John Fogerty digs deep and releases a lifetime of bitterness in his bestselling memoir
The Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman, whose abrasive baritone is one of the stand-out voices of the golden age of rock, explains how he had to learn to let go of the past
How surprised is Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty to find himself preparing for his first Las Vegas residency, starting in January?
Fogerty, whose memoir, Fortunate Son, debuted on The New York Times’ bestsellers list in November, laughs heartily. “As a kid, I thought Vegas was for old people; now that I’m 70, I suppose there’s some truth to that,” he says. “But I don’t feel I’m forsaking my vision of the 23-year-old who played Woodstock in 1969.”
The man who wrote and sang such classic songs as Proud Mary, Born on the Bayou, Down on the Corner and Centerfield laughs again.
“It is pretty funny to me,” Fogerty acknowledges of his pending debut residency in Sin City. “When I used to think of Vegas, I’d think of [comedian] Shecky Greene. He always wore a plaid sports coat, or a tuxedo. And it seemed impossible to me, even 10 years ago, I’d ever play there.
“But I know my audience has changed. So have I. And so has Vegas. Because the people who are going to come see me there, many of them were the same people who would have seen me at Woodstock. So it’s kind of OK. I don’t think there’s a built-in prejudice against Vegas any more. And I’ll certainly be doing my show, which is rock’n’roll. I’m not going to be doing it with half-naked girls and dancing elephants. When Cher does a Vegas show, she probably changes costumes 14 times. I don’t have any costumes.”
The advertising tag for Fogerty’s run at The Venetian Theatre, “Peace, Love & Creedence”, evokes Woodstock’s “3 Days of Peace, Love & Music”. But this 1993 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee devotes barely two of Fortunate Son’s 406 pages to that iconic music festival. And his memories of the generation-defining event are anything but rosy in his extremely candid book.
Creedence took to the stage following a late-night performance by the Grateful Dead, who Fogerty writes, “had put half a million people to sleep”.
As for the massive audience: “It was like a scene from Dante’s Inferno, the souls coming out of hell,” he writes.
Fogerty takes other potshots at the Dead in his book, including: “They’d tune up for 10 minutes.” He blasts LSD champion Timothy Leary as “a jerk” and “buffoon”. Likewise, former president Richard Nixon comes under heavy fire from Fogerty, who served in the US Army Reserves from 1966 to shortly before Creedence’s career ignited in 1968. “Every time Nixon’s upper lip was sweating, you knew he was lying,” writes Fogerty.
He credits his inspiration for penning two Creedence classics, Fortunate Son and Run Through the Jungle, to the Nixon administration’s tragic and futile escalation of the war in Vietnam.
“I lived through the era when he was in the White House, and those were some very volatile times,” Fogerty says. “His policies were very much at odds with anybody in my generation. The more unpopular the war became, the more secretive the government became, until it verged on paranoia. Nixon was not acting engaged with his citizenry during his last few years in office.”
Fogerty saves some of his heaviest criticism for his former Creedence bandmates and for Fantasy Records, the label for which Creedence recorded (and with which Fogerty would spend decades embroiled in costly, and largely unsuccessful, litigation).
In 1977, five years after Creedence imploded, he was sued by the band’s three other former members – rhythm guitarist Tom Fogerty (who died in 1990 and was his older brother), bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford. They wanted a portion of the only songwriting royalties he had wrested back from Fantasy. More lawsuits would follow that targeted Fogerty, who single-handedly wrote and sang every one of the band’s 17 top 40 hits.
“In all the years I was around the guys [in Creedence],” he writes, “I never heard one of them come up with an original riff. None of the guys could play a solo.”
Recalling Rude Awakening No 2, the band’s 1970 attempt at a sound collage, Fogerty contends that Clifford “farts on the track – that was his contribution”.
Now, Fogerty sounds like a man who has made peace with his past – in part, perhaps, by using his unusually frank book to repeatedly purge himself of so many bitter memories.
“When people ask me about [deceased Fantasy Records’ honcho] Saul [Zaentz], or former members of Creedence, I don’t go through that whole array of bitter memories anymore,” Fogerty says.
“I realise my true path to being happy is to speak about whatever the facts are, as quickly as possible, and not get stuck in all the painful emotions I certainly felt a long time ago. I’m not in that reality anymore. Because you can choose to be there, and I choose not to be.”
Fogerty does not go any easier on himself in his book. He admits to being unfaithful to his first wife, Martha, and to being an often absentee parent, writing: “I was a terrible father – terrible.”
In 1980, he writes: “I began to self-medicate – a pleasant phrase that means drinking as much alcohol as possible … Such a horrible decision.”
By 1986, Fogerty laments: “I was a freight train of sorrow. I only weighed about 120 pounds [54kg], drank too much, smoked too much.”
A stint in rehab followed. But, a year later, Fogerty still had a drinking problem. He ended up going 10 years without being able to write a new song. Gradually, he realised his writer’s block was caused by many of the same factors that had made his life so hellish.
“I just seemed to know instinctively that I would never be any good again unless I was willing to dig through all the layers of protection,” he writes. “All the layers of pain and hopelessness, and scratch my way through the stupid, drunken, and evasive years that had accumulated like reptile skin around my heart.”
The parts of his book that focus on Fogerty’s musical inspirations and songwriting process serve as a tonic, for him and the reader. They also provide an invaluable counterbalance to his cautionary tale of lost dreams, battling band members, an exploitative music industry and his steady descent into depression and self-destruction.
“I felt that all the things that were pertinent about me, especially my failings, needed to be in the book,” he stresses. “I didn’t run away from myself. That [candour] had to be there to tell my story. I didn’t run away from myself. I knew that, to be credible, I couldn’t hide anything.
“A lot of times, in songwriting, you’re trying to get to the heart of your own feelings. And, a lot of times, you’ve covered parts of your experiences with scabs. Then I’d come up against those scabs and be blocked from writing a good song, knowing it wouldn’t come to life, because I had a bulletproof door covering that little passageway. And I couldn’t get in that door without opening it to something painful. And if I opened up the painful stuff, it would have [forced me to acknowledge]: ‘Yeah, John, you weren’t very nice back then.’
“Once I absorbed and owned that, I could then get inside to the part I really wanted to get to, which was my feelings about things in the songwriting process. I ran into that and knew if I kept denying things about my life, I’d never be worth a crap as a songwriter; I’d never be the guy I was as a kid. When you’re young, everything is new, like with a little puppy with eyes wide open. But as an adult, when gnarly, bad things have happened, you cover them up, with sort of Band-Aids, and it makes you less of a creative force. I so much wanted to be a good writer again, be a real person again … and be able to look myself in the mirror, as I can now. I kicked all the [stuff] out of the way, and I feel pretty proud of that.”
Might another book be in the works for Fogerty?
“Probably not,” he says. “I dare say my whole mantra to myself was: ‘I want this one to be complete and have everything in it, and I don’t want to feel like I’ve changed anything [from how it actually happened].’ Given how hard it was to write this, I don’t want there be a sequel.”
Tribune News Service