Art can lead you anywhere. Even to El Cerrito, Calif.
It’s a long story.
Like every other kid of my generation, I grew up on AM radio. I listened to a small red Zenith transistor radio welded to WHB-710 AM, the biggest station in Kansas City, Mo.
Weeknights ended with the WHB Top 40, where I started to notice something — Creedence Clearwater Revival put out a lot of singles.
“Run Through the Jungle.”
“Who’ll Stop the Rain.”
“Lookin’ Out My Back Door.”
Songs I couldn’t get out of my head.
So when I scraped together enough money to buy my first LP, I headed to the record store with my best friends, Rod and Chuck.
I grabbed a copy of “Cosmo’s Factory.” Then I saw “Willy and the Poor Boys,” and I froze.
“Down on the Corner.”
I stood in the aisle, unable to breathe. Rod, sensing my anguish, peered over my shoulder as I held one album in each hand.
“But … which one should I buy?” I whispered.
“I’d get ‘Cosmo’s Factory,’” Rod said. “It’s got more songs.”
One more, to be exact. I put it on the turntable as soon as I got home and it never came off.
Unless another Creedence album replaced it momentarily. I bought them all. Most of them twice, because I wore them out.
One morning, after Mass, I irritated my father by dropping the needle on “Born on the Bayou” before I’d even changed out of my church clothes.
“That man,” my father snarled, “has a real smooth voice.”
“That man” was John Fogerty, CCR’s leader, songwriter, singer and lead guitarist. He was my hero. Even when I was 12, I argued that Creedence Clearwater Revival was the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band America had ever produced.
I continue to make the same argument.
Creedence broke up in 1972. I was heartbroken. Yet the power of Fogerty’s music, its energy, its craftsmanship, never diminished.
Finally, after years of betrayal by his label and bandmates, Fogerty started making solo records in the 1980s. I felt like a kid again. My hero was back, and his songs rivaled the best music he made with CCR.
As central as he is to my imagination, I’ve never seen Fogerty in concert. I was too young when Creedence toured, and Fogerty didn’t perform — or, for that matter, perform his own songs —for a long time.
One of my college buddies is a rock music critic, and he knows how much I admire Fogerty. During the “Blue Moon Swamp” tour, he had Fogerty sign a backstage pass for me. But that’s as close as I’ve ever come to my hero.
Our oldest daughter, Emma, graduated from Berkeley law in May 2018. While we were in the Bay Area for commencement, I picked up Fogerty’s autobiography at a San Francisco bookstore and tore through it in a single night.
The next day, Emma wanted to have lunch at a place in El Cerrito. As we were leaving, I mentioned that Fogerty wrote about growing up in El Cerrito, which is just up the road from Berkeley.
Emma, who had absorbed a lot of John Fogerty music as a child, cocked her head and squinted.
“Oh, yeah?” she asked. “Did it give an address?”
As it so happens, yes it did.
“I know where that is. I walked dogs in that neighborhood,” she said.
We piled into the rental car, and about 20 minutes later, I was standing in front of John Fogerty’s boyhood home.
Listening to Creedence on my transistor radio, I had no idea what the future held. But given time, art can lead you anywhere.
Even to John Fogerty’s old house in El Cerrito, Calif.
Reach Greg Halling at email@example.com. Twitter: @ghalling.