“It ain’t me, it ain’t me…”
A song that lasts only two minutes and 20 seconds managed to impact America (and the world) for decades. To this day, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Fortunate Son speaks to the anguish of working-class people.
The 1969 anthem that was written in protest of the Vietnam War is still relevant today as it applies to any rich man’s war where the poor man has to fight. Feel free to play what reigns as one of the best rock and roll songs of all time as we dive deep into the meaning, story, and legacy of Fortunate Son.
The Twang That Can’t Be Unheard
The song kicks off with Doug “Cosmo” Clifford’s simple drum line, only to be eclipsed by John Fogerty’s epic guitar line. That twang just can’t be unheard. Fogerty’s voice itself is unmatched, and speaks for a generation of angry Americans, watching as their dream crumbles in front of them. The war turned out to be a lot more than expected.
Sh*t had hit the fan, so Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) grabbed their instruments and created an anthem for the ages. While flipping the bird to the almighty government, the band was also patting the back of the nation for putting up with it.
What Is Fortunate Son About?
The song has always been seen (or heard rather) as an anti-war protest song, and we can thank Forrest Gump for that. But the song has more to it than just people holding signs in the streets. It reflected the general message of the time: we – the people – are against the government’s involvement in Vietnam.
The general consensus was to defend the troops – the lower, working classes people fighting a war very few of them had a clear understanding of. “The way I feel is we should make darn sure that when we’re going to have a war, when we’re going to send our troops, it better be for a very good reason,” Fogerty explained as recently as 2016.
Scratching That Itch
When the 1960s began, those who questioned the war remained silent. But as the decade rolled on, those voices grew louder, and the message was clear. As hundreds of thousands of troops hit the jungles of Vietnam, Americans were turning up the bass and blasting songs like Fortunate Son.
The angst of the nation needed a channel to vent their frustrations; CCR’s Fortunate Son was the song that scratched that itch. On November 3, 1969, President Nixon declared “a great silent majority” of Americans in support of the war. He called the critics “unpatriotic elitists.” CCR’s frontman, Fogerty, was pissed.
A Rich Man’s War; A Poor Man’s Fight
Like all the greats songwriters, Fogerty took out his pen and paper and turned his inner rebellion into prose. Fortunate Son was written at the peak of the US involvement in Vietnam, but according to Fogerty himself, the song “speaks more to the unfairness of class than war itself.”
“It’s the old saying about rich men making war and poor men having to fight them.” In 2015, he elaborated: “It was a lot of anger,” he recalled. “I was drafted and they’re making me fight, and no one has actually defined why.”
These Two Sons Were Pretty Fortunate
Both Fogerty and Clifford were drafted into the army in 1966. Interestingly, however, both guys avoided serving in Vietnam. Fogerty enlisted in the Army Reserve, while Clifford served in the Coast Guard Reserve. Ironically, you could argue that these two sons were quite fortunate…
They never had to fight in Vietnam. Still, they had to serve in the military. As Fogerty said, the song isn’t specifically about Vietnam; it was just written at the height of that particular war. And as he explained in interviews, he was roiling mad…
He’s No Senator’s Son!
“It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no fortunate one”
Fogerty explained how “this was all boiling inside” of him. So, he sat down on the edge of his bed and out came the words: “It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no senator’s son!” He also said it took him only 20 minutes to write the song.
In his 2015 memoir, Fortunate Son: My Life, My Music, Fogerty revealed that when he wrote the song, he was actually thinking about David Eisenhower. David was President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s grandson, who married Julie Nixon, Richard Nixon’s daughter, in 1968.
Silver Spoon in Hand
“Some folks are born silver spoon in hand
Lord, don’t they help themselves, yeah”
Fogerty wrote in his memoir that “Fortunate Son wasn’t really inspired by any one event. Julie Nixon was dating David Eisenhower… You’d hear about the son of this senator or that congressman who was given a deferment from the military or a choice position in the military.”
“They seemed privileged and whether they liked it or not, these people were symbolic in the sense that they weren’t being touched by what their parents were doing. They weren’t being affected like the rest of us.”
Off to War You Go
The song may have taken him less than half an hour, but Fogerty said the thought process was a long time coming. That first line – Fogerty said he “didn’t know it would start, ‘Some folks are born…’” That “came from nowhere.”
“Yeah, some folks inherit star-spangled eyes
They send you down to war”
A former military man himself, he wrote a song that clearly divided the line between the rich and the poor. While the elite were declaring war, the lower classes had to stand the front lines.
A Working Class Band
It wasn’t just Fogerty, either. The whole band had strong, working-class roots. All four members (Tom Fogerty, John Fogerty, Doug Clifford, and Stu Cook) were born in El Cerrito, a suburb in Northern California’s East Bay. The blue-collar perspective comes through in many of the band’s songs.
Fogerty told Rolling Stone in 1993 that this “whole idea” of being born rich and into power was “really coming to the fore” in the late ‘60s. Fast forward to 2020, and the message still resonates.
Who’s the Fortunate Son Now?
“And when the band plays ‘Hail to the Chief’
They point the cannon at you, Lord”
In September 2020, 75-year-old Fogerty posted a video on Facebook, addressing his unease with then-President Trump using Fortunate Son at his political rallies.
He pointed out how Trump was doing just what his lyrics entailed, standing in Lafayette Park, in front of St. John’s Church with a Bible. The former frontman went further, saying the song could easily have been written now. The irony is that while the president was using Fortunate Son for his own political gain, he himself was the “fortunate son.”
The Rebellion Spread Like Wildfire
Sure, there was the anti-Vietnam sentiment at the outset of the war, but it only came to a head around the time Fortunate Son was recorded in November 1969. Before the Tet Offensive in 1968 (between North and South Vietnam), the rebellion consisted mainly of college students, hippies, and pacifists.
But between ‘68 and ‘69, this disaffection spread, and now middle-class moderates were shaking their fists. On October 15, 1969, two million Americans walked the streets in protest – an event that would later be called the Moratorium.
Silent Majority My A$$
More than half a million young men defied the draft and even burned their draft cards in protest. Nixon, elected in 1968, tried to portray them as the “rabble in the street.” Then Creedence Clearwater Revival stepped up and released Fortunate Son in the very same month Nixon delivered his “Silent Majority” speech.
The band gave a voice to the nation as blue-collar men with perspective. What’s that Nixon? You think the anti-war movement is a bunch of bums, burnouts, and hippies? We’ll show you what the “silent majority” has to say…
The Unfortunate Sons
The song is particularly critical of the Selective Service System – a broken system that produces a military disproportionately made up of minorities and the poor. These were the “unfortunate sons,” the ones who lacked the resources they needed to get an education or medical deferments (which were common among the wealthy).
“Some folks are born made to wave the flag
They’re red, white and blue”
Fogerty makes it clear that the difference between the fortunate and the unfortunate sons is what they were born into. Those born into privilege are the ones waving the flag – the ones so patriotic they’re basically “red, white and blue.”
Hail to the Chief
“And when the band plays ‘Hail to the Chief’”
Hail to the Chief is a song traditionally played to honor the president, aka the Commander in Chief. It’s a marching song usually performed by the Marine Corps Band at official functions out of respect for the president. In ‘69, the marching band would have been playing Hail to the Chief in honor of Nixon.
“They point the cannon at you”
The line alludes to the 21-gun cannon salute, often used at official state functions and is another sign of respect for the president.
Ding Dong, the Taxman Is Here
Fogerty knew exactly what he was doing. The cannon lyric has several meanings. The 21-gun, also fired at military funerals, is a salute, but in this moment of the song, the setting has changed. The cannon is now pointed at you – at us.
“But when the taxman comes to the door
Lord, the house looks like a rummage sale”
The image here: the taxman comes to the millionaire’s home to find a decrepit home full of second-hand stuff. The point here: privileged families in the US aren’t willing to make financial sacrifices for their country. They only take, take, take.
More, More, More
“And when you ask them, how much should we give?
They only answer more, more more!”
It was President Lyndon Johnson who escalated the American role in Vietnam. He sent the military into a ground war in South Vietnam while air bombing the North. In 1965, the number of troops was at 184,300.
A year later, it had reached 385,300. By April 1969, 534,400 Americans were serving in Vietnam. The number started to drop once Nixon took over and tried to implement his strategy of “Vietnamization” by transferring most of the fighting responsibilities to the South Vietnamese forces.
The Song Sold Jeans
Did any of you see that Wrangler Jeans commercial back in 2000? The song Fortunate Son was featured in it, but only the first two lines. And it made Fogerty furious. “If there’s some other song that was probably just a simple rock ‘n’ roll song, maybe I wouldn’t feel so strongly…”
“But Fortunate Son has a real point to it.” Like how the last president used the song “incorrectly,” this is another example of a meaningful song’s misuse by some corporation.
But Only for a Little While
And so, decades after the track gave a middle finger to the establishment, CCR’s old record company, Fantasy Records, licensed the song to Wrangler to sell some blue jeans. To Wrangler’s credit, when the company heard that Fogerty wasn’t a fan of the idea, they pulled the ad immediately.
“Yes, the people that owned Fantasy Records also owned all my early songs, and they would do all kinds of stuff I really hated in a commercial way with my songs…,” Fogerty said.
Fogerty Hates It – Pull the Plug
One day, someone from the LA Times called him and “actually bothered to… ask me how I felt, and I finally had a chance to talk about it.” He went on to tell the journalist on the phone that he was “very much against” his song being “used to sell pants…” No less.
What he was happy about was that his position was “stated very well in the newspaper.” Soon enough, Wrangler made a statement: “Wow, even though we made our agreement with the publisher, the owner of the song, we can see now that John Fogerty really hates the idea.”
Hollywood Made It Cliché
Sure, the song is one of the best ever made. But Hollywood (of course) turned it into a cinematic cliché. Is there a Creedence song in Forrest Gump? Check. Born on the Fourth of July? Check. Tropic Thunder? War Dogs? Check. Check.
So, how did the rock band’s song become the go-to soundtrack for anything depicting the Vietnam War (or any war for that matter)? Well, it started in 1978, when Nick Nolte and Michael Moriarty starred in Who’ll Stop the Rain, a movie about a war correspondent smuggling heroin from Vietnam into the US.
It Started in 1978
The film used three CCR tracks: Proud Mary, Hey Tonight, and Who’ll Stop the Rain. A year later, Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, set in the Vietnam-war era, used a cover of Suzie Q (a song popularized by CCR, but not written by them).
By 1988, the trend caught on. Oliver Stone’s 1989 film Born on the Fourth of July featured a cover of the band’s song, Born on the Bayou. The year after, the song Run Through the Jungle was played in Air America, starring Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr. – two Vietnam-era pilots involved in (yet another) drug-smuggling ring.
Boosting Soldier Morale
Creedence was actually popular with the troops, for real. It’s widely documented that troops listened to music to boost their morale and they had access to radios. By 1969, one-third of American soldiers were listening to music on the radio for over five hours a day.
We can safely assume that CCR was getting some airtime. Fogerty wrote in his memoir that in the ‘90s, he was thanked by a Vietnam vet who told him that his squad routinely played his band’s music to prepare for combat…
As They Prepared for the Jungle
“Every night, just before we’d go out into the jungle, we would turn on all the lights in our encampment, put on ‘Bad Moon Rising,’ and blast it as loud as we could,” the vet told the former frontman. When it came to featuring their songs in films, there were a couple reasons why CCR’s tracks were often used in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
For one, the music was legally and readily accessible, and that’s because Fogerty had signed away their distribution and publishing rights to Fantasy Records. Yes, he definitely regretted that decision later on.
It’s Not All War and Rebellion
Then there was the whole cultural aspect of their music. After all, the band and its roots-rock vibe gave off a feeling of nostalgia. Not all of their songs were in war-related movies. Take Rudy, My Girl, and Remember the Titans for example.
Creedence was at the top of their game at back in the ‘60s/early ‘70s. They produced seven albums in four years, three in 1969 alone. And they broke up less than five years after taking on the Creedence name.
A Relationship Gone Ugly
Fogerty was not a happy camper when he saw how his song kept getting used in films. And it has everything to do with him signing away his rights to distribution. His relationship with Fantasy Records head exec Saul Zaentz, who got those publishing rights, turned ugly.
“John didn’t want his music used if Saul was going to profit from it,” said Joel Sill, the music producer on Forrest Gump. “And he really tried to make a case against us being able to use it.”
Never Has and Never Will
Sill also revealed that Fogerty called the president of Paramount Pictures to request that his music not be used in Forrest Gump. He tried but failed. Paramount went forward with using CCR’s music in Gump and, boy, did it work well.
His position, according to Sill, “was based on an emotional battle he was having in the business world, and I didn’t want that to affect the film.” Drummer Doug Clifford added that Fogerty doesn’t like it being used in anything… “He never has. And he never will.”
Forrest Gump Is One Thing…
Fogerty aired out his dirty laundry to NPR in 2005, saying “Folks will remember Forrest Gump… but they don’t remember all the really poor movies that Fantasy Records stuck Creedence music into,” referring to the car commercials, the tire commercials, the pants commercials…
In 2018, Fogerty went so far as to denounce the film Proud Mary for using his song of the same name without consulting him. It looks like commercial and film producers aren’t the only ones Fogerty has a bad relationship with…
What About the Other Creedence Guys?
The singer-songwriter’s ex-bandmates, who reunited as Creedence Clearwater Revisited back in 1995, had a falling-out with Fogerty themselves. Apparently, Fogerty tried to block their band name. As for the use of the band’s music in films, the rest of the band are pretty happy about it.
“It shows the longevity of the catalog,” Clifford remarked. “Film is art. Music is art. To put the two art forms together and have it be effective is kinda cool.” Bassist Stu Cook thinks it’s “terrific.”
The Big Lebowski Was Cook’s Favorite
Cook said that if it were up to Fogerty, “who knows what would have happened.” He added: “I don’t talk to John.” For the record, his favorite CCR film placement was in The Big Lebowski. Remember the scene when the Dude’s car is stolen?
All he wants is his Creedence tapes, and when he gets them back, we see Jeff Bridges blasting Lookin’ Out My Back Door as he drives around in his 1973 Ford Gran Torino. Funnily enough, it was the Dude’s sidekick, Walter (John Goodman) who brought the Vietnam reference to the bit.
The Awkward Hall of Fame Moment
Aside from the band being consistently featured in movies, there’s the whole legacy the band members themselves have left behind. It’s clear now that the guys have had a falling out, but how bad was it really? Well, if you look at the incident at the 1993 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it looked pretty bad.
The Hall of Fame happens to be a site ripe with awkward moments seeing as how many bands reunite there after years of (sometimes) not talking to each other. One such awkward moment was when CCR got in back together in 1993 (sans Tom – he died of AIDS in 1990).
So, the Story Goes…
In a nutshell, Clifford and Cook were dumbfounded when Fogerty refused to play with them. He opted to stand near the podium in mad silence before performing Creedence songs with Bruce Springsteen and Robbie Robertson.
It was only in 2015, thanks to his memoir, that Fogerty finally opened up about that strange but true moment in 1993. Here’s how it went down: the call from the “Hall” came in late 1992, and to their request to have the band play together, Fogerty said flatly, “No.” He did, however, agree to one thing… kind of.
Loud and Clear, Buddy
Fogerty told them that IF an onstage jam session were to erupt in the moment – and he and the surviving band members would be on stage together – he would be okay with that. He just didn’t want to stand on stage “with those people, three in a row,” and play their songs.
Fogerty was a bitter betty, and it was because Cook and Clifford sold their rights to his “worst enemy.” He had made it clear that Creedence “will never play as a band again.” The Hall of Fame heard his message loud and clear, so they offered another perspective.
Selling Their Souls to the Record Devil
All the Hall of Fame wanted was for the songs to be heard, so they proposed the idea of getting other artists – Springsteen and Robertson – in the picture. Those who don’t know the whole story (Fogerty’s side of the story), will think he was the bad guy.
But to Fogerty, it was Clifford and Cook who turned their backs on the group, “dishonored the music, and sold out to Saul Zaentz,” making a side deal that didn’t include the frontman himself. Seeing the guys play the victim to the public further pissed him off.
He Tried to Reconcile With Tom
According to Fogerty, the three ran into each other a day or two before the ceremony. It was clear where Fogerty’s head was at – they knew it. On stage, however, they played the part of shock and surprise.
Before his brother Tom died, Fogerty tried to reconcile with him. He was his blood, after all. He thought about the famous Dorsey brothers and how Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey feuded for years but eventually reunited, making their mother so happy. Fogerty wanted the same for their own mom.
Let’s Do It for Mom
Fogerty started a dialogue by writing his brother a letter. “It would be a shame not to do this for our mom,” he recalled writing. They also talked on the phone at least once. It wasn’t easy for the singer whose brother sued him.
Tom, Clifford and Cook sued Fogerty over songwriting royalties in the Canadian bank during the Castle Bank era. Tom wrote him back to clarify that he never sued him. Technically he did, he just pulled out of the trial after years of depositions, meetings, and thousands of dollars. So, Fogerty was bitter about that, too.
Tom Fogerty vs. John Fogerty
Fogerty showed his brother the cover page of the lawsuit (“Tom Fogerty vs. John Fogerty”) to prove a point. Then, their mom passed away. Something else for Fogerty to be bitter about. Even when Tom was sick, he still tried to get the band back together. People didn’t know he had AIDS at the time.
Fogerty knew but he wouldn’t dare spill the beans. “All I could think was, Oh, great — Doug and Stu want to drag Tom around the world in a wheelchair,” Fogerty wrote in his memoir.
Waiting for the Showdown in Space
Fogerty saw his brother a few times before he passed. Tom was thin, fragile, and always wore sunglasses, even indoors. He died on September 6, 1990, and Fogerty was naturally sad to lose his brother.
He was angry, though, that Tom’s friendship with Saul (the “enemy”) ruined their relationship as brothers. He blamed Saul, whereas Tom was the “unwitting pawn.” It turns out Fogerty has a warped sense of humor. He said, “I’ll meet him again. I’ll yell at him. We’ll have a showdown in space.” All in all, he has forgiven his brother.
Creedence Clearwater… Revisited?
In 1995, Clifford and Cook formed Creedence Clearwater Revisited, playing the band’s old hits on the oldies circuit. It goes without saying that Fogerty wasn’t happy about it. He thought it was pretty lame and desperate – in their old age, playing old hits.
According to Fogerty, the band had discussed it. They had agreed long ago that any version of their group – one that called itself Creedence Clearwater Revival – would have to include all of them. Otherwise, it just wouldn’t be. Well, it was. And Fogerty was purposely left out of the loop.
The Slimy and the Sneaky
It turns out that Clifford and Cook approached Trisha, Tom’s widow, a few years after he died. They convinced her to sign over her well-wishes regarding the band (her vote was not on the table anymore has Tom had already sold it).
“I can’t tell you how disgusted I am with Doug and Stu,” Fogerty admitted. “You’ve got to be a pretty slimy, sneaky person to do that.” He added that he’s “pretty disappointed” with Trisha, too, for her part in it.
For the record, Saul never went to Tom’s funeral.