Saturday, January 2, 2010

Random Thoughts on CCR

Lately I have been listening to a lot of Creedence Clearwater Revival. I do not know why I have neglected them for so long, except to say that I suppose one goes through phases. There is so much great music available, and I tend to obsess over a band or two at a time, however long that time may last. Obsessing is good because it directs one's attention toward detail, and leads to richer appreciation. I am blown away by “Suzie Q,” a song I used to find boring and repetitive. First, the guitar tone is great. Maybe I overstate, because I previously overlooked it. But the Fogerty brothers have a really warm, organic overdrive with real depth. I doubt any pedals were used here, just amps cranked as loud as they can go (I'm not a historian and I encourage readers who are to provide any necessary details). Those solos are so simple, but great tone makes them interesting. I find that if a guitar is producing a deep, rich, complex tone, the solo can be a single note, and it will sound good. It's not about cramming in scales and arpeggios; it's about attack, timing, sustain and overdrive.

These songs conceal their complexity, because the layers are tonal, not virtuostic (musicologists forgive my slaughter of these terms. Don't worry, we are about to move out of technical criticisms). Outside of the musical experience of CCR I am struck by the weird, randomness of popularity, of staying power and of fame in general. As far as I know, everyone likes this band. I grew up in the rural Midwest, and I cannot remember anyone ever complaining about too much Creedence. Everyone from redneck to hillbilly to hardcore bigot to future tea-bagger loves “Willie and the Poor Boys,” “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” “Up Around the Bend” and everything else from Chronicle 1 and 2. “Suzie Q” made it into Apocalypse Now and “Lookin' Out my Back Door” is in The Big Lebowski, two films essential to the college zeitgeist of my generation. There is certainly no rational explanation for this, at least not the part where conservatives like them.

Consider the following CCR hits: “Proud Mary,” “I Put a Spell on You,” “Good Golly Miss Molly,” “Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Night Time is the Right Time” were all huge hits for the black performers that originally recorded them, so right away we can say that it makes no sense for someone who is openly bigoted to like this band that owes at least half a dozen of its biggest hits to black songwriters. Then there's the Woody Guthrie-esque populism and feeling of one's roots that I guess is mistaken down-homey. There are songs about drug use, unless you think “Lookin' Out My Back Door” is about something else. I submit: “Tambourines and elephants are playing in the band/Won't you take a ride on the flying spoon?/Wond'rous apparition provided by magician.” Chances are pretty good that most of the tea-baggers who would love CCR, have never actually heard those words, much less considered their meaning – something to do with their overall lack of attention to detail I imagine.

And they certainly have never thought about the words to “Fortunate Son.” I don't know what goes into popularity, but in many cases, lack of attention and sheer obliviousness seem to be key ingredients. I remember a commercial for Ralph Lauren that came out in the months following 9-11, you know, when all the soulless wretches in marketing departments all over the country decided it was ethically sound to cash in on people's sorrow and fear by flying a flag in every commercial. I may have actually cried the first time I saw that commercial where the Budweiser clydesdales bowed in front of the hole where the towers used to be, but if I died it was from a deep disappointment that advertisers could be so callous. A new frontier of cynicism had been reached, and I got dragged across the threshold unwillingly. Anyway, the Ralph Lauren ad plays the song “Fortunate Son,” but only the first two lines: “Some folks were born made to wave the flag/Ooh, that red, white and blue.” Then they show a flag and the viewer is reminded that loving America means loving expensive jackets, polos and rugby shirts.

Now, if you had never heard the song before, and you were a fearful, xenophobic lunatic, you might think what a good song to express such a noble sentiment. The trouble is that these are the rest of the words:

And when the band plays "Hail To The Chief",
oh, they point the cannon at you, Lord,

It ain't me, it ain't me,
I ain't no senator's son,
It ain't me, it ain't me,
I ain't no fortunate one, no,

Some folks are born silver spoon in hand,
Lord, don't they help themselves? oh.
But when the taxman come to the door,
Lord, the house look a like a rummage sale, yes,

It ain't me, it ain't me,
I ain't no millionaire's son, no, no.
It ain't me, it ain't me,
I ain't no fortunate one, no.

Yeah, some folks inherit star spangled eyes,
ooh, they send you down to war, Lord,
And when you ask them, how much should we give,
oh, they only answer, more, more, more.

It's a fucking anti-war song! And whatever you may think of marketing tactics in general, the fact remains that this commercial came out during a time in which every mainstream media voice was calling for the blood of whoever did this to “us” and if we cannot find them, then anyone who kind of looks like them or lives near where they live will do. Just making sure you understand the context for this blatant disregard of context. “Fortunate Son” is quite beyond the satirical and bittersweet “Pink Houses” or the ironic “Born in the U.S.A; it is incendiary. It spells out a complete critique of the ties between war-mongering and patriotism, between nepotism and power. Zach de la Rocha could have written it.

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