Vern's Verbal Vibe

Singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist and purveyor of folk 'n' roll: spirit-filled sad songs made better.

October 08, 2012

Pilgrimage II: Put a Candle in the Window

You'll recall from my previous post the rock 'n' roll triumvirate of my youth: The Guess Who, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Three Dog Night, none of whom I'd seen perform in their prime. It's been 40 years since CCR's rancorous split, and an impromptu jam at guitarist Tom Fogerty's wedding aside, the band has not reunited. Bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug "Cosmo" Clifford now tour as Creedence Clearwater Revisited—a tribute band, in essence—and Tom sadly died in 1990. That leaves the real deal, the man who wrote, sang, and strummed 98% of their material: guitarist/vocalist John Fogerty.

I found out in June that Fogerty had a mid-September date lined up at the Sony Centre; a combination of apathy and tight finances stopped me from splurging then. Alas, when a check of Ticketmaster's site on Labour Day showed but a few seats remaining, I laid down my $70. One last-row balcony ticket later, I was in.

I skipped the opening act (Luke and the Something-Or-Other) and hit the merch table, where a souvenir shirt and guitar pick set me back $40. And speaking of apparel, I was decked out in a Rickenbacker T-shirt that serves as the Creedence equivalent of "Mark Mars Army, Full Member." (Fogerty played a short-scale Rickenbacker 325 with CCR.)

A John Fogerty tour, it should be noted, is about as commonplace as Halley's Comet. In fact, this is a man who wrote nary a song and played zero gigs from 1975-1985 due to personal and professional demons. But as a shadowy, iconic figure emerged centre stage, cranking out the first bars of "Travelin' Band," the crowd's roar meant only one thing: J.C. Fogerty was back.

He bounced down the steps to the front of the stage, and at the same time a shift in lighting revealed the rest of the band: two guitarists, bassist, drummer, and keyboardist. A cursory "Good evening, Toronto!" was followed by "Lookin' Out My Back Door," Fogerty having swapped his Telecaster for an acoustic and the pianist switching to accordion.

I'd heard beforehand that Cosmo's Factory would be played in its entirety tonight. Apparently, he was alternating between Cosmo's and Bayou Country, though the guy beside me said Green River would be put in rotation as well, once the band headed west. Green River was the first album I ever bought—or more accurately, my parents bought for me—but to my mind, Pendulum is CCR's best, the album I'd most want to hear front to back. As any Mark Martian will tell you, though, CCR proper (the foursome) did not make a bad record, so Cosmo's Factory would certainly do.

Lesser-known gems from Cosmo's aside, I found the song selection predictable, a greatest-hits parade of CCR and solo material. Nothing was played from the first or last CCR albums. Similarly, the show's lone cover, Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman," struck me as an overly safe choice, though I'll bet the younger (read: 40s) segment of the audience was astonished to hear this Van Halen tune.

Mark Mars Moment: "Ramble Tamble," surely never played live until the first Cosmo's Factory show. I missed Cosmo's drumming, though. I'm thinking especially of the six-into-four hi-hat Cosmo bashed out going into the last verse. Fogerty's current drummer is technically better, I'm sure, but lacking in feel. Honourable Mention: "Keep on Chooglin'."

Bonus Points For: One of the guitarists switching to conga and cowbell for "Born on the Bayou." (Doubt they belong? Listen carefully to the record.) Oh, and the root-fifth-octave piano lick in "Ramble Tamble."

Song I Wish Had Been Played: "Walk on the Water," with a dedication to his late brother (who co-wrote it; Tom's only CCR writing credit). Runner-Up: "Effigy."

Fittingly, "Long as I Can See the Light" ends the Cosmo's portion of the set, just as it did the album. A mournful, gospel-tinged electric piano opens the song, setting a tone both stately and sombre. For some reason, the lyric always struck me as despondent, resigned even, despite the optimistic tag line at the end of each verse:

Put a candle in the window
'cause I feel I've got to move
Though I'm going, going
I'll be coming home soon
Long as I can see the light

My eyes welled up as I glanced at the empty seat beside me. Where my sweetheart should be, only a backpack. You'd put a candle in the window after a death, an ending. A wispy flicker lit to invoke the great light of God, a defiant insistence that all is not darkness, a simple plea for comfort, mercy and deliverance. It's been 19 years since Leilani died, and nearly a year since my estrangement from another dear one, a sweet woman who—in her brilliance, beauty and purity of heart—reminded me so much of my beloved.

"This used to be a sad song, but now it's a happy song, 'cause I just refuse to be sad," Fogerty says late in the set as a roadie hands him an acoustic guitar. "Spent 35 years being sad. That was enough. This is one of my daughter's favourites." He strums the opening bars to Pendulum's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain," and again, my tears come—for a lost youth, for dear ones now gone, for an uncertain future. Still moving, still going, no way home soon, no happy face to mask the sadness. Just a candle in the window.

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