It seems impossible to miss the message of Creedence Clearwater Revival's 1969 hit "Fortunate Son." "Some folks are born, made to wave the flag," John Fogerty sings during its opening salvo against the class divides in the Vietnam War era. "Ooh, they're red, white and blue / And when the band plays 'Hail to the Chief' / Ooh, they point the cannon at you."
It's a defining single of the protest rock era, aimed right at silver-spoon hypocrites who claim patriotism to shield their privilege.
So why on Earth does President Donald Trump, perhaps the most fortunate of sons in American political life (who got a deferment from Vietnam service because of alleged bone spurs), keep playing it at rallies in the closing days of the presidential campaign?
"He's in his helicopter, hovering over a big crowd. It's like a scene out of all the Vietnam War movies, and maybe he sees that scene in his head, even if it's completely cuckoo," Fogerty, 75, told the Los Angeles Times on the Friday afternoon before Election Day.
It's a fair theory: Trump has played "Fortunate Son" as he exits his aircraft to take the stage at rallies. Maybe to him it evokes a mashup of scenes from "Forrest Gump" and "Apocalypse Now," movies that used Creedence's music style as shorthand for the era.
Fogerty sent cease-and-desist letters to the Trump campaign and even joined TikTok for the sole purpose of roasting the president for playing it.
"The fact that Mr. Trump also fans the flames of hatred, racism, and fear while rewriting ancient history, is even more reason to be troubled by his use of my song," he said in the letter. But Fogerty still can't quite believe it when he sees it.
"I'm surprised there isn't a guy next to him in uniform sitting like Robert Duvall saying, 'I love the smell of napalm in morning'," Fogerty joked, quoting the most famous line from "Apocalypse." "The song is decrying the kind of person he is. He's absolutely that person I wrote the song about."
As the most tense and consequential election in recent history lurches to a close (one way or another), one of Fogerty's best-loved songs is again a flashpoint for political hypocrisy — just not quite in the way that he intended decades ago. But a new album with his ad hoc family band is keeping his spirits up during the COVID-19 pandemic, as he awaits Tuesday's results with a mix of hope, jitters and a sense that the present is rhyming with history yet again.
"I could have written that song right now," Fogerty said of "Fortunate Son." "But when Mr. Trump does this over and over, stands there and tells you a baldfaced lie about what he said yesterday, he's hoping we forget its original intent. He's using what I have — my record, my song, my voice — and I don't want people to think I endorse that awful white supremacy that's so tone-deaf to our American ideals."