There was something oddly comforting seeing this old man – a guy just this side of 70 – looking somewhat frail, tentative and at times confused proceed to take the stage and set it on fire for more than two-and-a-half hours. To watch him near the end of the show when you thought he was done – expended and surely exhausted – close his eyes, tilt his head back and crank it up even higher, you knew you were sharing a fleeting slice of time that you probably wouldn’t experience again.
And the audience knew it too. All you had to do was look around at everyone dancing in their seats and in the aisles – especially the guys you knew who suffered through days in suits and meetings and drank too much at night and who probably long ago gave in and gave up fighting it all. To see them sucked into the stage and transported somewhere inside a swirling funnel cloud so far away that they almost seemed to be floating was not something I had expected. I am guessing they didn’t expect it either. While I know that time travel is not real, I feel like we all came close for a few hours when John Fogerty took the Verizon Amphitheatre stage.
So, yes, we had a memorable time. In the back of my mind, I always wonder about the performances – how “inspired” they actually are after years on the road and hundreds of performances. I remember attending the premiere concert at Verizon, the Eagles, and waiting with anticipation for the band to crank up “Hotel California.” It was great and it is an emotional and inspiring song, but in hindsight, I realize that the band may actually have been bored playing it. That was probably the reason that it came at the beginning of the night instead of at the end for the encore. They probably just wanted to get that one over with and behind them.
Fogerty seemed different though. The longer he played, the more involved he seemed to become in the performance and the more comfortable he seemed to get with the audience. He talked about some of the songs, about what inspired him and how he wrote the lyrics. I especially enjoyed his story about his band’s performance at Woodstock 44 years ago. He made fun of having to follow the Grateful Dead. Fogerty and his Creedence Clearwater Revival bandmates did not get on stage until 2 a.m., after the audience had all fallen asleep from the Dead’s music and libation. After a futile attempt to rouse the audience with some classic Creedence hard driving rock-n-roll, he said that from out of the darkness about a quarter mile away in the audience, he heard a lone voice call out, “It’s OK John, we’re listening.” Fogerty smiled and then told us that “we played the rest the night for that guy.”
That story to me says it all and explains why his show was so real and alive. He is still playing for “that guy.”
He wrote all the songs for CCR and they sold over 140 million copies worldwide. At one time, they were arguably as popular as the Beatles. But the band broke up – like a very bad divorce. For more than a decade, Fogerty refused to perform any of the band’s songs, which really were his songs. I know that there were contract disputes with the record companies and such, but my guess is that the music he wrote was too personal – too much part of his soul – that when everything went south it was a place that he couldn’t return to until a lot of healing had occurred.
The John Fogerty we saw on stage was there because he was having fun and had reconciled the life that his songs portrayed – his songs about the war, about growing up in small towns and the chaos of the 60s. He still believes in the songs he wrote and they still feed him. He has come back to them but in a healthy way. His son Shane was there as part of the band playing rhythm and sometimes lead guitar – father and son. Late in the show, Shane took the lead. You could tell it was supposed to be just for a short while, but when it was time to give the lead back, his dad wouldn’t take it. Fogerty smiled, and he might as well have shouted into the microphone, “Run with it son. Keep going. You’re doing great. You make me so proud.” Shane ripped it and probably played better than he had ever played while proud papa just watched him beaming, the happiness and pride as palpable as the music in our ears that moved our hearts and souls.
John Fogerty and the night were magic. Out in the audience, it was understood by the end of the show that “carpe diem” was not optional. It was happening in that very moment and everyone knew it.
I couldn’t help but think of the dialogue in a scene from “Apocalypse Now,” which incidentally used several Creedence songs in the soundtrack. “But one look at you (Captain), and I know it’s going to be hot.” (Willard) “I’m going 75 clicks above the Do Lung bridge.” And it was hot. And I was surprised that night that the stage didn’t melt when John Fogerty led us way past that bridge and just kept going.