Country Joe's next stop not
Vietnam By Richard S Ehrlich
BANGKOK - American singer Country Joe McDonald,
whose satirical "Fixin' To Die" anthem condemned the US
war in Vietnam, will not be go to Hanoi on June 22 to
receive a World Peace Music Award, and he warns that
Washington cannot win the guerrilla wars in Afghanistan
"As a hippie protest songwriter, I
could not exist in Vietnam today," said McDonald, lead
singer of the psychedelic band Country Joe and the Fish.
"Communism tends to be totalitarian,
and I am not supportive of that," McDonald said in an
e-mail interview on Monday while performing in England.
"My parents were American communists for
some time, but they
left the party because of a lack of democratic positions
by the party."
The Second Annual World Peace Music
Awards, which aim to promote peace through music, will
honor McDonald along with Bob Dylan; Joan Baez; Harry
Belafonte; Peter, Paul and Mary; and Vietnam's late
Trinh Cong Son as "Life of Peace" singers on June 22 in
Hanoi. Despite also being named "Life of Peace"
Baez and Belafonte are not scheduled to
In referring to the awards show,
McDonald said: "My understanding is that the government
is not giving me the award at all. The country is just
renting space to the World Peace Music Awards, whoever
that might be, to put on a show.
explained that it was a benefit show, but it was not
clear who the benefit was for," he said. "I found out
that none of the other groups [or] acts being honored
were going to be there. But of course it is an honor to
The snazzy chorus of Country Joe
and the Fish's "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag"
reflected the mood of many Americans with its
ricocheting rhyme: "One, two, three, what are we
fighting for? Don't ask me, I don't give a damn. Next
stop is Vietnam."
"That is the song I am best
known for," McDonald said.
"For many [US]
soldiers in Vietnam, including those in Vietnamese
prison camps, it served as a morale booster. For some in
the USA, it served as a vehicle to change their minds
from pro-war to anti-war," he said. "For some, it
confirmed that I was a traitor to the cause of the
"I [still] sing it the same, out of
loyalty to those who fought the war and suffered the
wounds of that war," he said. "I also find it
interesting that Matt Taylor [a World Peace Music Awards
promoter] had to run the lyrics by the Vietnamese
government for approval, and that the approval was
McDonald was born in Washington, DC, in
1942, grew up in El Monte, California, and wrote the rag
in 1965 after an honorable discharge from the US Navy.
Country Joe and the Fish immortalized the song
on their second album and at countless performances,
including the 1969 Woodstock Festival.
at the Chicago Seven conspiracy trial, McDonald sang the
chorus while testifying under oath despite the judge
telling him: "No, no, no, Witness. No singing." When
McDonald continued, the court's marshal put his hand on
McDonald's chin to force his mouth shut.
judge then relented and allowed him to "recite" the
song. McDonald spoke the full lyrics, which conclude by
inviting America's parents to "be the first one on your
block to have your boy come home in a box".
1975, meanwhile, after North Vietnam defeated the US
military, invaded US-backed South Vietnam and united the
Southeast Asian nation, Hanoi's communist rulers
enforced a regime rife with human-rights abuses.
When asked about the current political situation
in Vietnam, McDonald said: "I agree that there are
current human-rights violations that must be addressed
by the Vietnamese government, and it will be a challenge
for the Vietnamese to enter into the world community of
free trade and free global communications under their
The singer-songwriter said
he joked in another 1960s song about dosing then-US
president Lyndon B Johnson, often called by his initials
LBJ, with LSD to enlighten him about peace. But today,
he said, the situation was too serious for such satire.
"It is my voice on the end of the 'Super Bird'
song saying 'make him drop some acid', which at the time
was an act of defiance and said as a joke," McDonald
said. "I did not think that we actually could manage
that with LBJ at that time, and do not imagine that we
actually could manage that with George W Bush. Actually
my desire is much more serious than that.
would hope that Bush would make more intelligent
decisions for the government and the military, and [I]
find it hard to apply satire to his actions as I find
them terribly stupid and cruel as regards the lives of
our military families and personnel," McDonald said.
"I personally did not find just reason for the
war in Afghanistan or the war in Iraq. I do not think
that these are winnable wars for America, for many
reasons. Most of those reasons are the same as the
Vietnam War," he said.
"Osama bin Laden, like
George W Bush, is an upper-class rich person who has
never seen battle," McDonald added. "I doubt that he
[bin Laden] is a nice person, but he is not the only
source of America's problems in the world today."
McDonald's website includes a photograph of a
white-turbaned Osama bin Laden morphing into a portrait
of Bush, and then into bin Laden again, on an endless
"I am not a pacifist. I would kill to
defend myself, or my country, or my family," McDonald
The World Peace Music Awards said its
five-hour concert would draw an audience of more than
45,000 people in Hanoi, plus "more than 2 billion"
television viewers worldwide. "We're designing the
largest concert stage ever built in Vietnam," said
promoter Matt Taylor.
According to the concert's
website, "Legendary musical great Lionel Richie is
composing a song exclusively for the show titled, 'One
The lineup includes, from the United
States, Gloria Gaynor, the Black Eyed Peas, Hootie and
the Blowfish and Steven Seagal; Sarah Brightman from the
United Kingdom; Joaquin Cortes from Spain; Tata Young
from Thailand; Slank from Indonesia; Emma Shapplin from
France; and Thanh Lam and a popular rock group called
The Wall from Vietnam, among others, the concert's
"Renowned folk musician Peter
Yarrow, of Peter, Paul and Mary - who started the peace
movement during the '60s - will kick off the concert
with a special opening performance followed by the
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan," they said.
The first World Peace Music Awards concert was
held last June on Bali island in Indonesia and featured
artists from several countries.
the music awards show, which also poses as a "charity
fund to help young victims of violence and terrorism"
said that this year, "as a gift to the people of
Vietnam, a portion of the proceeds will be used to help
victims of [US herbicide] Agent Orange, HIV-positive
children, and women veterans who were disabled during
the Vietnam War".
(Copyright 2004 Richard S
Jun 10, 2004
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