by Craig Werner
Originally published in GOLDMINE #443, July 18, 1997
Webpublished here by author's permission
Part VII & Final
Blue Moon Swamp takes the new John Fogerty back to the mythic
American South the old John Fogerty helped define, the South where the music resonates
with truths that the history books hide. Like Cosmos Factory, Blue Moon
Swamp maps the corners of the landscape Fogertys explored and gives you an idea
of where he may want to go. The two songs that open the CD -"Southern
Streamline" and "Hot Rod Heart"- establish movement as the image that holds
the album together. There's no question that the sounds on the album evoke a rural past:
the country pedal steel guitar on "Southern Streamline"; the gospel harmonies on
"A Hundred and Ten in the Shade"; the honky-tonk twang of "Bring It Down to
Jellyroll"; and the hayride rockabilly on "Blue Moon Nights," which sounds
like a song recovered from Elviss Sun Sessions.
Some of Fogertys new lyrics contain images that resonate in ways
that recall "Bad Moon Rising" or "Wholl Stop the Rain.";
"Walking in a Hurricane," for example, could be about Bill Clintons
America as well as a volatile love affair; "A Hundred An Ten in the Shade"
aint just about the thermometer. But the spiritual center of Blue Moon Swamp
lies in a sense of the past that walks the borderline between myth and nostalgia. Nowhere
is it clearer than on "Swamp River Days," where Fogerty revisits both his
childhood and the early days of CCR's career. He traces the song to his family's summer
vacation in Northern California, remembering "a blazing-hot summer romance with Susie
when we were both four years old." But when Fogerty sings "Sweet Susie, do you
think about me/ that was good as its ever gonna be/ give me those swamp river days
again." hes obviously thinking about Creedences breakthrough single,
which came out back when people still thought music was going to change the world. Fogerty
admits, "Its a mythic state of mind."
Fogertys Southern pilgrimages flooded him with new thoughts on
the tangled web of history, myth and his own complicated life. He describes leaving
Memphis in explicit mythic terms: "Lula and Robinsonville are just a little South of
Memphis. They're the first true Delta towns and its strong with Robert Johnson and
Charlie Patton, their presence and history and lore. Its like learning about Canaan
or learning about Galilee. Just the names, you go, yeah and then he went down to
An important moment in Fogertys quest took place at Robert
Johnsons grave.Meditating on Johnson's troubled life and history, Fogerty
experienced an epiphany that helped him come to terms with some of his anger towards those
he felt had betrayed him. As he told Dave DiMartino, Fogerty realized that
"Theres this guy buried there and maybe some guy named Morris Stealum of
Cheatem, Beatem & Whatever owns his songs in some building in Manhattan. (But)
its Robert Johnson who owns those songs: hes the spiritual owner of those
songs. Muddy Waters owns his songs; Howlin Wolf owns his songs. And someday somebody
is gonna be standing where Im buried, and they wont know about Saul Zaentz
-screw him. What they'll know is if they thought the lifes work was valuable or not.
Standing among all those giants, I went, Thats the deal here. Its
time to jump back into your own stream."
No question about it: Blue Moon Swamp flows out of the same
headwaters as Fogertys earlier work. But it also raises a new set of questions,
intertwined with his own thoughts about American music and the American South.As Marsh
points out, despite Fogertys determination to avoid preaching, Blue Moon Swamp
presents a "sermon on pastoralism and authenticity." Fogerty realizes that
whatever authenticity means, it's under constant pressure from a changing present.
"I havent been back in a few years," he says, but a
friend was telling me about what Lulas like today. Mississippi legalized gambling
and they set it up right there on the river, just south of Memphis. So you fly in and
boom! Its like Atlantic City. I got there just in time because if thats what
Id seen it would have all been different. So for some reason I was called and
allowed to be there before all that hit."
The changes in the South go deeper, Fogerty observes, touching the
musical traditions that fathered the creative spirit.
"Young black kids today, even down South, like the music of their
day, of their time. They like rap because thats what's going on in black music.
R&B is sort of an old-fashioned music, blues is a relic. So what could be weirder to a
young kid than to see some white guy playing blues. That's gotta be like the weirdest
thing. Oh, so you stealin my Granddaddys music here at the mall.
Its a real strange concept." Fogerty pauses and says slowly, "It's almost
beyond being black or white anymore. It's really more a vintage thing."
Thats just one of the questions that makes the album Blue
Moon Swamps engagements with the Southern myth more suggestive than definitive.
The other one concerns power. Fogerty is fully aware that the the burden of Southern
history remains very real in the lives of black Mississippians.
"It's a different place, he observes "You see many more
black people in Mississippi than most places I've been. They're the majority, but
theyre not in control of the power."
Reflecting on an often-noted and little understood aspect of American
racial experience, Fogerty identifies the seeming contradiction between political context
and personal experience in the South.
"But in Mississippi, I always felt I could walk safely anywhere I
wanted to. Now maybe if I went down around over the levee where no one could see, maybe
that would be a bad place to go in the middle of the night. But as far as walking into an
all-black club, people always treated me with great respect as a stranger, trying to make
Almost immediately, Fogerty balances that perception with the
observation that there were some places he chose not to go.
"There are juke joints out away with names like Mad Dog Disco.
Their aspirations are to something grand, but its painted in hand-writing. Its
all dripping and funky. One of them had a picture of Michael Jackson hand painted. So the
picture in the patrons mind would be something grand, but youre looking at
this thing in stark fluorescent light going Oh, thats god-awful
looking." Fogerty pauses. "I thought Id better not go in there and
disrupt what was going on."
Fogertys meditations on his Mississippi experiences belong to an
unending song -part celebration, part lament- about what authenticity means in an America
where a California boy can make a South of his own. Like the songs sung by Elvis and Muddy
Waters when they set out on their different roads towards the same place -and you can add
Mahalia Jackson and Buddy Holly, Bruce Springsteen and Sam Cooke to the list of travelers-
the song Fogerty is singing reverberates with unanswered questions: About who we are
,where we can walk, and the sound of our voices, together and alone.