Thirty-five years ago, the United States was steeped in an unpopular war, the nation was culturally divided, and John Fogerty couldn’t stand to sit back and keep his mouth shut. Oh sure, Fogerty hid his hippy political leanings by obscuring the fact he was from San Francisco and infusing his music with the swamp-inflected blues of N’awlins. Even so, he wasn’t afraid to mouth off, and along with Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fogerty created the most scathing indictment of Vietnam’s absurdity—“Fortunate Son”. Thirty-five years later, the United States is steeped in an unpopular war, the nation is culturally divided, and John Fogerty is once again expressing his views on American society. Things have certainly come full circle, haven’t they?
The album starts out with “Déjà Vu All Over Again”, a song that compares the war in Iraq to the Vietnam “conflict”. The comparison is subtle to point of being meek, but Fogerty’s lyrical restraint lends grace to the message rather than diluting it: “Did you hear ‘em talking about it on the radio / Did you try to read the writing on the wall?”. Later in the song, the lyrics change to “Did you stop to read the writing at The Wall”, a clear and disturbing reference to the Vietnam Memorial. Fogerty no longer sounds angry, but almost resigned to the insidious business of war, which makes the lyrics all the more eerie. If man’s desire to destroy is so inevitable that even our heroes sound tired, what are the implications for us—the mere mortals?
“Déjà Vu All Over Again” is the only song to target politics, but other songs take an equally agile jab at cultural absurdity. “Nobody’s Here” exposes the folly of our modern society, a society in which people are more concerned with computers, cell phones, and SUVs than getting to know their neighbors. “He’s feeling so connected,” Fogerty taunts, “But he don’t talk to a soul / He got a stash of twinkies / Up in his room”. Was that a collective “ouch” from the aging baby boomers with their expanding waistlines and the equally guilty Gen X-ers and their Ipods?
Other songs display Fogerty’s other forte—songs that plumb the roots of American music. “I Will Walk with You” is the kind of simple, beautiful folk song that rarely gets written these days. Rather than exploiting the folk song as a vehicle for protest, Fogerty creates a small, charming shrine to love: “I will walk with you / Together we will share / Jelly beans and pink cream / A Christmas teddy bear”. “Rhubarb Pie” celebrates—what else—rhubarb pie. Featuring slide guitar and, of all things, spoons, the song is old-school blues, the type of song you only hear on those NPR shows that present roots music as artifacts rather than viable art forms. This might not sound like groundbreaking territory, but songs completely devoid of pretensions are so scarce, they just might be.
This collection, however, is not without its missteps. “She’s Got Baggage” blatantly plagiarizes The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop”, replacing the “Hey, ho—let’s go!” chant with “Hey, Joe, say it ain’t so”. Was Fogerty trying to prove his musical virility, or simply goofing on himself like your drunk uncle does at Christmas? Whatever his intent, the song sounds clunky, foolish, and downright embarrassing. Likewise, “Sugar-Sugar (In My Life)” blends redneck fingerpickin’ with uh programmed drum beats. That is, along with a real drummer, too. Because rednecks love drum machines. And because drum machines mimic drums, so why not have real drums, too? Uh… Yeah, I didn’t get it, either.
Still, the majority of the album is a study in solid musicianship, which makes Fogerty one of an elite group of elder rock statesmen that are actually aging with grace. While Mick and Keef emerge every few years with a half-baked album to support their corporate-sponsored tour (how backwards is that?), Fogerty emerges to actually offer something of substance. Hopefully, when he emerges again, he won’t have to sing about another unnecessary, misguided war. That’s just too damn optimistic, isn’t it? As Fogerty reminds us, at least we have rock ‘n’ roll.
// Notes from the Road
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