Right now all I got’s this lonesome day

On September 14, 2001, three days after the 9/11 attacks, Bruce Springsteen was walking down the street in New Jersey, just across the river from Manhattan.  A man driving by slowed down next to him, opened his window, stared at Springsteen and said, “Man, we really need you now.”

Springsteen had been out of the limelight for several years at that point.  His last album of new music had been 1995’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” a critical favorite but a relative c121852__bruce_lommercial dud.  He and the E Street Band had parted ways in the late ’80s, and The Boss and his wife had turned their attentions to raising a family.

“That guy really stopped me in my tracks,” Springsteen recalled.  “The events of 9/11 had affected me profoundly, as it had so many others, but I’d been caught in a daze, wandering around those first couple of days, worried for my kids, worried for my country, not sure what to think.  When he said ‘We need you now,’ it snapped me back into focus.  I thought, ‘It’s time to get busy doing what I can do.'”

One of rock’s most prolific songwriters got busy, all right.  Over the next few weeks, he wrote nearly 50 songs in a burst of creativity, determined to come up with music that might help in the healing process.  He made a call to the boys in the E Street Band and said, “Guys, it’s time.  Let’s get back together and make a record.”  They eagerly agreed, and the result was “The Rising,” a triumphant rejuvenation of Springsteen’s career and a 220px-Springsteen_The_Risingmuch-needed shot in the arm for his legions of fans, many of whom were still grieving huge personal loss.

This week, as we marked another anniversary of that dark day in the nation’s history, I revisited “The Rising,” and also did some research to look for other noteworthy songs that were written in the aftermath of 9/11.  I found it challenging to immerse myself in these difficult emotions and painful memories, but ultimately, I came out the other end feeling stronger, as we often do when we face our fears.

Critics were nearly unanimous in their praise for “The Rising.”  Thom Jurek of AllMusic called the album “one of the very best examples in recent history of how popular art can evoke a time period and all of its confusing and often contradictory notions, feelings and impulses.” The British magazine Uncut called the LP “a brave and beautiful album of humanity, hurt and hope from the songwriter best qualified to speak to and for his country … A towering achievement.”

In particular, the lyrics to seven tracks dealt with the emotions felt in the aftermath:  the sadness for the loss of life, the gratitude for the first responders, the dark desire for revenge, the despair for the loss of innocence, the craving for closeness and community, the need to keep hope alive.

Some of these songs specifically address the events of 9/11.  “Into the Fire,” for instance, pays tribute to the firemen who headed into the towers as everyone else was evacuating:   “It was dark, too dark to see, you held me in the light you gave, you lay your hand on me, then walked into the darkness of your smoky grave, somewhere up the stairs into the fire, somewhere up the stairs into the fire, I need your kiss, but love and duty called MV5BMzY1ZThmYmUtZjZhYi00MTA1LTg3YTktMjk1Nzg4MzdjYWFlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTc5MDI5NjE@._V1_you someplace higher, somewhere up the stairs into the fire…”

The leadoff track, “Lonesome Day,” ranks among Springsteen’s finest efforts, a musically robust rocker that also warns about how a demand for justice needs to be tempered by a sense of collective calm that doesn’t escalate matters:  “Hell’s brewin’, dark sun’s on the rise, this storm’ll blow through by and by, house is on fire, viper’s in the grass, a little revenge and this too shall pass, this too shall pass, I’m gonna pray, right now all I got’s this lonesome day…”

Other album tracks demonstrate Springsteen’s deft ability at writing words that deal with emotions in a more general, universal way that could apply to other kinds of loss.  “You’re Missing” delicately speaks to the void that families felt when their loved ones didn’t return home that day, but it could just as easily refer to soldiers who died on the battlefield, or victims of mass shootings:  “Pictures on the nightstand, TV’s on in the den, your house is waiting for you to walk in, but you’re missing, when I shut out the lights, you’re missing, when I close my eyes, you’re missing, when I see the sun rise, you’re missing…”

The title song, “The Rising,” is a magnificent song of resolve and hope, with lyrics that apply in any situation when the chips are down and all seems lost:  “I make my way through this darkness, I can’t feel nothing but this chain that binds me, lost track of how far I’ve gone, how high I’ve climbed… a dream of life comes to me like a catfish dancing on the end of my line, come on up for the rising, come on up, lay your hands in mine, come on up for the rising, come on up for the rising tonight…”

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In the wake of 9/11, several dozen songs surfaced, written and released by a wide range of artists.  I’ve selected a dozen that I found sufficiently moving to share with you on my blog this week.  I hope you absorb them in the spirit in which they were proffered to us.

“Let’s Roll,” Neil Young, 2001

Pegi-YoungYoung chose to focus on the amazing, harrowing story of the brave souls on United Flight 93 who stormed their hijacked cockpit and prevented the plane from reaching its intended target in Washington, D.C.:  “I know I said I love you, I know you know it’s true, I’ve got to put the phone down and do what we got to do, one’s standing in the aisle way, two more at the door, we’ve got to get inside there, before they kill some more, time is runnin’ out, let’s roll…”

“Tuesday Morning,” Melissa Etheridge, 2004

hqdefault-17Etheridge also addressed those on United Flight 93, with an added edge.  One of the heroes on board was a gay man who had faced injustices that prevented his ability to marry or be a school teacher.  Etheridge defiantly asked us to consider the freedoms and rights that are still denied to some of our citizens:  “He stood up on a Tuesday morning, in the terror, he was brave, and he made his choice and without a doubt, a hundred lives he must have saved, and the things you might take for granted, your inalienable rights, some might choose to deny him, even though he gave his life, stand up, America, wake up, America…”

“Prayer,” Disturbed, 2002

maxresdefault-28This Chicago-based heavy metal band found controversy when they filmed a riveting video for this song that appeared to be a re-creation of the Ground Zero area (view it on YouTube at your own risk).  The lyrics take Evil’s point of view:  “Another nightmare about to come true will manifest tomorrow, another love that I’ve taken from you, lost in time, on the edge of suffering, another taste of the evil I breed will level you completely, bring to life everything that you fear, live in the dark, and the world is threatening, let me enlighten you, this is the way I pray…”

“Hole in the World,” The Eagles, 2003

61cXDyMwScL._SY355_As part of the 2003 release of the 2-CD package “The Very Best of The Eagles,” Don Henley and Glenn Frey wrote this new track to weigh in with their thoughts on 9/11: “They say that anger is just love disappointed, they say that love is just a state of mind, but all this fighting over who will be anointed, oh, how can people be so blind?, there’s a hole in the world tonight, there’s a cloud of fear and sorrow, there’s a hole in the world tonight, don’t let there be a hole in the world tomorrow…”

“Sacrificed Sons,” Dream Theater, 2005

maxresdefault-26Influenced by British prog rock bands like Yes and Pink Floyd, the Boston-based Neo-progressive group Dream Theater turned a few heads with its 2005 release “Octavarium.”  Of particular interest was the 10-minute opus “Sacrificed Sons,” with lyrics by vocalist James LaBrie that recalled the 9/11 attacks:  “Heads all turning towards the sky, towers crumble, heroes die, who would wish this on our people and proclaim that His will be done, scriptures they heed have misled them, all praise their sacrificed sons…”

“Illume (9-11),” Fleetwood Mac, 2003 

500bf53780eead0482a1671f086520d5.800x800x1Stevie Nicks wrote this poignant piece less than two weeks after 9/11, but it didn’t see the light of day until Fleetwood Mac reconvened to record the 2003 LP “Say You Will.”  Nicks reflected on how difficult it can be to overcome deep heartbreak:  “What I saw on this journey, I saw history go down, I cannot pretend that the heartache falls away, it’s just like a river, ooh, it’s never ending, I cannot pretend that the heartache falls away, because it’s just like a river, it’s never ending…”

“Hey Ma,” James, 2008

HeyMaAlbumArtThe British band James offered another perspective, looking at 9/11 as a fork in the road where unfortunate choices with long-lasting global consequences were made:  “Now, the towers have fallen, so much dust in the air, it affected your vision, couldn’t see yourself clear, from the fall came such choices even worse than the fall, there’s this chain of consequences, within, without, action, cause and reaction never follows to plan… Please don’t preach me forgiveness, you’re hardwired for revenge, war is just about business, within, without…”

“When New York Had Her Heart Broke,” John Hiatt, 2011

john-hiattVeteran songwriter Hiatt came up with this tearjerker on his 2011 LP “Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns,” on which he ruefully recalled the mood of New Yorkers when their city became the focal point of the 9/11 attacks:  “And the daylight fell dark, F-16s over Central Park, when New York had her heart broke, we were dazed in the streets, from the blood and dust and heat, when New York had her heart broke…”

“Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” Alan Jackson, 2001

dam_asset_image-26864920180714-21667-10qsscyJackson found it hard to write a song about how he felt in the wake of 9/11, but he forged ahead and came up with this moving track.  After debuting it at the Country Music Awards less than eight weeks after 9/11, it was released as a single, topping the country charts for five weeks and reaching #28 on the pop charts.  The lyrics present a series of thought-provoking questions:  “Did you stand there in shock at the sight of that black smoke risin’ against that blue sky?  Did you shout out in anger, in fear for your neighbor, or did you just sit down and cry?  Did you weep for the children who lost their dear loved ones, and pray for the ones who don’t know?  Did you rejoice for the people who walked from the rubble, and sob for the ones left below?…”

“Courtesy of the Red White and Blue (The Angry American),” Toby Keith, 2002

Angry_American_Single_CD_CoverAlways a political conservative, Keith came up with this inflamed diatribe that stoked the rage amongst his audience and soared to #1 on the country charts upon its release in May 2002.  He has said it was written in support of the U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, but it was interpreted to reflect his generally hawkish views:   “Now this nation that I love has fallen under attack, a mighty sucker punch came flyin’ in from somewhere in the back, soon as we could see it clearly through our big black eye, man, we lit up your world like the 4th of July… Oh, justice will be served and the battle will rage, this big dog will fight when you rattle his cage, and you’ll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A, ’cause we’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way…”

Skylines and Turnstiles,” My Chemical Romance, 2002

GettyImages-85033606-1560026014-1500x1000Gerard Way was so saddened and outraged by the events of 9/11 that he was inspired to form the emo/post-hardcore punk group My Chemical Romance.  The debut LP “I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love” includes “Skylines and Turnstiles” with its brutally graphic lyrics:  “Steel corpses stretch out towards an ending sun, scorched and black, it reaches in and tears your flesh apart as ice cold hands rip into your heart, that’s if you’ve still got one that’s left inside that cave you call a chest, after seeing what we saw, can we still reclaim our innocence?…”

“Exodus Damage,” John Vanderslice, 2005

71KAl4fX77L._SX355_Indie rock singer/songwriter Vanderslice produced ten albums out of his San Francisco-based studio/record company.  His 2005 album “Pixel Revolts” had a decidedly political bent, with several tracks about 9/11 and the Iraq War, especially “Exodus Damage” with its highly provocative lyrics:  “So the second plane hit at 9:02, I saw it live on a hotel TV, talking on my cell with you, you said this would happen, and just like that, it did, wrong about the feeling, wrong about the sound, but right to say we would stand down, an hour went by without a fighter in the sky, you said there’’s a reason why, so tell me now, I must confess, I’’m not sick enough to guess…”

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Looks like we’re in for nasty weather

Periodically, I use this space to pay homage to artists who I believe are worthy of focused attention — artists with an extraordinary, influential, consistently excellent body of work and/or a compelling story to tell.  In this essay, I share the sad tale of a driven, talented musician who reached the mountaintops of rock and then found himself bottoming out, the victim of naiveté and greed:  John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

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The history of popular music is littered with hundreds of cases of rapacious managers and record labels screwing artists and songwriters out of their rightful share of profits and royalties from the music they have written and recorded.

It happened to The Beatles.  It happened to The Rolling Stones.  It happened to many bands because they were usually just kids in their teens or early 20s, with no understanding or proper advice on how to avoid the charlatans and greed heads who

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Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1969:  John Fogerty, Doug Clifford, Tom Fogerty, Stu Cook

manipulate the artists’ naiveté and make off with most of the money made from the sale and airplay of their hit records.

What happened to John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival is perhaps the most heartbreaking story I’ve heard about what can and did happen in this brutal, unsavory business.

There are those who will read Fogerty’s 2016 autobiography “Fortunate Son:  My Life, My Music” and feel little sympathy.  They’ll see him as an egotist with no business sense who made some very bad decisions that haunted him for decades.  But I see him as a guy with 51y68mxuP6L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_a dream, a strong work ethic, a fierce determination and, perhaps to his detriment, resolute trust that those around him would be true to their word and treat him fairly.

Fogerty grew up in El Cerrito, California, a small town north of Berkeley, where his hardscrabble childhood was marred by divorce, family alcoholism and estrangement.  In high school, he formed a band with fellow classmates Stu Cook (bass) and Doug Clifford (drums), eventually recruiting older brother Tom Fogerty (rhythm guitar) from a rival group and branded themselves The Blue Velvets.  They were just having fun, Fogerty recalls, playing school events and parties while covering the rock and roll hits of the late ’50s and early ’60s.

In 1964, The Blue Velvets signed to Fantasy Records, a small, San Francisco-based label run by Max and Sol Weiss, specializing in jazz and comedy records.  They were renamed The Golliwogs, but had no luck releasing records under that name, and by 1967, a man named Saul Zaentz took over Fantasy Records, and became the group’s manager.

Fogerty had spent a year in active military duty, and upon his discharge, he and the band decided “it was time be more serious about getting really good.  We made a regimen of practicing every day, because we figured this was going to be our last fling at the big dream.  So we were gung ho.  It was acknowledged that I seemed to have a clear idea of what we should be doing musically, because not only was I able to sing, but I understood the music enough that I could teach.  I knew how the instruments should sound.  My arrangements had become more focused.  I had the strong belief that we could actually achieve our dream.”

Zaentz gave the group a pep talk and told them he believed in them, and was eager to sign them to a new contract.  “We put faith in him because he seemed like he was our friend,” Fogerty recalls.  “At that time, Fantasy consisted pretty much of just the five of us — Stu, Doug, Tom, Saul and me.”

Fogerty said the band had always hated the name Golliwogs, and Zaentz encouraged them to select a new name.  In the spirit of other long-winded band names of the time (Quicksilver Messenger Service, Strawberry Alarm Clock), they came up with Creedence Clearwater Revival.  As Fogerty remembers it:  “Credence Nuball was a friend of Tom’s, and I liked the idea of credence, which means credibility, belief, positive vibe.  Then ‘clearwater’ came from an Olympia Beer commercial, and a public service announcement I saw about the push for clean water legislation.  And I really liked the i46126980432_4b3f5ae8a2dea of our band having a renewal, a resurgence, so ‘Revival’ fit.  It seemed like quite a mouthful, but we loved it.”

Creedence told Zaentz they wanted to record in a proper studio so they could make a more professional-sounding record, so they booked time in RCA Studios in LA.  That resulted in their first breakthrough:  “Susie-Q,” a cover version of the 1957 Del Hawkins rockabilly classic.  The album version was an eight-minute jam with Fogerty solos and vocal adornments, but the single version, at 4:30, hit #11 on the charts, giving them a foothold on the ladder to further success.

And that’s when Zaentz insisted on the new contract.  Recalls Fogerty, “We didn’t have any legal representation, but Stu’s father was an attorney, so we decided to have him

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Saul Zaentz (below left) with CCR

give it to his dad to look it over.  We were told the contract looked fine and was okay to sign.  To this day, I don’t think Stu even showed it to his father.  I take my share of the responsibility for signing it in January 1968, but at the time, I thought ‘Saul is our friend.  He isn’t going to screw us, right?’

“How innocent and naive we all were.  That contract was terrible for all of us financially — our royalty rate was 10 percent, paid out of net sales, not gross — but for me, as the sole creator of the material, there were long-reaching implications.  Saul owned the copyright on all our songs, lock, stock and barrel.  But I didn’t really discover this until two years later.”

Fantasy was now owed 180 songs over seven years ( about 25 per year) — and if not completed once that period ended, they’d still be owed.  “In our best year, 1969, we recorded three albums, or 26 songs.  Besides me, nobody wrote songs in Creedence that amounted to anything, so when we broke up, the other guys were all set free.  Not me.  Fantasy Records not only chiseled me out of a fortune, they still owned my future.  I was basically enslaved.”

Creedence_Clearwater_Revival_-_Green_RiverMeanwhile, Fogerty began one of the most remarkable songwriting streaks that rock has ever seen. Between late 1968 and early 1972, Creedence was the nation’s most prolific, most successful band, and all the hit songs (and most album tracks) were Fogerty compositions — “Proud Mary,” “Born on the Bayou,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Lodi,” “Green River,” “Commotion,” “Down on the Corner,” “Fortunate Son,” “Travelin’ Band,” “Looking Out My Back Door,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” “Up Around the Bend,” “Have You Ever Seen the Rain.”

“I was very driven,” he says. “It was life and death.  We didn’t have a publicist, we didn’t have a manager, we didn’t have a producer, and we were on the tiniest label in the world, so we had to do it with music.  And that pretty much meant me.”

Fogerty perfected a simple approach, writing basic rock and roll melodies with relatable lyrics, and using recording techniques and specific types of guitars to get the sound he images-50wanted on the records.  He said he was disappointed when he discovered that the others in the group weren’t much interested in learning, preferring to party and leave the hard work to Fogerty.

“It was very frustrating, because they chose to see this as me trying to be in control of every detail about our recordings and how they sounded.  To some extent, they were right — I took over doing all the vocals, both the lead vocals and the harmonies on overdub, because they just didn’t sound as good when the others sang.  But to me, this was all about making the very best records we could, and the results prove I was right.”

Five albums — “Bayou Country,” “Green River,” “Willy and the Poor Boys,” “Cosmo’s Factory,” and “Pendulum” — were all multi-platinum, Top Five chart successes, and “Green River” and “Cosmo’s Factory” reached #1 in 1969 and 1970, respectively.  They were every bit as popular as any other band at that time.

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My first encounter with Fogerty’s music, like so many of my earliest discoveries, came at a wonderful little independent record store called, oddly enough, Fantasy Records, located in the bohemian Coventry Village section of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, about two miles from my home.  Albums cost $3.99 back then, and each day the proprietor would put a different new album on sale for only $1.99.  It was a great ploy to get customers to MI0000677925stop in regularly, and I would ride my bicycle there at least twice a week, eager to see which album was on sale.  One day, it was “Bayou Country,” and although I’d never heard of Creedence Clearwater Revival before, I liked what I heard coming out of the store’s sound system, so I plunked down my two bucks and took the album home.

I think I must’ve played that record every day for two months.  “Born on the Bayou” in particular simply mesmerized me, and the band’s version of the Little Richard classic “Good Golly Miss Molly” was a close second.  Fogerty’s growl was so distinctive and unusual, and the band played tight rock arrangements that grabbed me.  And let’s not forget the amazing groove of the album’s closer, “Keep on Chooglin’,” an infectious jam the band often saved as the finale at their live shows.  I didn’t know what “chooglin'” was, but I didn’t much care.  I sure loved the sound of it.

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By 1972, the other members of Creedence mutinied, insisting that they be able to contribute songs and record them their way.  Fogerty, against his better judgment, acquiesced, and the resulting album, “Mardi Gras,” was by all accounts a failure, with only Fogerty’s song “Sweet Hitch-hiker,” getting any airplay.  It would prove to be CCR’s final album.

Mardi-GrasOnce Fogerty learned the particulars about the implications of the onerous contract he had signed, he found it so soul-crushing that he lost the desire, and ability, to write hit songs.  The muse had left him.  Almost as soon as the band was over, he realised the songs no longer flowed like water from a tap.  He’d never known where they came from, and when they no longer came, he didn’t know where they’d gone.

What followed were decades of legal strife, bad blood and creative paralysis.  In fact, Fogerty even became estranged from his own songs.  He refused to perform them for another 25 years, even though this audiences wanted to hear them.  The associations were too painful, he said, and he couldn’t stand the thought of Zaentz making any more money from them.  Whenever one of his old hits came on the car radio – which happened often – he would turn it off.

Fogerty claims Zaentz repeated broke promises and went back on his word in their dealings together.  The fact that Zaentz used the money made off Creedence’s music to launch a hugely successful movie producer career only made things worse for Fogerty.

It took him more than a decade to mount a solo comeback.  In 1985, Fogerty managed to score a #1 LP, “Centerfield,” with a Top Ten hit, “The Old Man Down the Road,” but even 220px-John_Fogerty-Centerfield_(album_cover)that was tainted after Zaentz sued him, saying “The Old Man Down the Road” plagiarized Fogerty’s earlier hit, “Run Through the Jungle.”  He couldn’t believe it.  “How can you steal your own song?”  He took some satisfaction out of playing both songs live in a courtroom, demonstrating there was only a modicum of similarity, thus winning his case.

But the damage done to his spirit was profound.  Fogerty was shaken by the malicious, and mean-spirited way in which he had been treated by his adversaries.  He withdrew from touring, becoming isolated as he began drinking heavily, losing all sense of the drive and determination that had served him so swell in earlier years.  It wasn’t until the ’90s when he met his current wife Julie, who he credits with saving his life and turning him around.

He finally began playing his old catalog again, partly because other musicians like 250px-John_Fogerty_at_the_2011_Cisco_Ottawa_BluesfestGeorge Harrison urged him to do so. In a reference to Ike and Tina Turner’s #4 hit cover version,  Harrison said, “John, if you don’t start playing ‘Proud Mary’ again, people are going to start thinking Tina Turner wrote it!”

In 2013, Fogerty recorded “Wrote a Song for Everyone,” an album of Creedence songs done in collaboration with such artists as Bob Seger, The Foo Fighters, Miranda Lambert, Brad Paisley, My Morning Jacket and Jennifer Hudson.  It peaked at #3 on the album charts that year.

These days, Fogerty is much more serene and matter-of-fact about his life and the music business.  “When I was coming up, I met so many rock ‘n’ roll people from the first wave who were bitter,” he says. “I was 22 and I’d think: ‘Why is he so angry?’ You’d think with lots of hit records and success that you’d be very happy.  Of course, we both know that in a lot of cases, that’s not what happens. In fact, show business seems to be unusually full of folks who things go wrong for.  They were justifiably frustrated.

“But I’ve learned that frustration is a destructive emotion, and you just have to let it go, as difficult as that often can be.  I focus on the things I’m grateful for, like Julie, and my love for music.

“I’m fortunate I was given the gift of being able to write and record all those Creedence songs that ended up in the soundtracks to millions of people’s lives.  What a blessing.”