This blog is a companion to FLASHBACK magazine, which I edit, and to my GALACTIC RAMBLE and ENDLESS TRIP books. All of these cover the 60s and 70s UK and US music scenes in detail. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, 1 December 2011
Inside Creedence: the worst rock book ever written?
Creedence Clearwater Revival were so popular in 1969 that they even outsold the Beatles, but to a 1990s teenager like me they seemed almost obscure. Their albums were hard to obtain, reference books were vague, and Mojo - pretty much the only magazine that might have covered them - seemed resolutely uninterested. I was therefore intrigued to discover that a book had been written about them in their prime, by one John Hallowell, who'd been granted full access as they worked on Pendulum in the autumn of 1970. Only with the advent of eBay was I able to get my hands on a copy, sent from the US. I read it with mounting disbelief. The book may have been cranked out at considerable speed so it could be promoted alongside the LP, but Hallowell was the worst sort of wannabe hipster hack, and seemed to have no interest in the band beyond using them as a hapless vessel for his ludicrous metaphors ('If CCR is a car, John Fogerty is the steering wheel, Stu Cook is the clutch, Doug Clifford has to be the accelerator and Tom Fogerty the brake. It's that fast, close and complicated. The car itself? A Ferrari'), dream sequences (really) and patronising waffle ('you can't possibly get Inside Creedence without first getting inside each shaggy head, one by one'). There's also an uncomfortable homoerotic subtext to his descriptions of the band's magus, John Fogerty ('mahogany brown hair, eyes that never stop, and a taut body tuned to move, to move fast, like his motorcycle', 'John Fogerty looks like Heathcliff just out of Wuthering Heights', etc etc).
Hallowell was in fact a film writer for Life magazine, which explains the preponderance of tortuous celluloid references in his text ('It would help immensely if one were slightly stoned. Since I am not, the only thing I can do is pretend I am a camera' / 'the Creedence movie running nonstop refers constantly to all the images we've shared, from Nixon and TV commercials to Humphrey Bogart' / 'I decided to get each one alone, as soon as I could, for a close-up. There is no such thing as a star without a close-up', etc etc). Needless to say, it's extremely irritating, not only because of its poor style and scrambled presentation, but because it's such a wasted opportunity. The speed at which it was written is no excuse, as it's short and could clearly have been far better handled by an experienced music writer. Inside Creedence was ridiculed upon publication in January 1971. 'The book is marked by a complete lack of perception into the youth culture and its music', wrote Phonograph Record Magazine, while Rock Magazine said it was 'beyond linear comprehension' and that Creedence should 'be skulking around corners, red-faced at the image the book conveys', and Robert Christgau called it 'positively bad' in Village Voice. Nonetheless, there's a certain campness to its ineptitude ('Drummer Doug trains his eyes high up on the cloud formations: by now those swollen clouds are deep dark giants warring and making love over the earth'), and the photos, quotes and lyrics it incorporates make it worth picking up if you're a Creedence nut like me.