Perfect Record #5 – Cosmo’s Factory
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Cosmo’s Factory
I was twelve years old when this came out in 1970. Tall. Skinny. Blonde. The hippie/ psychedelic thing was going on at that point – the music, the clothes, the hair, the blacklight posters and lava lamps and dayglo orange shag rugs shaped like giant feet – and I wanted to be a part of it. I remember owning a pair of green and orange vertically striped bell bottoms. I remember my brother and I stringing tiny beads of many cool colors and wearing them around our necks. I remember aching, just aching, to be a part of it, to be involved in something larger than the life I knew.
Being three years older, Dave was closer to it all than I was, so I followed his lead as best I could. My memory tells me that Cosmo’s Factory was the first LP I ever bought, and I associate it with my brother, and a cousin named Mark, though exactly how they figure into the story I no longer recall.
Look at those guys on the cover. I mean, how cool is that? Life was a circus, it seemed. Rock and roll and cool clothes and riding bikes in the studio? I’m in! I was just starting junior high in Ionia, Michigan. After an entire life spent in a one-room schoolhouse, I now had to take an hour-long bus ride with kids I didn’t know into the big city, where there were hundreds, thousands, millions of other students, and weird teachers, and a whole new set of rules that I did not know either! Of course I wanted to join these guys. Cosmo’s, take me away! I needed some high, and not the junior variety.
I didn’t get to join the circus. Couldn’t do it on my own, and didn’t have a mentor to help me along. I didn’t own an electric instrument until I was in my fifties. Didn’t pick up the drum kit or play in a band until just a couple of years ago. Never rode a bicycle in a recording studio. Never hardly got high on anything. But I did grow my hair long for a while. And I did wear some psychedelic clothes. And I did listen to the circus music from afar, and let it move my aching heart. As I once told Sally, “I may not be hippie on the outside, but I’m more hippie on the inside than anyone you know.” And Sally knew a lot of hippies…
The Creedence guys may not have been doing psychedelic music, per se. Wikipedia describes their sound as an “infectious blend of rockabilly, folk and R&B.” But the correct genre distinctions have never much mattered to me, and always leave me a bit confused. CCR was part of that era, that vibe, that look, that feel. That’s what mattered to me: that feel. That sense that there’s a huge party going on out there, out in the Cosmos, and I can join in if I figure out how to get there. Not surprisingly, I use very similar words to describe my conception of the spiritual nature of reality itself.
The album is full of hits, and the hits were all over the radio, and in my head. “Who’ll Stop the Rain.” “Run Through the Jungle.” “Looking Out My Back Door.” “Up Around the Bend.” Cosmo’s Factory was like a “best of” album, and I loved ’em all. But three cuts stood out for me. “Ramble Tamble,” the opener at seven-plus minutes long, just made me want to swirl around, my head waving back and forth like the people I’d seen dancing in the Woodstock movie. The changes in tempo. The long, slowly building instrumental mid-section. Those simple guitar lines that felt, to my young heart, like they were calling out to the gods. I listened to that one over and over. It was a glorious beginning.
Their version of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” clocking in at eleven minutes, has always been the definitive version, to my mind. The tribal beat. The dark, foreboding bass line. The long instrumental section and Fogerty’s clean, sweet guitar. I mean, the Marvin Gaye version is fine, but… damn! This one just grabbed me and never let it go.
And the album closer sealed it for me. “Long As I Can See the Light.” Yes. Fogerty’s voice… so sad, as full of ache as my own heart, singing of going away and coming home soon, and of having a light to follow as he made his way. A short saxophone solo that still brings tears. I didn’t know it at the time, but I, too, was “bound to drift a while.” “Oh yeah…”
It comes as no surprise to me that, when I finally found my way into a rock band for a spell, two of the songs I sang came from this album. I did my best Fogerty on “Grapevine,” and tried to bring it home on “See the Light.” This was music that had saved my teenage soul. I wanted to share it with others. You never know who in the audience needs a hit of salvation.