Earlier this year, I blogged about the books about music that I was reading, including “Fortunate Son: My Life, My Music” by former Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty.
I was perhaps a third of the way through the nearly-400-page book at the time, and wrote then that I feared I might have a hard time finishing it. That proved to be the case; I had to steel myself to pick it up again, and skip some sections (more about that in a minute) to keep reading.
The problems then were Fogerty’s logorrhea — despite having a co-writer, he rambles on and on about trivia — and his constant carping about his former bandmates, his brother Tom, Doug Clifford and Stu Cook. The reasons for his bitterness against the other ex-CCR members become a bit more understandable later in the book, but the Chatty Cathiness doesn’t improve.
A lot of the book is devoted to the band’s dealings with its record label, Fantasy, and the company’s co-owner, Saul Zaentz. And it’s hard not to conclude that Zaentz and Fantasy screwed CCR and its frontman/songwriter — although part of the reason for the band’s disadvantageous contract was the rock and rollers’ failure to do their legal due diligence.
That failure also involved allowing Fantasy to invest the band’s earnings in some Offshore Banking Business scheme that ended up costing the musicians millions. But the record company and its executive added insult to injury by suing Fogerty for plagiarism — claiming that his solo song “Old Man Down the Road” was a ripoff of CCR’s “Run through the Jungle,” the rights to which Fantasy owned — and defamation, because two other songs on the Centerfield album sounded like swipes at Zaentz.
So, OK, Fogerty had a right to bitch. And bitch he does — even after a change-of-life, put-the-bitterness-behind-me moment inspired by his second wife. He refused to perform with the surviving CCR members — brother Tom had died three years earlier — when the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1993.
John Fogerty’s criticism of, and tainted relationship with, his former bandmates at times conflicts with the narrative of CCR and his solo career. Fogerty states repeatedly that he had to do it all for Creedence: write the songs, come back into the studio after the sessions and overdub instruments and backing vocals, etc.
During that time CCR was putting out three Top 20 albums a year. But Fogerty, trying to be the one-man band, took five years to record one of his solo albums. And while Centerfield and the later Blue Moon Swamp contain some memorable songs, the hits vs. misses ratio is nowhere near what the band managed.
So, maybe Clifford, Cook and the elder Fogerty contributed more than John Fogerty claims. My oft-asserted the Whole Is Greater Than the Sum of the Parts rock band theory perhaps applies in this case, too.
Another thing that made Fogerty’s autobiography a slow read was the chapters where he turns over some of the talking to his second wife, Julie, the two of them writing alternating sections. It’s not that she writes badly, but it seems out of place in an autobiography.
Fogerty dotes on the Julie at great length, and also writes a lot about their children — but the first wife, who he married at age 21, and the three children they had are basically flushed down the memory hole. You’d think that would be part of his life’s story, too.
As I blogged previously, Fogerty’s account of his experiences with the military draft and service in the Army Reserves is perplexing. With the help of a sympathetic recruiter, he avoided being drafted by enlisting in the Reserves — then basically starved himself to get out of that service. He later claimed some sort of bond with those who did serve in Vietnam, and also with those who affirmatively dodged the draft.
Other incidents he recounts similarly reflect a lack of self-awareness. During a CCR tour stop in Louisiana, two concert-goers approached him and said they had figured out which part of that state Fogerty was from, based on his singing voice. Fogerty doesn’t acknowledge that fans might say any thing just to suck up to a star, at the same time kind of patting himself on the back for putting one over on the world: a Berkley, Calif. kid pretending to be a swamp-rockin’ Good Ol’ Boy.
But speaking of southern musicians, Fogerty gets a tip of the hat for honoring and preserving the work of early bluesmen. Back in the 1990s, he began making pilgrimages to Mississippi, to figuratively get in touch with the musicians he loved and who influenced him, like Robert Johnson. He eventually paid for gravestones for several of them who were buried in unmarked graves.
I found the chapter on his Wrote a Song for Everyone album — on which he invited a variety of artists to record songs he wrote, for CCR and his solo projects — interesting. Fogerty at times can be a shameless name-dropper, but it was intriguing to find out what performers he admired enough to involve in that 2011-13 project: among them, actress and singer Jennifer Hudson, rocker Bob Seger, and country and western stars Alan Jackson, Miranda Lambert and Brad Paisley.
That was the final chapter of the book, although there is an epilogue. That finale is confusing and somewhat incoherent, the book kind of fizzling out at the end.
The problematic features of Fogerty’s autobiography may explain why, when I bought the not-quite-four-year-old book last December, it was marked down from a $19.99 cover price to just under six bucks. Even at that cut rate, I would have a hard time recommending it, unless you’re someone obsessed by John Fogerty and/or Creedence Clearwater Revival.