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Thomas M. Kitts, John Fogerty: An American Son

Theodore L. Trost
p. 270-271
Référence(s) :

Thomas M. Kitts, John Fogerty: An American Son, New York, Routledge, 2016

Texte intégral

1Less than a month before Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States, the Canadian magazine Macleans published an article about the Trump campaign. On one particular occasion, as the Trump bandwagon wound its way through the State of Pennsylvania, the candidate’s arrival suffered delay due to fog. So, his campaign organizers soothed the restless crowds by blaring music through the audio system. The playlist included “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “Time is on my Side,” by the Rolling Stones and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Born on the Bayou.” According to reporter Allen Abel, the Trump campaign preferred music from the early 1970s, “though not the CCR song that contains the stanza: ‘Some folks are born silver spoon in hand/Lord, don’t they help themselves, y’all?/But when the taxman comes to the door/Lord, the house looks like a rummage sale’” (Allen Abel [2016], “Could This Get Any Worse?,” Macleans, vol. 129, no. 41 [October 17], 31). How is it, one might ask, that a band that had attained popularity for its anti-Vietnam war stance and leftward-leanings in a song like “Fortunate Son,” could also deliver other songs that apparently riled-up and rallied Trump’s gun-toting, right-wing base?

2Fortuitously, and as if in answer to just such a question, Thomas Kitts has written the book John Fogerty: An American Son. Kitts offers both a critical biography of Fogerty, a founding member and leader of Creedence Clearwater Revival, and a careful examination of Fogerty’s lengthy career in popular music—a career that developed before the glory days when CCR dominated the pop music charts (1969-72) and extends, as solo artist, to the present day. As the book’s title suggests, Kitts anchors Fogerty’s career in the American social, political, and musical contexts that determined the contours of Fogerty’s songcraft. A notable feature of Kitts’s book is his frequent recourse to, and validation of, insights from Fogerty’s former-CCR bandmates Doug Clifford and Stu Cook, who, after all, were instrumental (so to speak) in that band’s success. Thus, this book both complements, and stands in noble contrast to, John Fogerty’s own recently published biography, Fortunate Son: My Life, My Music (2015), which tends to ignore or dismiss the musical contributions of Fogerty’s primary collaborators while offering a defense of some of his notable foibles.

3After a brief preface in which the author describes his initial exposure to John Fogerty’s music, John Fogerty: An American Son is made up of twelve chapters that are organized in chronological fashion. Kitts remarks that his purpose is not so much to tell the story of Fogerty’s life as it is to offer a study of a “great American songwriter” (x). With this in mind, an exploration of Fogerty’s career unfolds. Kitts begins with an origin story centered on El Cerrito, California, a working class and middle class suburban town across the bay from San Francisco. Born as the middle child into a family eventually of five sons, Fogerty’s parents divorced when John was nine years old. This event seems to have precipitated a self understanding on Fogerty’s part that he was somehow abandoned to his own devices and, therefore, needed to be self-reliant. Meanwhile the boy’s imagination was shaped by a number of factors that influenced the kinds of songs he would eventually compose. He loved baseball, for example; and the quest for green, orderly, perhaps Edenic spaces is one he would pursue in some of his finest songs (e.g., “Green River”).

4Like many Americans in the post World War II era, Fogerty’s contact with the outside world was actualized through the media. Movies, for example, provided him with an imaginary of the American South. Through recordings and the radio, he came to appreciate a variety of musical forms including the Southern-seeming songs of Pennsylvanian Stephen Foster; the folk and protest songs of Pete Seeger; the blues of Lead Belly; the country of Hank Williams; and the rock’n’roll of Little Richard—among many others. As Kitts points out, the songs of some of these artists found their way onto albums Fogerty made with CCR (e.g., “Cotton Fields”) or by himself (e.g., “Jambalaya”). Also by the time of the first CCR recordings, he had borrowed the vocal stylings—and to some degree, the Weltanschauung—of a Southern bluesman.

5Perhaps Kitts’s most notable contribution to scholarship is his depiction of Fogerty as “the notorious puritan of rock” (4), a phrase attributed to author Hank Bordowitz and one that reoccurs in different guises throughout the book. Here Kitts has in mind not only the musician’s individualism, his work ethic, his efficient song production unadorned by hippie excesses, and his habit of clean-living (at least during the CCR-era); more significantly, Kitts points to Puritan modes of discourse such as the jeremiad and a penchant for the apocalyptic that lend prophetic pertinence to Fogerty’s lyrics. Kitts successfully demonstrates how Fogerty’s rhetoric is related to the sermonic stylings of early Puritan preachers like Cotton Mather and the depiction of Judgement Day that appears in Michael Wigglesworth’s famous poem “Day of Doom” (1662). Kitts shows how a later New England writer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, would associate this kind of literature with what Emerson called the “party of memory.” Characteristic of this strain in American discourse is a strong nostalgic inclination in response to the present malaise. In order to solve the problems of today, the values of the past must be resorted to. In contrast to the “party of memory,” Emerson advanced the virtues of the “party of hope.” For these writers and rhetoricians, the burden of the past needs to be cast off in a hopeful embrace of the future.

6Both of these parties find articulation in the songs of John Fogerty, not only during his Creedence heyday, but throughout the 1980s and into the xxist century. On the one hand, Fogerty is looking for and angling toward the next great adventure that awaits “Up Around the Bend.” On the other hand, he carries with him a vision of decency and order that once existed in the past: “wish I was back in the bayou,” he sings; and those who elected Mr. Trump nod their heads in agreement. Thus Kitts presents an artist whose music actively engages the ongoing debate about the nature of American culture. Both those who wish to “keep hope alive” and those who want to “make America great again,” can appeal to John Fogerty’s songs for their anthemic virtue. And this is why John Fogerty: An American Son is an important book in our time.

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Référence papier

Theodore L. Trost, « Thomas M. Kitts, John Fogerty: An American Son », Volume !, 14 : 2 | 2018, 270-271.

Référence électronique

Theodore L. Trost, « Thomas M. Kitts, John Fogerty: An American Son », Volume ! [En ligne], 14 : 2 | 2018, mis en ligne le 26 avril 2018, consulté le 13 novembre 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/volume/5648

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Auteur

Theodore L. Trost

Theodore Louis Trost est professeur en Religious Studies à la University of Alabama. Il a codirigé The Development of the Church: The Principle of Protestantism and Other Historical Writings of Philip Schaff (2017). Ses travaux récents inclus “Transgressive Theology: The Sacred and the Profane at U2’s PopMart” et “The Pan Am Quipper as Site of Anxiety: Managing Emotion in an Era of Neoliberalism and Corporate Decline.” Il travaille actuellement sur un article intitulé “‘Imagine There’s No Countries’: John Lennon’s Politics of Love.”

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L'auteur & les Éd. Mélanie Seteun

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