Throughout the next however many months I’ll be counting down my 100 favorite albums, because why not. I’m up to number seventy-seven.
“I’m flyin’ ‘cross the land / Tryin’ to get a hand / Playin’ in a travelin’ band”
– Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Travelin’ Band” from Cosmo’s Factory
I used to play guitar in a rock band. It was 1976. July 8-10, 1976, to be more precise. July 8-10, 1976, in the afternoons, from 3 to 3:40. I was at sleepaway camp. We didn’t travel ‘cross the land, though we did walk from our bunks across the baseball diamond to get to the rehearsal space. While my rock stardom was short-lived (I couldn’t deal with the groupies, the drugs, the having to know so many chords – that’s a lot to put on a twelve-year-old), I’ve traveled to many places sans guitar. Here are a few tales from my life on the road.
When I was 16 my family took our annual end-of-year vacation to Zermatt, Switzerland, a beautiful and peaceful town where cars are banned and snow is everywhere. We were there to ski down the Swiss Alps, which in person were more spectacular than they appeared to be on the carton of powdered cocoa. Skiing was a family activity we did every winter at home in the States since I was nine. My brother, sister and I were off from school the last couple of weeks in December and in February between Washington’s Birthday and Lincoln’s Birthday. Back then we didn’t have Presidents Day; we had Washington’s Birthday and Lincoln’s Birthday, and they were on different days, and both were federal holidays that were observed on the actual birthdays as holiday observances hadn’t yet moved to Mondays and I’m very old. We’d vacation on each of those breaks, alternating between snowy places and tropical beaches with the occasional Disneyworld trek thrown in. I was a decent skier, given a shallow hill and a wide berth, though I was a much better at tanning. Skiing was my dad’s passion, and he wanted us to share it with him. He also loved traveling and photography, so we got to see a lot of different places and take a lot of pictures.
We Schwartzes honed our skills on the tame slopes of the Great Gorge Playboy Club in Vernon, New Jersey. Founded by Hugh Hefner, the resort, like its magazine namesake, offered thrills for the whole family, with a golf course, swimming pools, meals served by underclothed large-breasted women, and a pair of snow-covered hills. There the ski area was pretty expansive, so one had plenty of room to go around their fellow skiers or to avoid the occasional tree. Danger was an errant mogul.
One rode the chairlift up, skied down, rode the chairlift up again, skied down again, and so on. Skiing down The Alps was an epic daylong adventure. The chairlift ride wasn’t a quick jaunt; it was a 30-minute ascent. Almost immediately when we reached the top I’d get separated from my family. On the way down, lunch beckoned at mountain cafes, where warm classic Swiss dishes awaited. I always ordered the beef ravioli. I would ski into a restaurant, eat, and ski back out to continue the descent, weaving down slopes, and gliding through the town streets directly into my hotel lobby.
Skiing in Switzerland was also a lot more dangerous than skiing in New Jersey. In New Jersey, the worst thing that could happen to you was hitting a bump and falling on your keister. In Switzerland, the worst thing that could happen to you was sliding off the edge of the mountain and falling to your death, which is arguably worse than being in New Jersey, unless you’re in Camden, where you’re also likely to die, albeit without the beautiful landscape. There were some parts of the trail that were so narrow and icy that you had to be very careful not to lose your balance or your grip. There was no fence or barrier to protect you from the abyss. It was a constant reminder that one wrong move could mean a long, silent nap beneath the pines. But that also made it more exciting. Every time I made it past one of those sections, I felt like I had conquered the world. My heart was racing, my blood was pumping, and my adrenaline was soaring. What is a vacation, after all, if not a time to risk life and limb for a cool adventure?
My family kept all our appendages intact. Though we got separated on the mountain somewhere each day, we’d convene at the hotel lobby at 4 in the afternoon to explore this winter wonderland of Zermatt. It was on one of those walks that we heard a thunderous roar echo through the clear blue sky. We looked up to witness a spectacle both terrifying and awe-inspiring: a wall of snow crashing down the mountain. It was an avalanche, and it was gathering momentum. In that moment, I did what any sane person would do: I grabbed my camera and started taking pictures. What is a vacation, after all, if not a time to risk life and limb for a cool photo? After a few shots I joined my family inside a nearby igloo, hoping that the snow would not crush us. I could face the uncertainty of an avalanche with a camera in hand, yet at that time in my life the mere sight of a small dog would send shivers down my spine. (Don’t judge. Unlike snow, dogs have teeth and claws and fleas. And they bark. Also, there are about 40 avalanche deaths per year per avalanche.org, a site I highly recommend you bookmark to keep up on the latest in snow slides. Meanwhile, there are 4.5 million dog bites in the US alone, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20% of which result in infections. Choose your battles.)
All in all, it was a great vacation. I didn’t break any bones. I saw beautiful vistas. I got some great photos. I didn’t break any bones.
Documenting a terrifying near death experience in Switzerland
At age 17 I found myself playing human kite over Acapulco. I was with my family, who were all equally adventurous, or maybe just equally stupid. One at a time we decided to strap ourselves to parachutes with a rope fastened to our waists, the other end tied to a small motorboat that would hoist us into the sky. I was afraid of heights, but I didn’t want to let fear keep me from what was likely a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. My dad went first, or at least he tried to, but he was too heavy to get off the ground. At barely 100 pounds, I flew up into the air quicker than a metaphor involving something that moves quickly.
The city became smaller and smaller, and the view was amazing. The air was peaceful, and I felt like a ghost floating above the world. I coped with my fear of heights by pretending that I was not hundreds of feet above the ground, attached to a flimsy piece of fabric and a thin rope. I clutched the parachute ropes as if my life depended on it, which, let’s be real, it kind of did.
Years later, when I was in my early thirties, I took a solo vacation to a resort in Cancun. On the beach a local offered parasailing for tourists. Memories of the exhilarating flight in Acapulco beckoned me to relive the adventure, armed this time with a camera to capture the breathtaking coastline. My fear of heights was way more pronounced this time, and the boat operator’s cap, emblazoned with “I DON’T GIVE A SHIT!” didn’t exactly inspire confidence, but the thrill of the picture outweighed the tremor in my hands. Opportunities like this don’t come often, and what is a vacation if not a time to risk life and limb for a cool photo? Up I soared, not fully considering that clutching my camera tighter than my sanity meant not being able to hold onto the parachute ropes, amplifying the terror. The ocean stretched below, a turquoise tapestry, and for a fleeting moment, I was suspended between panic and awe. In that Cancun sky, fear soon took a backseat, as a sliver of exhilaration bloomed and I was overcome by the raw, giddy rush of living dangerously.
All in all, it was a great vacation. I didn’t break any bones. I saw beautiful vistas. I got some great photos. I didn’t break any bones.
Documenting a terrifying near death experience in Mexico
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
When I was 40 I took a solo vacation to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and let me tell you right off the bat – the food there was muy delicioso and muy affordable. My daily routine was simple: vigorous tanning on the beach, nursing a bottle of water at the hotel bar while watching the sunset, followed by dinner at a local haunt (always exquisite!) and then returning to my room to read and unwind after such an eventful day.
One evening I varied my routine. A flier, casually spotted in the hotel lobby the previous day, advertised an excursion to Puerto Vallarta’s natural hot springs. It said “Come and experience the hottest attraction in town. Whether you’re seasoned or curious about dipping a toe in, you won’t regret it!”
“Perfect,” I said to myself, envisioning a relaxing soak in the warm waters. I asked the concierge to reserve me a seat. He smiled at me conspiratorially and said “Sure thing, amigo.”
The next evening at 6 PM I boarded a nondescript minibus with a bunch of nondescript guys who were smiling at each other the way the concierge smiled at me, everyone excited as I was to get warmed up around nature. Off we went to our hot springs adventure! The bus rumbled through desolate roads and dense woods and after what seemed like an eternity, finally came to a halt. Out of the van we went. Darkness, except for a full moon illuminating steam rising from a hidden oasis. Hot springs! Everyone disrobed, which made sense, as I didn’t think we’d go into the hot springs wearing our clothes. I removed my sneakers, socks, shirt, shorts, and underclothing, placed them neatly outside the entrance to the springs, then waded into the water. Just the right temperature. It felt so good. I faced up and took in my surroundings. In Manhattan I didn’t see a clear sky or so many trees. I handed my Polaroid camera to a large Dutch man a few feet from me. “Mind capturing my moment of zen?” He grinned, clicked, and placed the camera just outside the spring. He then opened his mouth, stuck out his tongue, and moved closer to me. I put out my hands to stop him. “What are you doing??” I yelled at him. He motioned for me to look around. Throughout the springs in various configurations there were menfolk of my persuasion engaged in a celebration of human connection involving their swimsuit areas. I hadn’t noticed before; being a New Yorker I tend not to notice other people. I was stunned. How did wholesome, responsible, clean-living, reserved, retiring, introverted Glenn Howard Schwartz find himself at a ceremony involving multiple participants engaging in an excessive, unbridled, open, and unrestrained indulgence of each other? How did everybody else know this was going to happen? Did the flier have fine print in invisible ink mentioning a fiesta of amorous congress? You know what they say – when in Rome do as the Romans do. You know what I say? When in Puerto Vallarta, put your pants back on and reflect upon how you arrived at this smorgasborgasm. While part of me wanted to join in, I do my best to not think with that part. Glenn Howard Schwartz is not going to bake the potato with someone when he doesn’t even know their name or the name of their favorite album. I once did a little parallel parking with a guy who worshipped Celine Dion. Never again! I’ll spare you the Hitchcockian details, but suffice to say that won’t be repeated. Uh uh. Under no circumstances. Nope. No way. Not by a long shot. Not in a million years. Not unless he has great pecs.
An hour into the swapmeat dinner was served. Apparel was redonned and we enjoyed a tasty citrus-marinated chicken, rice bursting with flavor, and grilled vegetables, which, not being a veggie fan, I politely ignored like the advances of the large Dutch man. No sooner did I finish scarfing it down that it was time for seconds. For me, seconds of dinner; for my fellow tourists and tour operator and bus driver, seconds of putting the bread in the oven. That gave me time to stare at the moon and think. Amidst the soundtrack of groaning and grunting and moaning I had a thought: maybe I should take a cooking class. I tend to order in or microwave a frozen entrée each night, though how difficult could preparing this chicken be?
My reverie was broken by what sounded like breaking twigs and a howl not dissimilar the one emitted by a Celine Dion fan when you accidentally tickle their tarsus, except it was coming from outside the hot springs, which reminded me – we were in a friggin’ forest! Are these hedonists not concerned with animals coming over to let us know of their displeasure with humans sullying their bathing spot with their animal behavior? I feared a bear – not of the large Dutch human variety but the kind that are 50 feet tall and weight over 9000 pounds – would have a go at me, the one person set apart from everyone else. My desire to get back to my hotel peaked when a pungent aroma of something suspiciously herbal wafted through the air. Were we playing Bacchanalian Bingo? The tour operator came towards me holding what I understood to be a marijuana cigarette. “Would you like some?”
“No, thanks. I need to keep my wits about me.”
Nobody talked to me on the ride back. Yeah, maybe I’ll take a cooking class. It’ll be a good way for Glenn Howard Schwartz the introvert to meet people. It would be nice to find someone with whom I can share adventures rather than just pictures of adventures.
For the remainder of week in Puerto Vallarta I didn’t stray from my beach-sunset-dinner template, and that’s all I needed. All in all, it was a great vacation. I didn’t jump any bones. I saw beautiful vistas. I got some great photos. I didn’t jump any bones.
Documenting another terrifying near death experience in Mexico
Cosmo’s Factory, the fifth studio album by Creedence Clearwater Revival, takes the listener on a musical trip with stops at different genres and moods along the way. The band’s diverse influences include rockabilly, country, soul, R&B, psychedelia, rock, blues, and folk, all blended with Creedence’s signature swamp rock sound. And the songs are about all kinds of things, from fun and fantasy to fear and frustration.
Echoing 50s rock ‘n’ roll, “Travelin’ Band” tells of the joys and tribulations of the band’s life on the road, all fueled by their desire to make music and connect with audiences. Did they parachute into a city? Survive an avalanche? No. They lost their luggage. I’m not belittling their misfortune, for if I had to choose between wearing the same clothes for several days in a row or getting buried under six feet of snow, I’m choosing the goddamn avalanche.
“Lookin’ Out My Back Door” is like a trip to Wonderland. It’s full of colorful characters and crazy imagery, like an elephant musician, a flying spoon, a giant doing cartwheels, and a 50 foot bear eating a tourist. John Fogerty, the group’s primary songwriter, said the song did not stem from an overindulgence in herbal substances. He said he was inspired by the Dr. Seuss book he was reading to his then three-year-old son, but I think he was also smoking some green eggs and ham.
“Run Through the Jungle” is a different story. Dark and ominous song, Fogerty said it’s not about the Vietnam War, as many listeners have interpreted, but rather a broader commentary on the American landscape, particularly the issue of gun violence in America and the fearmongering tactics employed by the Nixon administration. He revealed that the line “The devil’s on the loose” was a result of a misheard lyric from their 1969 hit “Down on the Corner,” the actual lyric in that song being “Willy goes into a dance and doubles on kazoo.” Speaking of dancing willies, I wrote a song nearly as dark as “Run Through the Jungle.” I called it “Romp in the Woods.” It’s a commentary about naïve Americans in Puerto Vallarta. Well, one naïve American. (Be glad I didn’t title it “Lookin’ At My Back Door.”)
“Up Around the Bend” is an upbeat song that celebrates the joy of freedom and adventure. Inspired by his motorcycle rides, Fogerty sings “There’s a place up ahead and I’m goin’ just as fast as my feet can fly” and “Come away, come away if you’re goin’, leave the sinkin’ ship behind.” “Up Around the Bend” is a timeless anthem for letting go and chasing after freedom, whatever form it may take. It’s a song that reminds us that sometimes, the greatest joy is found in simply taking a leap of faith and heading up around the bend, wherever that may lead. Just be sure to read the fine print, lest you end up at a gathering of folks whose idea of freedom is freer than yours. I wrote a song about that. I called it “Romp in the Woods.”
“Who’ll Stop the Rain” is a subtle protest against the Vietnam War, written in the wake of the band’s performance at Woodstock, where they witnessed the literal rain. John Fogerty deliberately shrouded the song’s meaning in metaphor, describing it as a “fable” about the “bullshit of political spin.” This ambiguity allows listeners to find their own personal interpretations in the lyrics. Seeking solace from the midst of the storm could reference a call for environmental action, a plea for connection in a fractured world, or a desire to be liberated from a hot spring of libertines. I wrote a song about that. I called it “Romp in the Woods.” (I’ve only ever written one song.)
The band’s cover of the betrayal-and-heartbreak classic “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” came about when John Fogerty heard Marvin Gaye’s version playing in a clothing store and decided he’d like to give it a try, changing the piano riff to a guitar and making a jam out of it. At over eleven minutes in duration, it is by far the longest song on Cosmo’s Factory, with only one other cut clocking in at over four minutes.
The last song on the album is “Long As I Can See the Light.” Fogerty sings “Put a candle in the window, ’cause I feel I’ve got to move. Though I’m going, going, I’ll be coming home soon, long as I can see the light.” It’s a song that touches me deeply, because I know what it’s like to be away from home, to feel lost and lonely. I’ve had my share of adventures, some good, some bad. I’ve skied down the Swiss Alps, parasailed over Cancun, escaped an avalanche, and attended an orgy with a side of chicken. Though I didn’t break any bones, I saw beautiful vistas, I got some great photos, and I didn’t break any bones, the fact is there’s no place like home.
It’s crazy amazing that one album, Cosmo’s Factory, contains so many classics. Making that all the more crazy amazing is that it was Creedence Clearwater Revival’s third album in the span of one year. And even more crazy amazing is that it’s not even the best of those three albums, for one of those other albums is coming up on this list.
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