|Day 34: Creedence Clearwater Revival (Fortunate Son)
May 30, 2020
Two weeks ago I wrote about how incensed I was when I first heard "Rain On The Scarecrow" by John Mellencamp. Prior to that, I wasn't particularly into protest music. For the most part, I really hated the protest music of the 1960's. As I got into Bob Dylan, it was with his "other" stuff, not particularly protest, but at least nuanced with social criticism. One of the reasons I hated 60's protest music was that it was shoved down my throat in every 1970's or 1980's movie about the 60's, especially the Vietnam movies.
However, there is one very important exception: Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son." Yes, I know that is the first song slated for every Vietnam movie. In fact, one could be forgiven to think the song's entire message was about not being fortunate enough to avoid the draft, but that sentiment is really just the last example of something bigger. The majority of the song is a reminder about who is truly privileged and who is not. It's not a privilege defined by race, but by wealth. And I mean vast wealth. The kind of wealth that defines the top 1%, and which we all tolerate because in America, damn it, someday that could be me. Yes it could be me, but it can't be me and you and you and you and you. There is a reason it is 1%.
No simpler statement about the contradiction that is the American social system could ever be said.
This is why "Fortunate Son" is the greatest protest song ever. Forget "Blowin' In The Wind." Screw "For What It's Worth." Please, oh please, erase "Give Peace A Chance." In "Fortunate Son," John Fogerty's vocals are raw and bitter. The music is infused with an energy driven by Doug Clifford's rolling drums and Stu Cook's throbbing bass, with the Fogerty brothers' guitars carving up the rhythm like a couple of conquistadors (knowing the brothers, swords probably drawn at each other).
Just as importantly the lyrics are so basic, so much so that they transcend its time. That's the problem with much protest music, it is imbued too much with the moment. However, John Fogerty's first stanza could have been written in 1990, 1992, 2003, or Memorial Day weekend, 2020:
"Some folks are born made to wave the flag/Ooh, they're red, white and blue/And when the band plays 'Hail To The Chief'/Ooh, they point the cannon at you/Lord, It ain't me, It ain't me/I ain't no Senator's son/It ain't me, It ain't me/I ain't no fortunate one, no."
Of course, in the next stanza, Fogerty asserts that he "ain't no millionaire's son." Power and money have always been intertwined through history, even in countries whose founding principles aren't based around a capitalistic economic model.
The powerful are good at getting us to protest the wrong actions and to fight the wrong battles. It's the promise of an almost unattainable American dream that makes us susceptible to the false promises that shout out in Fogerty's last stanza:
"Some folks inherit star spangled eyes/Ooh, they send you down to war/Lord, and when you ask them, 'how much should I give'/Ooh, they only answer 'more, more, more!'" We all know that the fortunate have bone spurs, cysts on buttocks, or conscientious objections that mean they don't get sent to war. They also don't walk the streets as cops, go into homes as social workers, teach our children in under supported schools, take care of us when we have health problems, and certainly don't serve us eggs and grits at our local diner. Instead they build powerful companies, become social media giants, and hang out on Wall Street, luring us with the pennies they let spill from their pockets, protected by laws and systems that ensure the structures stay the same, knowing that when times get tough, the masses will turn on each other because of the holograms they project as social injustices.
"Fortunate Son" is barely 2 minutes of motivation, time to boil (hell, in less time than it takes to boil an egg) to remember who the enemy really is, in recognition of who are the fortunate and of who must fight everyday to crush the illusions that form the threads of our flag, the concrete of our monuments, and the hypocrisy of our values. It's even easy to misunderstand the song's title. You're not a "fortunate son" because you got lucky, you're fortunate because you got a fortune. Nobody particularly cares about the son part. As Lou Reed once sang, "they're gonna kill your sons." But that's a whole different kind of protest music.
"Fortunate Son." Creedence Clearwater Revival. Willy And The Poor Boys. Fantasy. 1969. Link here.
See full unfinished list here.