Thursday, May 22, 2008

Book Review: Bad Moon Rising - The Unauthorized History of Creedence Clearwater Revival by Hank Bordowitz

Hank Bordowitz’s Bad Moon Rising: The Unauthorized History of Creedence Clearwater Revival chronicles the origins, commercial, and critical successes and failures, breakup, and legacy of CCR. It also addresses the decades-long personal and litigious pissing contests that have sometimes overshadowed CCR’s actual musical output. In fact, Going Litigious On Each Others’ Asses might have been a more appropriate subtitle than the one chosen for this book.

Bordowitz’s book essentially takes a traditional chronological approach in crafting the band’s story, encompassing everything from the band’s early incarnations as the Golliwogs (complete with ridiculous headwear) to their incredible run of hit singles as a shit-kicking quartet. In many ways the band’s story is dysfunctional and remarkably ugly, particularly all the legal battles and potshots back and forth between the band members; Bordowitz’s book at times reads more like a legal history than a band biography.

Bordowitz does a nice job telling the band’s story as impartially as possible; what emerges is a portrayal of each band member that is pretty balanced. Tom Fogerty receives the best treatment, and is essentially portrayed as a gentle soul and music lover who quit CCR to pursue his own musical interests. Though his various chemical addictions, which increased in the post-CCR years, are discussed, Bordowitz clearly views the musician with sympathy.

The depictions of the remaining three CCR members -- Stu Cook, Doug Clifford, and John Fogerty -- are decidedly less flattering. Cook and Clifford, perhaps due to being aligned together in their legal and personal squabbles with John Fogerty, share a common portrayal in the book. Although Bordowitz does show the many cases in which the two musicians were slighted by Fogerty -- and there are many, especially in terms of their musical contributions to CCR -- Bordowitz doesn’t let them off the hook as innocent victims. Without showing any bias, Bordowitz does point out some of the more questionable post-CCR decisions made by Cook and Clifford, including touring sans-Fogerty as Creedence Clearwater Revisited, where they performed the CCR songs entirely written by the estranged lead singer.

Singer, lyricist, and lawyer-in-training John Fogerty receives the most expansive, and perhaps the most unflattering, treatment in Bad Moon Rising. Bordowitz does a nice job detailing Fogerty’s actions without being judgmental; he clearly acknowledges that Fogerty’s CCR output was pretty remarkable, that Fogerty was the driving force behind the band, and that Fogerty’s anger toward and legal actions against CCR’s record label were understandable.

That said, too many instances of Fogerty’s controlling nature, massive ego, and bewildering professional decisions are mentioned to ignore or write off as isolated incidents. Whether it was Fogerty’s stubborn insistence that he was CCR, his lengthy legal battles with both CCR’s record label and Cook/Clifford, or other incidents, there are plenty of ugly actions to go around.

Bordowitz’s book does have one major flaw in that it relies primarily on secondary sources, and contains very few new interviews with the band members. Most notably, John Fogerty’s quotes are culled from previous interviews. This is unfortunate, as it does sometimes create the impression of a one-sided argument.

Each member of CCR, in their own unique way, both enhanced and later dry humped CCR’s musical legacy. Bordowitz does a nice job of revealing the many layers in CCR’s complex story. Perhaps the ultimate irony is that while each band member had their own ideas of the best way to preserve CCR’s place in music history, any discussion of CCR today inevitably turns to the petty squabbles and legal wrangling that are now as much a part of their history as their actual albums.

1 comment:

Hank said...

Hey Eric,

You get it. Thanks.

Ironically, one of the best reviews of this book was posted on ... my birthday! Best present I got this year.