There’s a deceptive clarity in the way John Fogerty tells his story in Fortunate Son: My Life My Music. At the very start he adopts an ‘aw shucks’ tone that suits the earliest portions of his autobiography, devoted to his small-town childhood, and even as it becomes slightly more formal, it remains ingratiating as he delves into his evolution as a musician, forming his first bands, and making his first attempts at songwriting and performing. But Fogerty begins to sound forced, almost disingenuous, as he describes the more complex evolution of Creedence Clearwater Revivial, the band he fronted as chief songwriter, guitarist and vocalist virtually for the duration of their existence.
To his credit, the musician doesn’t so much sound defensive as circumspect to fault as he somewhat abruptly begins to level not so thinly-veiled revisionist criticism at his former bandmates. The titular leader of one of the most commercially successful and respected bands of the late Sixties era sounds like Neil Young during his own book Waging Heavy Peace: transparently careful to touch all the necessary bases. As a result, Fogerty’s narrative lacks the objectivity that would arise naturally from a more clearly-communicated storyline and it ultimately undermines one of this book’s main precepts; Fogerty’s own drive to succeed.
To be fair, as with the Canadian icon’s tome, the issue with this autobiography may be one of editing more than anything else. A protracted litany of Fogerty’s favorite records, while useful on its own terms in clarifying his roots, constitutes a non sequitur stalling the momentum of the story of his adolescence leading to a stint in the military. Here as elsewhere, “Fortunate Son” functions like the written text counterpart of a series of scrapbook pages, snapshots of the author’s life arranged by a logic not always readily discernible to the reader.
In contrast, the business machinations that lead to the deterioration of John Fogerty’s working relationship with the owner of Fantasy Records, Saul Zaentz, are as clearly illuminated as the other overriding theme of the book, the source of the Creedence leader’s bitterness toward his former bandmates (including his brother Tom, who left the group abruptly in 1971). The suits and countersuits that arise between all parties reek with mean-spirited anger, and bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug Clifford’s formation of Creedence Clearwater Revisited, a questionable move on its own terms because it’s given sanction by their business alliance with Zaentz, seems like a personal vendetta. In recounting these various thrusts and parries, John Fogerty is as emotional as he is intellectually emphatic.
This crucially important aspect of Fortunate Son emanates from a linear depiction of events, including lesser known detail of the late rock impresario Bill Graham’s intercession, along with his own legal team, to broker a peace between the musician and the Fantasy records owner (who, as a film entrepreneur, went on to produce a number of high-profile motion pictures including Amadeus), Fogerty does eventually come to terms with the label and its representatives when the Concord Music Group completes its acquisition of the enterprise, but, oddly, as with many such turning points in this man’s life, there’s little if any sense of redemption, much less celebration, at that rapprochement.
Instead, he gives it a short shrift, a particularly odd reaction as it reaffirms his decision to continue playing (and thus maintain reasonable ownership of) Creedence’s material, after having refused to perform it in public for some fifteen years. At such junctures, the guitarist/songwriter’s reliance on homilies precludes tangible insight into his own personal psychology, i.e. “what did I do or say to evoke that reaction?”. Spouse Julie Kramer’s commentary, initially introduced in a most self-conscious manner, often balances on platitudes as well, particularly as she rationalizes his behavior, albeit with all sincere empathy.
But, as with the other primary themes of Fortunate Son, it’s worth noting that the storyline of John’s relationship with his future wife, which proceeds from an early infatuation to marriage and a family with three children, benefits as much from chronological touch-points as that of Creedence’s distinctive style and ultimate commercial success in 1968 and 1969. The couple give the back-and-forth of their early relationship due reference and, to their further credit, neither of the couple make any bones about Fogerty’s on-again, off-again drinking problem: more than once it seems a thing of the past, only to pop up once again, somewhat surprisingly, in a new context, right up to and including the conclusion of the book.
And even as Fortunate Son reaches an ostensibly a happy ending, the artist’s long-suffered labor of love solo record, Blue Moon Swamp, winning a Grammy, and thus bringing him professional success that would seem to mirror his professed personal fulfillment. Yet, John Fogerty’s declarations of satisfaction still ring a bit hollow, almost as if he doesn’t really believe himself when he says the long-term difficulties he’s endured have, in fact, been offset by the latter-day joy he’s experiencing. For that reason alone, he becomes a sympathetic figure, almost to the point that the title this book – aside from its obvious marketing angle – begins to sound ironic.