Tuesday, September 20, 2022

737 comin' out of the sky...

There's a moment in the new Netflix documentary Travelin' Band: Credence Clearwater Revival at the Royal Albert Hall when drummer Doug Clifford's on a balcony in Paris, knocked out that he's spending his 25th birthday in the City of Lights, gushing about having visited the Louvre and Lois XIV's "playground" like a wide-eyed tourist. Which he was. Though in the Spring of 1970 Credence Clearwater Revival were in rapid ascension, the band members were still appealingly untutored in the ways of the world. And, in some ways, on stage as well. John Fogerty mentions to an interviewer that his band isn't progressing as swiftly as he'd like, that they're still clocking in the hours at The Factory in order to learn and grow as musicians. You wouldn't guess that by watching the Albert Hall performance, which is tight, grooving, and, in several places, transcendent. My favorite moments occur during an excitable "Fortunate Son"—the air's crackling in the Hall despite the overly polite audience—as the band members make eye contact among each other, grinningly in awe at the rock and roll they're making. 

Narrated sparingly by Jeff Bridges, who's wise to step off of the stage as CCR hits theirs, Travelin' Band is part biography, part tour film. The editing suggests that the two Albert Hall gigs were the pinnacle of the European Tour, when in fact they sat in the middle of the eight-show swing, which also saw the band playing Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Sweden, Essen, West Germany, and Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The show's sequencing is altered as well: if Setlist is to be trusted, the twelve-song show began not with the fiery "Travelin' Band" but with the swampy "Born on the Bayou." No matter, the band's at their peak in whatever order they're delivering the goods, white-hot and tight, and the newly-mixed sound is superb, Stu Cook's bass and Fogerty's searing leads in particular standing out warmly and clearly. Well rehearsed, the band doesn't push their songs into the red or recklessly careen into improvisations; one or two songs pick up a tick in speed versus the studio versions, but mostly this band's about delivering solidly. You can see the smile growing on Fogerty's face as the set progresses: he knows that his songs kill.

Pull wide, and the Albert Hall gig can be seen as a peak of antoher sort. Travelin' Band refrains from commenting on the band's rapid and ugly demise the following year, during which Tom Fogerty would leave the band, and CCR would carry on as a bickering three-legged dog. The documentary ends with the boys smiling on couches in their rehearsal space while miming to "Looking Out My Back Door." What they saw out that door was a startling three-year span that saw CCR become, indeed, "the biggest band in the world." The view through the front door was far murkier, but the credits roll before that view becomes clear. For that, we should be grateful: the thankfully-full performances of songs that comprise the film's last hour allow us to marvel at one of the finest American rock and roll bands at their commercial and artistic peak.

John Fogerty comes across as characteristically guarded in his interviews; he smiles the least, but perhaps that's because, as he'd reveal in interviews down the decades, he was under the most pressure at the time. We know now that during this time his band members were eager to contribute more in the studio, but Fogerty, assuming the role of gifted but burdened task master, wouldn't let go of the reins, stubborn in his knowledge that the key to the band's considerable success was in his capable songwriting hands. (For the full story, I'm eager to read John Lingan's new A Song For Everyone: The Story of Creedence Clearwater Revival, as Lingan's Homeplace was a terrific read.) 

My chief takeaway is the marvel that is drummer Doug Clifford (seen left). From his guileless reactions to visiting the Old World for the first time to his appealingly friendly interviews to his commanding drumming onstage, where he's somehow both locked-in and blissed-out, he's an utter delight to watch. All of the band members are young and beautiful, and hairy, laughing as they're digging the world that's arrayed at their feet. Travelin' Band ends as the band's final act begins. Enjoy the moment.

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Another reminder in this film is just how timeless CCR's best songs are, transcending the era's fractious, political theater into the realm of Platonic rock and roll. The songs' deep imagery of the South (where Fogerty hadn't stepped a foot) evokes an eternal landscape devoid of dated sloganeering. Fogerty's more pointed anti-war, anti-Establishment songs, hollered in his inimitable way into the oddly-quiet dark of Albert Hall, aren't time- and date-stamped as are many of his peers' because of the immediacy of his band's blues-based, black-influenced playing, conservative, yeah, but steeped in ages-old lore. Nary a psychedelic note is heard, yet Fogerty, a backward-looking traditionalist in many ways, was reflecting his times and singing as directly to his audience as were Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, and the rest.

That said, several of my favorite moments in Travelin' Band off the stage do issue from the era:

Stu Cook, basking in the liberating breezes of Europe, where culture is "like shades of gray compared to America, where things are really getting...black and white. People don't get all pissed off at what you look like, you can get a job and you can, like, advance, with long hair! In the States, man, to get a job you've got to cut your hair. You can't even have sideburns! It doesn't matter how many degrees you have or what your trip is, or any of that."

Tom Fogerty, excitable in the van en route to Berlin, "I'd like to go to [the Berlin Wall]. It'd be great. The wall, is it barb wire? Or is it thick? I was thinking about setting up there, you know, set the equipment on roof the wall, and aim it that direction, you know? We can aim it in both directions, how about that, and bring every up on it and dance and maybe the wall would come down!"

And his brother John, dryly relating to an interviewer his hopes for a more a considered rock and roll, "I want people to know when I'm really saying something serious, and when I'm just being an entertainer, you know? But it's also important that I don't appeal to basic motivations, and I don't start, you know, 'Hey all you hippies, join together and let's smoke dope!' I mean, people are gonna dig that, a certain element of society, but I don't want 'em digging it for that. I want them to look a little further than just, 'Hey, OK, we're all together, brutha!' and all that crap," adding, 

"Who'll Stop the Rain," and some of the others, too, but especially that one, I tried to stay away from, "Hey, he's a Left Wing Radical Crazy or he's a super Bircher," you know. Because both sides can take it and use it as their own rallying cry. Same as "Fortunate Son," really.

How prescient. One side or the other will always manipulate a song in order to hear what they want to hear. Yet, happily, a half century down the line we'll also always want to watch a kick-ass rock and roll band kick up some righteous noise.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

They are the band that everyone likes, and I agree they don’t sound dated. Nice read—gotta get to the doc!