John Fogerty – Double fantasy
Has anybody this side of Keith Richards written more indelible riffs than John Fogerty? Think of all those songs that started with a lick. Think “Green River”, “Proud Mary”, “Born On The Bayou”, “Up Around The Bend”, “Down On The Corner”, “Centerfield”. And a dozen or so more. It’s almost impossible to think of any Fogerty classic without remembering its opening riff.
The way John Fogerty explains his songwriting process, he considers himself to be mainly a musician who plays guitar. He has many different models to choose from, and sometimes the tone of whatever he’s cradling will dictate the direction. Often it’s a lick, a riff, a groove. As he’s playing the progression, or playing around with it, he might start singing nonsense syllables, just something to reinforce the feeling. And then comes a line, a keeper — and that line will open a door. Behind that door there’s a song, just waiting to be discovered.
Few songs Fogerty has written are as buoyant as “Don’t You Wish It Was True”, the kickoff track on his new album Revival, which Fogerty considers his best release since Creedence Clearwater Revival disbanded in the early 1970s. Yet the song’s happiness is conditional, a dream, a recognition that there’s a big gap between the Utopia he envisions and the world as it is. To reflect the world as it is, the album offers the bluesy “Long Dark Night” and the punk urgency of “I Can’t Take It No More”. The former names names (“Brownie’s in the outhouse/Katrina on the line/Gulf is a disaster/Georgie says it’s fine”); the latter takes no prisoners.
If Revival doesn’t flinch from what’s wrong with the world, “Don’t You Wish It Was True” reveals all that is right with Fogerty, a man who has found a contentment and creative clarity that were largely missing during decades of anger, feuds and lawsuits. Not that all of the old animosities have been resolved — don’t look for a Creedence reunion anytime soon — but Fogerty is plainly at peace with himself, and his music reaps the benefits.
“I can’t even begin to express to you how overjoyed I am that things have started to work out well again,” he says with the enthusiasm of a man half his 62 years. He goes on to explain the genesis of “Don’t You Wish It Was True”:
“There’s this one beautiful guitar that I have, that the Maton company in Australia made for me, a semi-acoustic, semi-electric, hollow-body guitar. The very first time I tried to write a song on it, ‘Broken Down Cowboy’ came out [another album highlight, a soulful ballad in the “Long As I Can See The Light” vein, inspired by his marriage]. The next time, ‘Gunslinger’ came out [an Old West parable about setting things right in a world gone wrong]. I had written several songs using other instruments, but I decided, hey, I’m gonna give this guy another try.
“And I kinda put myself in the mood where I wanted to have that rolling, strumming, folk-rock rhythm that I do, which sometimes comes out like ‘Green River’, sometimes like ‘Proud Mary’. So I’m sitting there feeling ready, feeling likely that something might happen. Which is really the whole deal, a positive outlook. You know the filler licks that are in ‘Proud Mary’? That’s basically my version of Steve Cropper, one of my favorite guitar players, just a soulful way of doing fills. I’m not trying to rip him off, but it’s a very loving tribute.
“So I was doing that sort of thing and feeling happy, and I started thinking about good things, happy things,” he continues. “And at some point, I started singing to myself, ‘I dreamed I walked in heaven.’ And I thought, Wow! That’s stunning! Pardon me for being so full of myself here, but I certainly had never said anything like that before. And it just seemed so enabling, like opening a door into a feeling, a vision, a landscape that would be really delightful. I was free to imagine a place where beautiful things were occurring. We know it’s not here right now, but what if tomorrow everybody was your friend?
“It just came out of me, and it felt really great.”
When it comes so easily, you have to wonder how it ever seemed so hard. And when it seems so hard, you can’t imagine how it ever came so easily. Maybe it’s a matter of creative metabolism. Maybe it’s the muse, or the mojo. Or an alignment of the sun, moon and stars. Maybe it’s allowing your mind to be receptive, to feel like you’re in a place where the inspiration just flows.
As surely as he knows day from night, Fogerty has experienced extended surges of inspiration like few other rockers have, and has suffered decades of drought when he wondered whether his next great song would ever arrive, or whether what had once come so easily to him would ever come again. If he wanted to release records, maybe he would have to struggle a whole lot harder, or settle for work that was less than his best. Or both.
“When you become a world-known artist in your early 20s, it’s a miracle the first time — an amazing bit of good fortune,” Fogerty explains. “Then time goes by, and perhaps you lose the opportunity, or some of the business goes bad, or whatever. And some of this is simply the weight of experience, especially negative experiences. I will confess to you that I went through long periods of artistic struggle. Everybody knows about all the other crap I went through, but it affected my artistic soul, too. I was unable sometimes to figure things out.”
For Fogerty, the Revival title of his new album does more than evoke the legacy of his former band. It’s a testament to an artistic revival that has John Fogerty feeling not merely like a relative kid in his early 20s, but like John Fogerty did in his early 20s.
Few others can ever know that feeling, the electricity of churning out not simply successful music, but truly inspired music, some of the best that rock ever has known, and at what seems in retrospect like an impossible rate. Within a couple years in the late 1960s and early ’70s, Creedence landed five albums on the Top 10, paced by a string of two-sided hit singles that dominated AM radio. One after another: “Proud Mary”/”Born On The Bayou”, “Bad Moon Rising”/”Lodi”, “Green River”/”Commotion”, “Down On The Corner”/”Fortunate Son”…big wheel kept on turnin’, Fogerty kept on burnin’.
Now that rock has subsequently splintered into categorical camps and rock ‘n’ roll is apparently an oldies format, Creedence might be labeled roots-rock, but at the time it was almost universally acknowledged as great rock. On the cusp of that decade, Creedence was the most dominant band in the world, rivaling the Beatles at their peak. Integral to their populist appeal was a singular work ethic — the interplay of a no-flash, no-frills, blue-collar band, one that plainly prized songs over sizzle, soulful simplicity over compositional complexity, substance over ego.