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It Ain't Me: CCR's 'Fortunate Son' And Vietnam War Hypocrisy

Music | May 24, 2019

Left: In a photo from 1967, helmets, rifles and jungle boots tell a grim tale of the action fought by the 1st Brigade, 101st airborne paratroopers in Operation Wheeler near Chu Lai. Right: packaging for Danish release of the 'Fortunate Son / Down On The C

Written by John Fogerty, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” is an anti-Vietnam War song that rocks -- which was uncommon. And its catchy refrain of "It ain't me, it ain't me," heard in Forrest Gump and other Vietnam period pieces, presents an easy sing-along that masks its bitterness. While it's certainly addressing the injustice of the war, its criticism is not directed at war or killing -- "Fortunate Son" is a rant directed at Fogerty's fellow Americans. As the generation that endured the draft has aged into the generation that leads the United States, which remains involved in long conflicts overseas, the song's message still resonates today. John Fogerty’s lyrics are clearly about the way in which lower and middle-class families were sent to war by the wealthy during the 1960s.

While "Fortunate Son" is the only CCR hit about the Vietnam War, the band's music as a whole has become an easy way for filmmakers to invoke a Vietnam vibe. A cover of "Suzie Q" plays in Apocalypse Now; a Fogerty re-recording of "Born On The Bayou" plays in Born On The Fourth Of July; and "Green River" opens the movie The Post, the 2017 Best Picture nominee about the Pentagon Papers. 

Fogerty has spoken at length about the anti-Vietnam war meaning behind “Fortunate Son,” and he’s even discussed the "Senator’s son" (actually, a President's grandson) that got his blood boiling before sitting down to pen the track. As poppy as this CCR single is, it’s a blistering anti-war song that’s still applicable.

John Fogerty Ain’t No Senator’s Son

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Even though the song is called “Fortunate Son,” it could just as easily be called “It Ain’t Me.” The lyrics to the track are built around the idea that while narrator John Fogerty has to fight in the Vietnam war he’s not as overtly patriotic as those who get to stay home. Sitting out the war is the privilege of the fortunate, the sons of Senators and millionaires who are happy to wave the flag while shirking the duties of defense that they lay on those who can't get out of being drafted. In fact, Fogerty was drafted into the war in the mid-60s (though he signed up voluntarily on the same day), which gave him extra insight into the plight of the young men being sent to war. 

Throughout the song, with the line "it ain't me," Fogerty exclaims that he’s not a fortunate son, and he’s certainly not a millionaire’s son, which means that he and the people like him will have to go to war. In the zippy track he explains that the only people who can avoid the fight are those born with silver spoons in their mouths. It’s a quick blast of vitriol that makes its point without taking up too much of anyone’s time. 

'Fortunate Son' Is An Anti-Establishment Anthem

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Released in 1969, at the peak of anger over America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, “Fortunate Son” acted as a harsh reminder of the injustice of the military’s draft program for everyone who was affected. While the song isn’t a full-on protest song, it does speak to the unfairness of poor Americans being forced to fight in a war that they had no choice in.

Rather than write about his distaste for the ongoing war in Vietnam, John Fogerty directed his anger towards the wealthy and their inclination for having the lower and middle classes fight their battles for them. 

John Fogerty Wrote The Song In Less Than An Hour

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There’s no rule that says great art has to be labored over. Or if there is, CCR’s John Fogerty hasn’t heard it. While appearing on The Voice in 2015 he discussed how angry he was at being drafted into a war that he didn’t agree with. His vitriol towards the government and the wealthy gave him all the source material that he needed, and after about 20 minutes with his guitar, he had a hit song. Fogerty said:

The thoughts behind this song - it was a lot of anger. So it was the Vietnam War going on... Now I was drafted and they're making me fight, and no one has actually defined why. So this was all boiling inside of me and I sat down on the edge of my bed and out came ‘It ain't me, it ain't me, I ain't no Senator's son!’ You know, it took about 20 minutes to write the song.

An Eisenhower And A Nixon Were Part Of The Inspiration Behind The Song

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While Fogerty doesn’t name names in this two minutes and 19 seconds of hot fire, he did have someone in mind while penning the track. In “Fortunate Son” Fogerty bemoans that he’s not a Senator’s son, and while that’s pretty vague, there was at least one child of a political heavyweight on Fogerty’s mind when he sat down with his guitar. He wrote in his autobiography:

‘Fortunate Son’ wasn't really inspired by any one event. Julie Nixon was dating David Eisenhower. You'd hear about the son of this senator or that congressman who was given a deferment from the military or a choice position in the military. They seemed privileged and whether they liked it or not, these people were symbolic in the sense that they weren't being touched by what their parents were doing. They weren't being affected like the rest of us.

'Fortunate Son' Was Used To Sell Jeans

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One of the worst things that can happen to a protest song like “Fortunate Son” is its misuse. Decades after the track was released as a middle finger to the establishment, it was licensed by CCR’s old record company to Wrangler who used the song to sell blue jeans. To Wrangler’s credit, when they heard that Fogerty wasn’t hot on the idea they pulled the ad. Fogerty said:

Yes, the people that owned Fantasy Records also owned all my early songs, and they would do all kinds of stuff I really hated in a commercial way with my songs… Then one day somebody from the L.A. Times actually bothered to call me up and ask me how I felt, and I finally had a chance to talk about it. And I said I'm very much against my song being used to sell pants… So my position got stated very well in the newspaper, and lo and behold, Wrangler to their credit said, ‘Wow, even though we made our agreement with the publisher, the owner of the song, we can see now that John Fogerty really hates the idea,” so they stopped doing it.

Tags: 1969 | Creedence Clearwater Revival | Fortunate Son | John Fogerty | Protests | Song Meanings, Lyrics, And Facts | The Draft | The Vietnam War

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.