Tunesday: John Fogerty – “Gunslinger”

For April, our Tunesday theme takes its cues from the opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” The songs we pick will evoke melancholy or sadness but are also tinged with hope. In life, it is good to remember that while it may be raining on your dull roots, those droplets are stirring up blooms.

He had a way with a line, did Mr. Elliot. And never was he better than in his most famous piece The Waste Land. Here we have a poem that starts off stating that “April is the cruelest month” and ends with a rather uplifting Sanskrit line that translates into “The Peace which passeth understanding.” So, we have a grand work that goes from cruelty to understanding and peace in less than 500 lines. Now, over time a poem such as this is bound to be re-worked and translated over and over as it is so influential to so many people. In the ninety-three years since it was first published I think that it’s basic structure has seeped it’s way into many facets of culture. Sometimes it’s influence is rather obvious and sometimes it takes a rather skewed perspective to see a relation. This piece is about the latter.

For me, to find a song that can start off on a low note and end on a happy one is kind of easy. However, to find one which does that as well as sync up to The Waste Land is not so simple. Yet, when the idea of choosing a song that follows the basic structure of The Waste Land came up I didn’t have to search that far to find one. The first song that came to my mind when I thought of this was John Fogerty’s “Gunslinger.” This song, much like “The Waste Land,” is in five parts. While Elliot’s parts were written as sections Fogerty’s are structured as four verses and a repeated chorus. To show how they match up, and do so the shortest way possible, it’s best to show Fogerty’s lyrics (though they are not listed in the order which they are sung) under Elliot’s sections and titles:

I. The Burial Of The Dead (A diversity of themes of both disillusionment and despair.)
Lookin’ out cross this town
Kinda makes me wonder how
All the things that made us great
Got left so far behind

II. A Game Of Chess (Alternating narrations and vignettes of several characters that address the previous themes.)
Wrecked the paper, closed the school
Tired old judge got roughed up too
No one left to make a stand
They whisper what’s the use

III. The Fire Sermon (A philosophical meditation that relates to the imagery of death and views of self-denial.)
I think we need a gunslinger
Somebody tough to tame this town
I think we need a gunslinger
There’ll be justice all around

IV. Death By Water (A lyrical petition to stir emotions.)
Someone let the fences go
Wild eyed bunch moved in, you know
Shootin’ up the streets, shoutin’ everybody down
The dogs all runnin’ loose

V. What The Thunder Said (An image of judgement.)
This used to be a peaceful place
Decent folks, hard workin’ ways
Now they hide behind locked doors
Afraid to speak their mind

Elliot wrote “I will show you fear in a handful of dust” and what is more fearful than a gunslinger in the dusty Old West with a gun in his hand? “The Waste Land” is full of alliterations, and so is “Gunslinger.” With his song John Fogerty has likened the roughness and uncertainty of the way life is today to the way it was for people in what’s called the Old West much the way Elliot alluded to the culture of the Western canon of art and culture through his poem. Though we have so much that aides and abides us and makes our lives better than it was for those moving out West on wagon trains and traversing through Death Valley and such we still don’t have it easy. And just as townspeople would often run and hide from trouble or fear those causing it, the gunslinger was worse. And yet, yes the gunslinger could stop trouble just as he could bring it. Western stories and folklore are riddled with the hired gun who can bring an end to a gang’s destruction and torment of a town or stop a land war. “Gunslinger” shows this ideal of the shootist who, although an unlikely saviour, comes to the aid of the scared townsfolk who hide and hunker down while their windows are being shot out by a gang like the Clantons or the Daltons. But while they’re hiding Fogerty, much like Elliot, exists as the voice of reason shouting a fiery sermon saying that we need somebody to stop this.

Read more from Jason here.