Today’s birthday boy, John Fogerty, was the leading light of Creedence Clearwater Revival back in the period 1968-72. The real heyday was the three LPs of 1969, Bayou Country, Green River, and Willy and the Poorboys, and the two LPs of 1970, Cosmo’s Factory and Pendulum. That should be enough for anyone.
Today’s song is the B-side of the first single from Green River; the A-side is “Bad Moon Rising,” perhaps one of the best-known of CCR songs. We had the 45 back in 1969 and, somewhere around 1971 when I got interested in 45s and Top Forty, I played all the B-sides of the 45s we owned. It wasn’t considered a double A side like “Up Around the Bend” / “Run Through the Jungle” and “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” / “Long as I Can See the Light,” but it struck me that it should be. “Lodi” became one of my favorite CCR songs, a song that it’s almost impossible not to sing along with. And, unlike some Fogerty vocals, it’s easy to parse the lyrics the first time through.
The song’s singer is a down-and-out musician who had dreamed of something better than playing in the town of Lodi, CA. He implies that the place is Hicksville, and yet it’s there his fortunes have run aground. It’s not a particularly scathing or clever lyric, which is what makes it feel authentic. As though we are hearing a song someone stuck might sing to pass the time, not to make a hit. The conceit of much of CCR’s music, which is to say John Fogerty’s songs, is that the singer is a Cajun, a Bayou man, that he’s a Southern or Midwest yokel struggling to find his way in a world of sharpers and cityfolk—represented here as “the man from the magazine”—who pretty much run the world while po’ boys get along with patches on their britches as best they can. It’s a good pose.
The main thing that sells this conceit is Fogerty’s vocals, which are schooled in the way of slurring as an act of uncouthness, so that it tends to mask any actual regional diction. He could be from down South, or he could be from just about anywhere but the Northeast. Even so, something in his manner felt right at home in the environs of New Castle, Delaware, given that my dad’s folks came from further south in the state, below the canal where it becomes farmland. And then you’re prit-near in Merlin (or Mare-a-lindd, as fussy up-staters would insist). You see what I mean about the slurring?
The song speaks to me, I suppose, because being stuck in such environs never sat well with me. The idea that the singer “was on my way” and “seeking my fame and fortune” seems sensible enough, but “things got bad and things got worse / I guess you know the tune.” Another likeable thing here is that the singer isn’t as “woe is me, I’m special” as he might be. In fact, his song is likely to be popular with people who do, indeed, know the tune. It’s about misfortune and things not panning out. “Somewhere I lost connection / I ran out of songs to play.” Fatal for a singer/songwriter. That part used to remind me of a song I already knew when I first heard this one: Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound.” Both songs make the life on the road of the singing entertainer sound pretty lonely and sad. “Ran out of time and money”—and what else is there?—“Looks like they took my friends.” When the money’s gone, popularity is liable to drop, I s’pect.
Then there’s the little bouncy guitar part and the verse after which he shifts up a bit and sounds more gutsy: “If I only had a dollar / For every song I’ve sung / Every time I’ve had to play / Where people sat there drunk / You know I’d catch the next train / Back to where I live.” Well, at least there’s people sitting there, drunk or not. Come for the booze, stay for the tunes, folks. But, seriously, isn’t it better than playing to an empty place so that no one’s having fun? Still, I love the almost Elvis-style inflection Fogerty gives to “train ba-a-ck to where I live” riding a little downward note after the high, clear, almost hawg-calling yodel of “Every time I’ve had to play”—a voice raised against the indecency and injustice of it all.
And that town name. Lodi.” Low-die. A low number on the die of life? Sorry, son, you’ve crapped out.
I was just passin’ through . . .