“Waste no time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.”
“Have you ever seen the rain, coming down on a sunny day?” — these were the words that John Fogerty penned, describing the mutiny happening in his band Creedence Clearwater Revival.
For about four short years, CCR was one of the biggest bands in the world. While most other bands wrote about love and drugs, CCR’s incendiary songs dealt with politics and social change. The mainstay of their enormous success was John Fogerty, who was the band’s songwriter, lead singer, guitarist, and manager.
But after many, many hits, the other members of the band became jealous of Fogerty’s spotlight. They too, wanted to write songs as Fogerty did.
“Just before Pendulum (CCR’s second last album) was gonna be recorded, the other three guys called a meeting,” said Fogerty. “They insisted on a democracy — that everybody could write songs and sing, and everybody would have a vote.”
Pendulum was recorded in the midst of all the tension. The song Have You Ever Seen the Rain? is the soundtrack of the band falling apart, being a metaphor for how they were more successful than they could ever dream of, yet everyone was unhappy and wanted more.
The song would become another one of their biggest hits. Funny enough, the other band members had no suspicions about what the song was about when they were recording it.
After Pendulum, Fogerty’s band members got what they wanted. His band members celebrated their newfound independence, and threw a big party. One of the statements they made to their PR agent was, “We’re out from under John’s tyranny.”
Fogerty would refer to this party as “The Night of the Generals”, because as he put it, “Everybody was now a general; there were no more soldiers.”
“It was a train wreck, he said. “Within two weeks, Tom (Fogerty, John’s brother) left the band. There was no goin’ back after that. I said at one point, ‘I run this band on nerves and willpower,’ because there was always this whole litany of jealousy and crap. It was like, ‘God, we’re the number 1 band in the world — isn’t this good enough?'”
What resulted in their new liberal dynamic was their final album Mardi Gras, which featured minimal contributions from Fogerty. The album was a forgettable and incoherent mess, with critics dubbing it the worst album ever released by a major group during that era.
After CCR split soon after that, John Fogerty was the only member to go on and have a successful musical career. However, he was still caught in legal battles with CCR’s record label, Fantasy Records, as he fought to own his rights over the music he had written in CCR.
His former bandmates sided against him, and signed over the rights to Fantasy Records without his knowledge.
As Fogerty explained, “Way back in 1968, I had made an agreement with Tom, Doug and Stu to be equal partners. I let them share in my songwriting money. At the time, I thought I was dealing with people who understood the responsibility of what we had. But in 1988, they sold their votes to (Saul) Zaentz (owner of Fantasy Records) for $30,000 each — that’s right, thirty pieces of silver. Stu told me, ‘I don’t care what they do with the music — just give me the money.’ I was disgusted.”
Even more absurd, together with Fantasy Records, his former bandmates sued Fogerty in 1988 for plagiarizing his own song that he had written in CCR. They claimed that Fogerty’s solo song The Old Man Down the Road was a copy of CCR’s Run Through the Jungle.
“I felt that I had been intentionally stabbed in the back,” Fogerty said of the incident. “For Stu to go see Saul — a person who’d cheated and lied and really treated all of us like crap — and do that?”
Even his relationship with his own brother Tom was non-existent. “Tom ended up over the years evolving mentally into some sort of weird Patty Hearst syndrome,” said John. “That’s what I call it when they kidnap you and you end up siding with your captors, and that’s what Tom did. In some trick of mental agility, he ended up befriending Saul Zaentz against me. By the end of his life Tom was saying ‘Saul is my best friend’. He even wrote me nasty letters saying things like ‘Saul and I will win’. It was very unresolved and very sad.”
Later in 1993, CCR was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Tom had died, and everyone expected the surviving members of the band to perform together again during the ceremony.
John Fogerty refused to argue about all the acrimony that had been going on. Instead, he took the high road and didn’t mention anything bitter in his acceptance speech as he shared the stage with his former bandmates.
But when it came time to perform, everyone saw who was truly in charge. His former bandmates were barred from the stage, as Fogerty performed with his own chosen lineup of musicians instead.
Prior to the event, he had made it clear to the hall of fame and his former bandmates about the boundary that he was setting. He would not perform with his former bandmates, considering the fact that they had repeatedly dishonored him and CCR’s music, and sold themselves out.
As Fogerty and his backing band ended their last note, Fogerty simply said his thanks to his former bandmates, who were in the audience.
In our work, as well as in our personal relationships, some degree of politics and childish drama is inevitable. You will encounter people who stab you in the back, who act passive-aggressive, who take advantage of you and your work, or harbor toxic intentions towards you.
In many cases, arguing doesn’t solve these sort of conflicts. There can be no end, and nothing to accomplish in a war of words, as each side would just end up one-upping one another. Not only that, arguing takes a huge toll on your mental health, your energy and your morale, that you would hardly have the resources to focus on anything else that’s more important.
The better solution would be to focus on your own actions, to do what you believe is right, and let the facts speak for themselves.
As Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Waste no time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.” Author Robert Greene has his own version of this in Law 9 of his 48 Laws of Power: “Win Through Your Actions, And Never Through Argument.”
In John Fogerty’s case, he had to deal with jealous bandmates who yearned for the same level of recognition that he had gotten. Of course, you could argue that Fogerty was indeed a tyrant. But in his situation, the fact was that his bandmates were not good songwriters. They were talented in the instruments they played, but not in penning songs. Their final album Mardi Gras was concrete proof of that.
Much of CCR’s success came from Fogerty taking the lead in songwriting and guiding the recording process. He was more interested in writing great songs, rather than merely bolstering his bandmates’ egos.
Just as Fogerty did, it is wise to let the facts speak for themselves through your actions. When the drama in his band was nearing its breaking point, he decided to give that songwriting freedom that his bandmates had wanted, because he knew that the band was just about over anyway.
And later on in the Rock and Hall of Fame ceremony, he showed that he was indeed the anchor of the band by being the only member to perform onstage, and that it wasn’t him who sold the band out to Fantasy Records.
In spite of the ugly conflicts that he had to go through, Fogerty still reminisces the old days, as he did cherish the good times they had while they lasted, especially with his late brother Tom.
He said, “I was sad that life had been taken from Tom. That sadness was mixed with other emotions. But I’ve forgiven Tom. I’m not angry any more. I love my brother. I sure loved the old family days, the way we were as kids. It’s resolved, and somehow Tom knows it’s alright, wherever he is.”
He rued about his former bandmates, “The other guys at some points were my willing students, and at others my rebellious bandmates. That’s the journey we lived through. And while they were willing students, it was fun.”