Don’t go ’round tonight.

I went to a restaurant the other day to celebrate the birthday of a friend. The place was a cheerful surf-themed tacos ‘n’ booze joint of the kind you see a lot around here. It was the early end of Saturday night and a covers band was playing.

We had a good time. The food was mediocre, the band was awful, and we were all good friends who don’t see each other enough.

While waiting for my car outside, I heard the band go into CCR’s “Bad Moon Rising.” There was a happy yell from the crowd and the all-white, mostly middle-aged people on the dance floor capered inexpertly.

I am too young to remember that song as new, but I know its story. John Fogerty wrote “Bad Moon Rising” on the occasion of Richard Nixon’s election as President in 1968. Nineteen sixty-eight was one hell of a year. Nixon’s election came after the disastrous Chicago Democratic Convention where the liberal dream died, after the Tet Offensive, after another thousand things gone wrong, many of them permanently. Fogerty’s song is an accurate assessment of a grim situation.

Watching the boomers and fortysomethings shake it happily to CCR’s doom song wasn’t easy. Some of them were old enough to know better: old enough to have fought in Vietnam or lost friends there, old enough to have seen badgeless cops beating people in the streets of Chicago. What the hell were they doing here? It’s a great song but it’s not boogie. It’s a warning. These people had chosen isolation: not just from poverty, not just from the poison gift of privilege, but isolation from meaning itself. War and terror and the loss of innocence? Maybe partying will help.

Later that night I went to the drugstore. I entered amidst a wave of high school boys. The high schoolers were laughing and punching each other and jumping up and down for nothing. One of the drugstore employees, a large affable black woman I’d talked to before, was restocking nearby.

The kids recognized her and ran over to say hi. They knew her son from school, although he was older and had graduated. She asked how they were doing and they gave bouncy teenager answers, “just hanging out!” and “oh I’m all around!” She smiled indulgently. “So how’s Greg?” one of them asked. “What’s up with him?”

She kept her smile. “He’s serving. Abroad.”

The kids didn’t know what to do. They kept hopping about, looking blank. She kept her pleasant smile. After about ten seconds of this some more kids came roaring up and greeted her and things were easy again.

Hope you got your things together
Hope you are quite prepared to die
Looks like we’re in for nasty weather
One eye is taken for an eye

15 thoughts on “Don’t go ’round tonight.

  1. Unfortunately, I’m not too young to remember. Turned 15 that summer and watched it all on the nightly news at the dinner table…and worse things are coming. *sigh*

  2. I’ve never paid attention to the lyrics to “Bad Moon Rising.” If someone asked for it at the piano bar, I’m pretty sure I could get through a verse and a chorus just from memory, but I never knew what the song was about and never really cared. Because I hate that song. But now that I’ve read this illuminating post of yours, I can’t decide whether I respect the song now, or hate it more. Or both. What’s up with that jangly uppity major-key melody if the song is so doom and gloom? Sometimes I just don’t get the 60’s.

    1. There are a lot of jaunty folksongs about terrible things. Since most of his songwriting is based on Cajun folk music, it makes sense that his unhappy or angry stuff (Who’ll stop the rain, Fortunate Son, etc.) has the same sweet sound.

      1. yeah, I guess you’re right. Still, I think it says something about a song that I can hear it a zillion times and never even think to listen to the lyrics.

      2. You’re not alone. I knew it was a downer song, but didn’t know what John Fogerty was down about until this post. Some people hear the last line of the chorus as “There’s a bathroom on the right“!

  3. There was also this:

    Though your brother’s bound and gagged
    And they’ve chained him to a chair
    Won’t you please come to Chicago
    Just to sing

    And of course, this:

    Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming
    We’re finally on our own
    This summer I hear the drumming
    Four dead in Ohio

    We’re going to need better than Conor Oberst to hold up to that standard.

    1. The Eminem one would have been pretty sweet if it had come out, say, a month earlier than it did.
      Merle Haggard and Neil Young have kicked out some good ones too.

      1. I can appreciate that. I was born in the middle of the Vietnam War, but just by the most superficial of comparisons, today’s version of dissent is both weak and humorless. Oh well. Maybe when today’s kids grow up to be middle-aged ad execs, they’ll spin the Naughts as a time of great social upheaval, instead of the resigned apathy that seems to permeate the times presently.

      2. Or when they find themselves screaming for their mothers and holding their guts inside their bodies because the draft came back after the election.

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