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Seeger, Fogerty Rollin' Down a River

This is the guy who wrote 'Where Do the Children Play?,"' says Pete Seeger.

He is pondering the fact that Yusef Islam, who as Cat Stevens also wrote "Peace Train," was denied entry into the United States because of -- to use the words of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge -- "some relationship" between the artist and terrorist activity.
Published on Sunday, October 10, 2004 by Reuters

Seeger, Fogerty Rollin' Down a River

by Jim Bessman

NEW YORK - "This is the guy who wrote 'Where Do the Children Play?,"' says Pete Seeger.

He is pondering the fact that Yusef Islam, who as Cat Stevens also wrote "Peace Train," was denied entry into the United States because of -- to use the words of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge -- "some relationship" between the artist and terrorist activity.

Seeger, who gave us "We Shall Overcome" and "Turn! Turn! Turn!," was blacklisted in the early 1950s as a member of pioneering folk quartet the Weavers. The legendary folk singer has just been informed that the title track from John Fogerty's new album, "Deja Vu All Over Again," alludes to Seeger's nettlesome '60s anti-war anthem "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy."

The Vietnam-era song is an allegorical tale of reckless military maneuvers in a Louisiana river ("We're waist deep in the Big Muddy/And the big fool says to push on!"). Controversy surrounding Seeger's performance of it on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" in 1968 contributed to the TV show's cancellation.

"It's fascinating to see how the establishment reacts to the arts," Seeger says, referring to the Islam flap, "but a good song is hard to keep down and can leap all barriers."

KEY INFLUENCE

Fogerty, meanwhile, is happy to salute Seeger and his influence on "Deja Vu" and Fogerty's career as a whole.

"'Big Muddy' was definitely in my mind as I was completing 'Deja Vu," Fogerty says, referring to the single. "It took several months to get that second verse. I wanted to try and measure up to what Pete has done in fulfilling the idea rather than cheapening out, and I had him in mind many, many times."

Fogerty's verse reads: "One by one I see the old ghosts rising/Stumblin' 'cross Big Muddy/Where the light gets dim/Day after day another momma's crying/She's lost her precious child/To a war that has no end."

"It's a direct descendent of what he had done," Fogerty notes. "He influenced me so much. That's how I was able to come up with it."

The admiration, it turns out, is mutual. Seeger recalls actually writing to Fogerty upon first hearing his 1969 Creedence Clearwater Revival riverboat classic "Proud Mary."

"Some people sang it for the Clearwater way back 30 years ago," Seeger recalls, referring to the Hudson River sloop Clearwater, a 106-foot wooden boat designed in the style of 18th- and 19th-century Dutch sailing vessels. Seeger helped launch the Clearwater in 1969 as a mobile classroom, laboratory, stage and forum for preserving the nation's threatened waterways, and he has championed its mission ever since.

"I loved the tune and the recording," Seeger adds, "and when I found out he wrote it, I got in touch and thanked him for writing a song that people keep singing up and down the Hudson."

SHARED PURPOSE

Fogerty remembers feeling "extremely proud" to receive Seeger's missive, and notes the coincidence between the name of his former band and Seeger's sloop. "Certainly the motives are exactly the same," he says. "I was watching TV in late '67 and saw an ad for a beer company showing a beautiful forest with a sparkling brook running through it, and then I think a government-sponsored (conservation spot) showing another creek full of cigarette butts, Styrofoam cups and trash -- back to back. That's where the 'clearwater' concept came from."

Berkeley, Calif., native Fogerty actually met Seeger back in the late '50s.

"I was 11 years old," he says, "at a Berkeley Folk Festival that Pete hosted. I actually got his autograph! He was wonderful, and I saw him dozens of times there over the years and learned so much at his knee about people like Leadbelly and songs with social conscience and intent. So 'Big Muddy' made a big impression on me. It was such a great metaphor of going down the kind of very ill-conceived path that we find ourselves on now by appealing to blind obedience (to) authority and patriotism.

"I had to have a reference to Pete's wonderful song," Fogerty adds. "He's the one that taught us all how to have a social conscience as musicians and songwriters."

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