Fortunate Son: My Life, My Music, John Fogerty, Reviewed
John Fogerty’s recently released autobiography isn’t a particularly happy book, because for large portions of his life, he wasn’t a particularly happy person. That thought might go against our basic human nature – the idea that a rock star, a musician who created some of the most enduring songs in the history of popular music, and is beloved by critics, fans, and peers could be unhappy. I’ve heard others describe Fogerty’s bitterness in a way that suggested his stature negated his right to have those feelings. This book ultimately chronicles a happy ending and even includes a tearful reference to Cinderella. However, it was a long, hard journey for John Fogerty to find peace.
Fogerty grew up in El Cerrito, California, north of Oakland, in a community that he describes somewhat as a real life Norman Rockwell painting. His parents both had musical instincts, but they were also alcoholics and they divorced when John was young. His mother was somewhat overwhelmed with raising five sons and although she provided encouragement, she also probably didn’t give him the emotional support he needed. Luckily, he had rock ‘n’ roll. At an early age, Fogerty became a sponge – soaking up rhythm and blues, country, gospel music, while becoming infatuated with the first generation of rock ‘n’ roll heroes. Throw in an appreciation of John Steinbeck and Mark Twain and Fogerty was preparing himself to be the father of Americana music.
The group that would become Creedence Clearwater Revivial started as a high school ensemble, ready and eager to play high school dances and frat gigs. However, Fogerty was constantly frustrated by the musical limitations of his bandmates. By the time CCR started recording, John was often performing many of the instrumental parts and overdubbing background vocals. The egos of the supporting cast never fully appreciated John’s talents as a songwriter, arranger, and producer. As the band became more and more successful, tensions grew correspondingly.
Perhaps the most interesting section of the book is Fogerty’s description of his creative process. While the songs of CCR sound so simple and come across with such unlabored ease, the actual writing was painstaking. Fogerty would begin with a lyrical concept or guitar riff and then start constructing the song – not just the melody and words, but he would arrange all of the instrumentation for each song. He had a specific vision in mind, one not always shared or fully grasped by his less musically adept bandmates. In a way, he was a roots rock Brian Wilson with no Wrecking Crew for support.
Of course, the legal battles surrounding Fogerty and the band are legendary in the music industry. Despite being a hugely successful commercial act, CCR had almost no infrastructure – no management, no publicists, no attorneys. The band signed a bad deal with the small independent label Fantasy Records that would cost them dearly for decades. The book covers the myriad of legal issues, suits/countersuits, depositions, testimonies, personal betrayals, etc. It’s a story every young artist should read before signing a record deal.
Roughly, the first half of the book covers Fogerty’s childhood through the CCR years. The post CCR years, to include the legal battles and Fogerty’s issues with depression and anger,isn’t a particularly fun read. In 1990, he meets his new wife and the redemption part of his life story begins. In reality, it seems like his wife Julie is the only person close to Fogerty that has truly had his best interest at heart. Fogerty comes across as a good hearted, high strung perfectionist who is happier catching fish than writing music. He probably waited for Fantasy Records owner Saul Zaentz to pass away before completing this book, for legal reasons, but I’m glad he had the opportunity to tell his story. It seems like after decades of depression, he’s finally able to see the light.
Grade – B+