My Back Door

Have you ever real­ly lis­tened to the words of Lookin’ Out My Back Door?” Giv­en the sound of the song, giv­en the iconog­ra­phy of Cree­dence Clear­wa­ter Revival, I had always only half-lis­tened to the words, extrap­o­lat­ing out from the key­stone of the music, the title and refrain. I seemed to see well enough what he was look­ing at, and even a bit of the door that he had left ajar. 

Wrong again! Because I saw John Foger­ty on a porch, look­ing at some trees along the back of his lot. And he is not on the porch, not on the back steps – like John Wayne in The Searchers, he is look­ing out the back door, not hav­ing made it over his thresh­old. And he is not look­ing at the trees, but at a phan­tas­mago­ria he is pro­ject­ing out onto them, I’m guess­ing on the in-between space of a lawn. 

Yes, this is the back – the house serves as the same red tree beyond the end of the high­way in Up Around The Bend,” where infra­struc­ture ends, where the tour, and the negotium of mak­ing a liv­ing, come to an end. But rather than ven­ture out into rest­ful nature, Foger­ty stays in the dark space of his pri­vate the­ater, a prospect out from a safe refuge.

A friend of mine had a dream once that she looked out from her par­ents’ back porch to see a heap of ani­mals sleep­ing on the lawn, a bear on its back on the bot­tom with the rest heaped up on top of it. So much for the Bam­bi nature we like to imag­ine hid­den out in our back lots. What is nature in Lookin’ Out My Back Door”? It is not prop­er, and it is not local. Ele­phants wan­der in to the North Amer­i­can scene; cir­cus ele­phants, per­form­ing for Foger­ty, con­jured by Foger­ty. Eras, stan­dards, sen­sa­tions col­lapse into each oth­er (a stat­ue in high heels”); arti­facts are ani­mat­ed, an OOO fes­ti­val. It is his pri­vate show, not what he shares with his wife, chil­dren, or friends.

The song shows some­thing of the land­scape that we are like­ly to con­ceal from our­selves – that land­scape is what we project fan­ta­sy through. And it illu­mi­nates the mean­ing of a domes­tic gar­den as a play-ground for these fan­tasies. It’s eas­i­er to see in the gar­dens that are the most extrav­a­gant­ly ori­ent­ed around inert objects, stock­pil­ing stat­uettes and signs; but it is there as much with the gar­den as a utopi­an col­lec­tion of sceni­cal­ly-opti­mized plants.

Giv­en most people’s lack of knowl­edge of a spe­cif­ic col­lec­tive enti­ty to be rec­og­nized in the land­scape assem­blage (i.e., a bot­tom­land for­est), they are free to project what­ev­er over­ar­ch­ing con­cepts that seem prop­er to their cul­tur­al time and place – a fairy king­dom, a mighty nation – onto a gener­i­cal­ly nat­ur­al set­ting. That is, the very vague­ness of the land­scape to most view­ers makes it an agree­able place to pop­u­late. If stat­ues, mon­u­ments, and his­toric mark­ers pop­u­late the pub­lic park, it is to incar­nate such cul­tur­al bold­face names – patri­o­tism, inno­cence, nature itself – in an open set­ting, to show as pure­ly as pos­si­ble that the flag flies over the land. And if those objects pro­lif­er­ate until they turn the land­scape into bric-à-brac, it only demon­strates how quick­ly those still bold­face names start to bore.

(June 2019)