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-a-brac, it only demonstrates how quickly those still boldface names start to bore.

(June 2019)