If I ever had a dollar, for every song I’ve sung. Every time I’ve had to play, while people sat there drunk.
John Fogerty wrote that line in a song called Lodi, and I often replay this in my head when I’m watching my son. Since he was very young, he has played the guitar to strangers. He has packed and unpacked his car countless times and carried his gear into large stages and small, parking in laneways or dark side streets and driving in the small hours to get home. He has sometimes been paid a pittance, and there were times when people pressed large notes in his hand to hear a song played again. Sometimes he has very appreciative audiences and sometimes the rooms are empty, or backs are turned. The drunks talking over the music bother me enormously. My son barely notices.
I’ve realised, over a long time, that musicians are unique. The groups and duos to which he belongs, spend endless hours rehearsing for gigs that never come, and rooms that never fill.
An observation once shared, was that musicians will travel 500 miles, with $5000 worth of equipment to be paid $50. It has some truth to it. I think one reason they persist is because they love what they do. It’s not ‘work’ – it is life itself.
When my son was about 12, I took him to see John Fogerty performing at the Sydney Opera House. After the concert, he quickly mastered Bad Moon Rising and then played it at a school concert. My son turns 30 in a few weeks and now plays pretty much everything Creedence Clearwater Revival ever recorded.
But just back to John Fogerty, and the soundtrack of our lives. His peculiar story is one that every song writer and creative artist should know about. Fogerty lost control of his music fifty years ago, and only just won back a majority stake in his original work last month. He signed one bad contract and then endured fifty years of fighting. He is not the only artist to go into battle over their own work or freedom, but his story is considered one of the most infamous copyright struggles.
Fogerty may also be one of the only songwriters to be sued for plagiarising his own work. Saul Zaentz, who owned Fogerty’s work, felt that The Old Man Down the Road, released in 1985, was too close to Run Through the Jungle, circa 1970. Fogerty played both songs in the witness box to persuade the court that they were different, and he won.
For many years, John Fogerty was so heartbroken over his legal battles that he could not face playing his original hits. A visit to the grave of Robert Johnson, reflecting on a great musical life cut short, inspired him to bring his music back to the public.
Good luck to John Fogerty and every musician who fights for fair play, because they are also fighting for the 99% who will never pack a stadium or sell a chart topper. (Go Taylor Swift!).
And my enduring admiration also goes to my musically gifted son, who never misses a gig and truly believes that the show must go on. Like so many musicians, he plays his heart out, whether it’s two people or two hundred. It’s only his mother who sometimes looks on in quiet desperation, while people sit there drunk.