Melbourne 1990/91

A John Fogerty Odyssey

 1990. Cold winter morning.  My alarm goes off to Eon FM 92.3 and I’m hearing a D-GEN skit segueing into a wondrous chord progression.  And then comes the voice of John Fogerty.  Have You Ever Seen the Rain?  His voice is singing in my dream.  And I’m seeing this landscape: swamps, bayous, barefoot girls dancing in the moonlight, steamboats, hound dogs barking, Cajun queens, freight trains chooglin’ on down to New Orleans.

It seems the howling voice of John Fogerty has always been in my life.  And yet I was born in 1972, the year Creedence Clearwater Revival split up.  Maybe Born on the Bayou was playing at the hospital when I slithered into the world.  Or maybe it was those ABC Sing! Songbooks for schools in the late 1970s/early 1980s where I first encountered songs like Proud Mary and Down on the Corner with that enigmatic name John C. Fogerty printed underneath the title.  A bunch of Grade 2 kids singing their hearts out. Rolling on the river.  To me these songs had always existed.

Or maybe it was those spooky early 1980s films like An American Werewolf in London and Twilight Zone where songs like Bad Moon Rising and Midnight Special were synonymous with werewolves and monsters.  A few years later I recall catching a glimpse of Fogerty’s Eye of the Zombie album cover at Brashs and beholding the face of a swamp-like Zombie staring back at me.  For this reason, and perhaps because of the aforementioned films, I came to imagine Fogerty as some sort of werewolf figure with a gritty, growling voice who put a hoodoo spell on you the moment you lent him your ears.

So here I am in 1990, my VCE year, and I’m hearing that voice again.  Peculiarly, only a few days prior I had been playing the Cold Chisel live album Swingshift and had been enraptured by a seraphic version of Long as I Can See the Light.  When I checked the songwriting credits in the inner sleeve of the album, there was that name again, John C. Fogerty.   Déjà vu.

I start joining the dots.  “How great is this guy?” I say to a few mates at school that morning.  My best mate is dismissive and claims that Proud Mary was written by Ike and Tina Turner.  I’m sure he is wrong, but I can’t prove it.

The first thing I do on the weekend is run to the bus stop just as fast as my feet can fly and catch the 284 to Box Hill Central.  I march straight into Brashs and purchase a Creedence compilation called Chronicle.  When I jump back on that bus, I open the cassette and check the songwriting credits.  Aside from a few covers, every composition is credited to one John C. Fogerty.   Not a Tina Turner in sight.

I play that album to death over the next few months. It becomes my trusted companion and helps me get through VCE.  I love the CCR sound.  The raw power of Fogerty’s voice.  The trembling, swampy guitars.  The evocative lyrics which release me from the shackles of my VCE pressures and take me to the mythical Deep South.

Come 1991 and I’m catching buses and trains to Swinburne University, enrolled in a Bachelor of Commerce degree.  I hate it.  The highlight of my week is Friday when a Rasta-looking Irish dude sets up a second-hand record stall on campus.  I talk to him to about Creedence and he shows me some of their studio albums.  I want to start collecting, but I’m stone broke.  My application for Austudy seems to be lost in the mail.

Around this time, it dawns on me that I know next to nothing about John Fogerty.  Aside from his brief re-emergence in the mid-1980s, I have no idea what the man has been up to since the demise of Creedence way back in 1972.  This bothers me.

None of my fellow Commerce students give two hoots about Creedence.  Most of these dudes aspire to joining a Big 6 firm.  My sole ambition in life is to find out what has happened to John Fogerty.  But then a stroke of luck: on May 17, 1991 I receive a letter informing me that my Austudy application has been approved and that $1755 worth of back pay has been deposited into my bank account.  Later that day I catch the bus and train to Swinburne and defer.  I am dedicating my life to the mystery of Creedence Clearwater Revival.

My parents believe I am still attending university, but over the next few months I am crisscrossing the city, venturing into obscure second-hand record and book stores.  Eventually I complete my CCR collection, finding all the various studio and live albums, before stumbling across two rare solo John Fogerty albums from the mid-1970s, including the holy grail The Blue Ridge Rangersa rocking country album from 1973 where Fogerty plays every instrument.

From various music books and rock ‘n’ roll encyclopaedias, I deduce that Fogerty went missing after the mid-1970s due to a series of bitter legal conflicts with his bloodsucking record label.  He then resurfaced in the mid-1980s with a No.1 album Centerfield before once again becoming embroiled in several bizarre legal battles.  He was even sued for plagiarising himself.  Is it any wonder the man became a recluse and retreated to the wilderness of Troy, Oregon?

As 1991 drags on my parents are on to me.  My $1755 has dwindled down to a few hundred bucks and I am unable to get out of bed before mid-afternoon.  This can’t last.  Once my folks confirm what they had already suspected, they give me an ultimatum: if you’re not going to university, you have to work…

A few weeks later I am on a bus that is chooglin’ on down to a place called Goondiwindi.  There’s a suitcase covered with rattlesnake hide at my feet.  I’ll be working on the cotton fields soon, where they tell me it’s 110 in the shade.  As the bus comes up around the bend, hugging the Macintyre River, I am listening to Green River on my Walkman.  The way that twangy guitar bounces off Fogerty’s vocal is hypnotic.  There are more wordy songwriters out there yes, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a line as perfect and as evocative as:

            Pick up a flat rock, skip it across Green River

 

 

 

 

Damian Balassone's poems have appeared in over 100 publications, most notably in The New York Times. He is the author of three volumes of poetry, including the forthcoming Strange Game in a Strange Land (Wilkinson Publishing).