Chris Uggen's Blog: shelter benefit, fogerty, and future fogerties

Saturday, September 10, 2005

shelter benefit, fogerty, and future fogerties

Last night's shelter benefit for hurricane survivors featured two creedence clearwater revival songs. Hearing "who'll stop the rain" and the fighters of foo version of "born on the bayou," it amazes me how well john fogerty's song catalog stands up today. Recall that fogerty's "fortunate son" was the anti-war showstopper at "vote for change," and "proud mary" and "green river" hold up as exemplars of american roots music. The shelter benefit didn't just feature fogerty because ccr was a gulf coast band (in fact, all four members are californians). Instead, fogerty's songs have enterered the canon of "american music." I see ccr as a river stop -- up around the bend from woody guthrie, leadbelly, hank williams, chuck berry, loretta lynn, and bob dylan and downriver from bruce springsteen and (if its my canon) paul westerberg. In my view, all had the remarkable ability to weave broad statements about human connection, conflict, and inequality into stories about people who seem as real as one's own family.

Should fogerty really be mentioned in the same breath as woody guthrie and bob dylan? Critics surely wouldn't have placed him in such company when his work emerged from '68 to '72. CCR was viewed as overly simplistic and inauthentic am-radio fodder: nice craft, no gift. For the record, I don't find anything necessarily inauthentic about a guy from berkeley playing swamp music (or a white female rapper or new jersey country singer or a Brazilian hair metal band or ...). Due to record company disputes (and perhaps other things) fogerty only made 3 records from 1975-2004, so his legacy isn't a product of relentless touring and recording. Yet everybody covers his work today and it remains ubiquitous on the radio. His voice is an agreeably gruff baritone, but he couldn't shout with mccartney and wouldn't strut like jagger. The band clearly lacked jimmy page- or jimi hendrix- or john entwistle-style musicianship too, but in some ways its limitations may have helped its legacy. As for the foo fighters, dave grohl's got a ton of soul but the highlight for me was seeing taylor hawkins' restraint; he reduced his athletic drumming and quick fills to "cosmo" clifford's ccr beats (think of a large and furry version of meg white, hold the irony). I guess this is example #15,973,842 of the virtues of keeping it simple.

When I was a pre-schooler, fortunate son (b/w "down on the corner") was one of my first 45s. I remember wondering how the singer could sound so angry on one side of the record and so happy on the other. Truth be told, I also remember snarling "it ain't me -- I ain't no millionaire's son" into a hairbrush in front of my dresser mirror. So here's the big question: who is this generation's fogerty/ccr? There are tons of great songwriters in this tradition (e.g., Ani Difranco, John Prine, Tom Waits), but few reach a mass audience. Let's see, what unpretentious artist has a bunch of top-10 hits, writes both angry and joyous three-chord-and-a-cloud-of-dust songs, and takes on the major dilemmas of contemporary American life with an earnest simplicity? Here's my vote for the most-likely-to-enter-the-canon class of 2035.

You can link to the emotionally-charged shelter concert in its entirety, and make a donation if you like, from yahoo's main page.