in the fact that phenomenon of CCRevisited. This is a band based around Stu Cook and Doug Clifford, the bassist and drummer from Creedence. Check out CCRevisited’s two best selling albums. Did Cook and Clifford record their own songs? No. The only songs they recorded were the songs of Fogerty. Fogerty believes that they were jealous of him (e.g. p. 161). He may well be right. I have listened to interviews with them, and I find it hard to sympathise with them when they speak against him.
Another vital aspect of this tragedy was John Fogerty’s reliance upon the first record company he came into contact with: Fantasy Records. Fantasy was at that time owned by that Zaentz character, a person of whom it is better to say little, but I will say this: I wish had read this book before I wrote my How to Spot a Fraud. I could have doubled its length by drawing on Fogerty’s experiences with that Zaentz. If he sees the band as having been jealous, he sees Zaentz as having betrayed him (p. 346). But it’s time to move on.
Fogerty’s approach to making records is simple and straightforward: “To me, a record is a presentation. It is not cinema verité, and all that other artsy crap that people were doing in the early seventies. No: a recording is a presentation. … You need to have the music to be a bed for your song, so that it can present your song” (p.140). I think that losing sight of this, or never having understood it, and therefore not having understood the value of good songs, explains why modern music is lost in a miasma of drum machines and production.
Fogerty’s approach to songs developed organically out of his life: “… this thing I did while I was marching in the army really became my fist narrative song. Something was coming into my head – it was above me, it was above anything I had done before. It had a scene in it, a place that felt right to me, an emotion why something is right or wrong. … It’s one thing the army did give me that will last a lifetime. It was a new way of looking at a song” (p. 123).
I am always going to be in favour of someone who really understands work – remembering that as Sophie Ouspensky said, work is “a definite effort in a definite aim for a definite direction.” This is Fogerty’s insight: “I saw a musical career as something to work at. Work. I was really driven, and I’m proud of that” (p. 150). Fogerty states with clarity something a vainer person would not dare to: “The real trick is knowing when you’ve got crap, because then you’ve got to start over. And if you know enough of that crap, at least with me, that’s when I get to the good stuff. I can’t skip the pages where the crap is. … it’s always a bunch of pages of crap first, and then finally something good will happen” (p. 153).
Related to that is this wise saying: “If you can get something with the press of a button, it seems to have a lot less value” (p. 384).
I am also impressed with realisation that inspiration is something one is allowed to see (p.158), and that drugs induced states of mind are no part of it (pp. 154 and 167). This is part of the fundamental sanity which Gurdjieff shares with Christianity: mystic insight through normality.
To round off this section, here is a gem: “Don’t talk about it – do it!” (p. 385). It has been said often enough, but it is no less true for that.
The Mystic Journey
“Mystic Highway” is the name of the searing new track on the Wrote a Song album. In my opinion, it is one of the best songs Fogerty has yet written, which means that it is one of my favourite songs – full stop. It relates to his sense that all of life is a “mystic journey” (p.164). In this book he speaks of seeing a road passing through time and space like a thread, with a small group of shadowy travellers, patiently and doggedly making their way along it, despite the fatigue and the length of the journey. They do not know when they will arrive, but they know that neither will they will turn back. “This is their destiny” (p.388).
Fogerty says that the song is: “… very spiritual. Reverential. There’s a whole lot of God in there” (p.389) There is. But it is more in the feeling which charges the music than in the lyrics, and they are good enough. It is grounds for optimism that a man could have suffered all Fogerty did, and come through it so well that he can be a vehicle for the production of such a song.
This is not just a good book, it’s a valuable one. But now, just one more thought to finish this.
One of the keys to the ethical teaching of Our Lord is its mutuality. He taught: “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31). This mutuality is also found in the “Our Father”: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. It is found also when Our Lord says, for example: “The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you …” (Mark 4:24), and in the Gospel of St John: “… the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from the Father” (John 16:27).
John Fogerty’s wife Julie quotes him in these words: “The better I treat her, the better my life becomes” (p.293).
Joseph Azize, 24 October 2016