Monday, February 1, 2016

I'm Back!/John and Elvis

Hey folks. I'm back, now more than ever. I've had my break since last summer -- tonight my best friend convinced me that I shouldn't just throw away something I had such fun with, that I got so much enjoyment out of. And of course she's right. So.
I'll try to update here once or twice a week, or more often if there's something I want to mouth off about.
Nice to be talkin' to 'ya again.

Read a couple of rockstar autobiographies last week -- John Fogerty's FORTUNATE SON (2015) and Elvis Costello's UNFAITHFUL MUSIC AND DISAPPEARING INK (2015). If you're a big Creedence Clearwater Revival fan, you might want to pick up Fogerty's book. He doesn't exactly tell you where he got that "swamp rock" sound for Creedence back in the '60s, but there's some great stories in the book anyway -- and some stuff that will drive you crazy, like it almost did to John.
All the big money from all those big hits that John and CCR had in the late '60s and early '70s, ALL of it, went to Fantasy Records and its president Saul Zaentz, who (Fogerty's theory) used it to finance movies like ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST and AMADEUS. Fogerty and his bandmates got almost none of it.
Fogerty fought this for years, trying to get at least SOME of the money from his songs back, only to have Zaentz counter-sue him for slander (for "Zanz Can't Danz") and for plagiarizing his own songs when Fogerty released "The Old Man Down the Road." (Zaentz owned the rights to all those old CCR songs, ya see.)
As if this weren't bad enough, Fogerty's bandmates were real dummies. John told them early (by the time of "Proud Mary") that he could perform all the band's parts and vocals himself, and WOULD, unless they did the songs the way he wanted. He knew how they should sound. On their own, with no coaching, they were pretty sloppy. Lazy. The other members of CCR included John's brother Tom, and John's insistence on Doing It Right caused jealousies that went on for years.
So. The other band-members were on this million-dollar gravy train, and all they could do was complain about it. For years. And they lost most of their money too.
Fogerty isn't out to settle any old scores. He's such a modest, down-to-earth, no-BS, Just Plain Folks kind of guy that he just lays out the details for you. He doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. He just puts the info out there and lets you decide. The story of "Fogerty's Revenge" -- CCR's MARDI GRAS album, when the other guys in the band shared the songwriting under a democracy they demanded -- is laid out here in all its ugly detail.
Maybe the high point of the book is when Fogerty gives up, years after CCR breaks up -- and lets go millions of dollars he was owed and cheated out of. The moment sends him into hysterical laughter after a decade of arguing and paying lawyers.
The rest of the book is about how true love saved him. If you've ever heard or seen any of his interviews, he's such a modest guy that it's impossible not to take his book as the literal just-spell-it-out truth.
I just wished there were more -- more depth about those ugly old days. This is one of the worst rock and roll stories I've heard -- right down there with Badfinger's in terms of cheating and sleazy business practices. John had a co-writer who helped pull the book together, but I think his co-writer could have gotten more depth out of him.

Elvis Costello's UNFAITHFUL MUSIC maybe tries to do too much. There are some great stories here, too -- about the high days of Punk Rock and New Wave. I was very interested in EC's angry early days as a recording artist for Stiff and CBS -- I wanted to know more about his GREAT recording of Nick Lowe's "What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding."
But Elvis tries to tell his story, his parents' stories, his grandparents' stories. He's all over the place.
It was worth trying -- Costello can write. But maybe his project was too big.
The crunch came for me when EC tries to recount that infamous moment in Cleveland (I think), when -- in a drunken bar fight -- he allegedly tossed around racial slurs about Ray Charles and other black performers he'd worshiped for years.
Elvis admits he'd been drinking heavily for years by then.
He doesn't quite recount that incident. He touches on it, then caves in. Then he faces a point that he thinks all writers of autobiographies eventually face: When they suddenly realize that they "really aren't that keen on the subject."
But he goes on. For another 300 pages.
A better editor would have gotten a better, possibly even shorter story out of Elvis, and would have gotten the details out of him when it came to the crunch.
If you're a big EC fan, you might want to look at this. I didn't think it was worth the $30, even if it was an autographed copy.


R S Crabb said...

Great to see ya back TAD.

I don't expect to see John Fogerty getting back with those ungrateful guys he called the CCR rhythm section, but since they went separate directions, at least John attempted to get back to his roots, with mixed results, I think Revival was the best of them all but Premonition I think he embraced his CCR songs more. As for Elvis Costello, my views on his remain mixed, he hasn't made a listenable album since Imperial Bedroom but I'll give him props for telling the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame to get Nick Lowe in there.


TAD said...

Thanx, Crabby, it's good to be back....