photo & text by nacrowe
much like listening to one of his classic songs from the 1960s heyday of CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL, JOHN FOGERTY's memoir FORTUNATE SON (LITTLE BROWN AND COMPANY, 2015) has an authentic hand-made, earnest and straightforward fell to it that belies an attention to craft despite its relative unadorned, plainspoken nature. sometimes with legacy artists you wonder who their audience is given that they are reliving, and us through their words, their salad days. some are attempting to recast their career in a new critical light (cough, cough, PETE TOWNSEND) while others are explaining their life experiences and shedding light on those that paved the way (KEITH RICHARDS and BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN's memoirs are great examples of such). i would put this memoir in the later category, the music of FOGERTY is and integral part of the greater musical narrative of AMERICAN CULTURE and his greatness as a preeminent songwriter precedes itself.
and i wanted to get that legacy out of the way early in this entry. my biggest takeaway about FOGERTY from this book outside of a clearer appreciation for his suffering caused by being exploited by one of the most famously lopsided deals in music industry history, as well as the repeated betrayal of his bandmates (including his older brother TOM); outside of those things what comes across is his passion for the folk traditions of AMERICAN CULTURE. maybe that comes from growing up poor in a crowded divorced household in the NORTHERN CALIFORNIA nowheresville of EL CERRITO where images of DAVY CROCKETT and the old WILD WEST of the 1800s spurred an imagination prone to escapism. it may have come from film and TV serials and songs his mother would sing to him in early childhood or family lakeside trips when his parents were still together. for whatever reason that APPALACHIAN musical tradition (COUNTRY, HILLBILLY and FOLK MUSIC) had a profound influence on the themes and texture of the songs he wrote and performed in CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL and beyond. it goes without saying also that the cross-pollination of such with the BLUES that brought on GOSPEL-influenced DOO WOP and R&B and later early ROCKABILLY and ROCK N ROLL all found its way in the melting pot within his wild imagination.
the fact that he became part of that great tradition for him is one of the great joys of his career. an example of such is related when he speaks about the common misinterpretation of "there's a bad moon on the rise" line in the song "BAD MOON RISING" which has been repeatedly misidentified as "there's a bathroom on the right." he states that because it is so commonly heard that way for so many years that in concert at least half the time he uses the bathroom line. he's in on it and gets it and celebrates it. i found that beyond charming.
and for me this memoir is really about that passion for AMERICAN MUSICAL TRADITIONS. unfortunately the vehicle he used to gain notoriety had a TRAGIC HERO-esque flaw, he was surrounded by unscrupulous opportunists at his record label as well as within his own band. FOGERTY states matter-of-factly that the worst thing that ever happened to CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL was THE BEATLES, since everyone in the band thought could be in THE FAB FOUR.
there is this longstanding fantasy amongst audiences that bands are democracies. that each contribute to the total success of the bands creative output. this is the exception, not the rule. FOGERTY was CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL. he wrote the songs, largely oversaw the production of their records, even managed them. it was his singular focus, drive and creative ambition that made them a success. this created a dynamic where the others became jealous of his stature and reputation. and that was the downfall of the band and it had long-lasting consequences on FOGERTY in terms of his relationships, sobriety, and mental/physical well being. it took him years to get out of that ever expanding spiral of shit that seemed to consume and drag him under. the fact that his bandmates, long after their breakup, seemed willing to sell their soul to the record company that exploited them all just compounded the tragedy here. it was literally FOGERTY against them all.
i appreciate that FOGERTY wrote his memoir after he came to terms with record label and former bandmates. and by that i dont mean legally, but just in terms of their hold on his spiritual real estate. such was instead pushed aside by the efforts and unbridled love and loyalty of his second wife JULIE. it would almost sound corny to hear of their love story (with FOGERTY crying during an early date watching CINDERELLA with his wive's child from a previous marraige) if you didn't understand the level of loneliness and psychic detachment this man suffered. its all instead very touching.
i thought this was a very affecting memoir and really played the balance of well of focusing on the depth of his suffering while also showcasing the efforts of those who embraced him unconditionally and ultimately brought him around to see himself of being worthy of such love. i highly recommend this memoir to anyone interested in CLASSIC ROCK or 20th CENTURY AMERICAN CULTURE in general.
also you really get a sense of the IAGO-lke depts of greed and inhumane depravity that is SAUL ZAENTZ and his immoral colluders at FANTASY RECORDS. may they be reviled evermore.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
its funny, when my brother and i were both attending high school in KUWAIT roughly 20 years ago our middle eastern peers were largely naive about AMERICAN culture and pretty much anything that wasn't related to that isolated oil-rich hellhole. my brother had a binder that carried a printed out picture of JOHN TURTURRO's epic bowling nemesis from the THE BIG LEWBOWSKI (WORKING TITLE, 1998) and his KUWAITI classmates would ask him who that was. he'd cooly reply "that's Jesus" to which they'd inquire confusedly "THAT's JESUS?!"
THE COEN BROTHERS are masters of playing with genre expectations and THE BIG LEWBOWSKI is a great example of them experimenting with the cinematic form of NOIR films and their ROMAN NOIR literary antecedent. NOIR films were largely created in a post-WWII climate where the world order was being rebuilt and the role of men was being challenged and rethought along economic, cultural and social considerations. the literary analogue to this genre predates WWII. usually there is a single male who throughout the film is fighting a series of outside forces that include government agencies (of the secretive variety), the media and (of course) women. women in particular are depicted as agents of destruction, i.e. femme fatales, who use their sexuality to attempt to derail our hero from his goal. of course its bullshit, but its a construction that is dear to a genre that at its heart is questioning what identifies masculinity when their hegemonic influence is questioned in a patriarchal society.
what makes THE BIG LEWBOWSKI so interesting is that instead of a determined, idealized male protagonist that rises to the occasion to supersede these overwhelming forces, we are instead given JEFF "THE DUDE" LEBOWSKI, an aging inept stoner with no will to effect change on the world other than his commitments to his bowling league and listening to CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL. he is the personification of ineffective masculinity, yet he is the protagonist that meanders his way through a convoluted plot of outside forces that he inept to deal with any reasonable capacity. that is the core of its humor and humanity.
i think i identified with that character not for his slacker-ness but his being thrown into crazy situations, much like i had at that point survived NIGERIA and boarding school.
LEBOWSKI throughout the film is manipulated by more sophisticated and devious counterparts, including another high-achieving JEFFREY LEBOWSKI who is nonetheless crippled and cuckolded by his barely legal porn star wife. even his doppelgänger or mirrored-self is compromised. much like his inability to effect change, the film also just kind of ends where it begins, and endless loop of inadequacy and mediocrity.
a film that never really ends or begins. no character development. no lessons learned.
great film well worth watching on repeat. i have since i was a teenager.