Just about a year ago
I set out on the road.
Seeking my fame and fortune
Looking for a pot of gold.
Things got bad and things got worse,
I guess you know the tune.
Oh Lord, I’m stuck in Lodi again.
–Creedence Clearwater Revival, Lodi
There’s a reason one doesn’t “hold out much hope for the Creedence” (The Big Lebowski, 1998). When the finder realizes that “Down On the Corner” isn’t just a great way to start an album, but a fantastic way to start a summer, she tends to hold on. Rising up from the San Francisco music scene, but eventually sounding nothing like it, Creedence Clearwater Revival created music that was not only clear-sighted, but far-sighted. Stu Cook, Doug “Cosmo” Clifford, and brothers John and Tom Fogerty not only showcased the perennial nature of so many Blues artists and songs, but in doing so made their own music prescient and enduring. In his 1993 speech to induct CCR into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Bruce Springsteen claimed that “in the late 70’s I’d be out in the club and I’d watch some band struggle through one of my songs, and then just kind of glide effortlessly through a Creedence Clearwater tune. That used to really piss me off”. The simplicity of CCR’s songs drew millions of listeners, many from beyond their own generation.
During their time recording and touring, some levelled accusations of that CCR was “too professional,” that they had a commercial sound, and that they were predictable. All points were brought up in this 1972 interview in Sydney, Australia (which is also the year the group disbanded). In the interview John Fogerty, the band’s guitarist, lead singer, and principle song writer, responded, “Predictable, I guess, can mean a lot of things. It used to mean that every three months there was a Creedence single, but that was too professional so we decided to wait 12 months”.
When chatting with a friend about CCR I noted that CCR sure did perform a lot of covers. My friend rolled his eyes and said, “Well, it is a revival”. Mocking, but too true. In this 1986 interview John Fogerty shares some of his musical influences. Among others Fogerty cites Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Lefty Frizzell, Howlin’ Wolf, and Bo Diddley. Although John Fogerty wrote the majority of the band’s music, Creedence recorded the music of many great bluesmen. Great fans of Lead Belly (aka Huddie Ledbetter), CCR recorded “Cotton Fields” on Willy and the Poor Boys. On Cosmo’s Factory the band recorded Bo Diddley’s maritally defensive “Before You Accuse Me” and CCR opened their debut self-titled album with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s “I Put a Spell on You“. These are only a selection of the Rhythm & Blues and traditional American folk songs that CCR revered and renewed for new generations. Another song made unforgettable by Lead Belly, “The Midnight Special,” was also featured on Willie and the Poor Boys. “Midnight Special,” a song about the hope of receiving a government pardon from further jail time, is featured on Jail House Bound, a collection of folklorist John Lomax’s recordings of American folk artists in prison.
Even those songs written by Fogerty himself, songs like “Who’ll Stop the Rain” and “Fortunate Son” appear to have been written in the same spirit in which “Midnight Special” was written. “Fortunate Son” (which my friend also pointed out has become “The Vietnam Song”) was the soundtrack while draft dodgers ran and penniless men died. John Fogerty wrote the song as a reaction to those men who, “silver spoon in hand,” avoided getting drafted into the army during the Vietnam War. In their 1998 thesis for the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, Stefan J. Booth and Kevin M. Schmiegel confirmed that the United States has a long history of finding ways for “upper class” sons “to ‘dodge’ the country’s draft laws, which often provided them with the necessary escapes and exclusions to forge ahead with their education and careers” (2).
About twenty-four hundred years before John Fogerty’s birth, Confucius denied creating anything, claiming instead that he simply transmitted great knowledge. Believing that a man should dedicate his life to study and serving the state, Confucius said that “a man who reviews the old so as to find out the new is qualified to teach others” (The Analects 2:11). Perhaps he is also qualified to sing to them. Although he lived in a climate that was worlds away from that of CCR, Confucius also lived during a “period of political struggle, moral chaos, and intellectual conflict” (Chan 49). This is a landscape with which the members of CCR could perhaps identify.
Fogerty might have also identified with Confucius’s re-examination of the term chün-tzu, literally, “son of the ruler”. For generations “chün-tzu” was used to describe a superior man, but in Confucius’s use of the word the class connotation falls away entirely. In speaking of the chün-tzu, this superior man, Confucius told his students that “poverty and humble station are what every man dislikes. But if they can be avoided only in violation of moral principles, they must not be avoided (The Analects 4:5). This idea that those in positions of power had serious moral responsibilities to the impoverished and disadvantaged “amounted to a social revolution” (Chan 15).
At the end of CCR’s library of short and sweet songs, what is the thread that binds them together as great Creedence Clearwater Revival songs, in addition to being part of a much longer chain? In trying to understand the story of his personal library by reflecting on libraries that have come before, Alberto Manguel is ultimately unsure what he seeks. Manguel muses that he is not looking “for illumination, to which I can’t reasonably aspire”. He decides at last that at the end of his library’s story he finds “consolation, perhaps. Perhaps consolation” (Manguel 325). At the end of Creedence Clearwater’s discography you certainly find evidence of generations of consolation. Whether one needs a toe-tapping tune (“Hey, Tonight“) or a renewed ballad that spites past injustices (“Cotton Fields“), Creedence Clearwater is the enduring provider.
The Big Lebowski. By Ethan Cohen and Joel Cohen. Dir. Joel Cohen and Ethan Cohen. PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Gramercy Pictures, 1998. DVD.
Chan, Wing-Tsit. A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. Trans. Wing-Tsit Chan. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963. Print.
Confucius. “The Analects.” In A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. Trans. Wing-Tsit Chan. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963. 18-48. Print.
Manguel, Alberto. The Library at Night. 2nd ed. Toronto, ON: Vintage Canada, 2006.