[NOTE: This page contains adult language. If certain words offend you, you should visit Mr. Rogers' neighborhood instead.]
Vanguard Records did not want Country Joe And The Fish to record the "Fixing-to-Die Rag" on the first LP Electric Music for fhe Mind and Body; but by the time of the second LP they relented. In fact the second Vanguard Records LP was titled I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin’-to-Die. As band leader, I did not feel that the music industry was giving us our deserved credit and strokes for creating great wonderful rock and roll music so I made the executive decision that we would give a cheer for ourselves on the record right before we performed the song "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin’-to-Die Rag." Each member of the band (Barry Melton, Bruce Barthol, David Cohen, Gary "Chicken" Hirsh and myself) yelled one letter and the remaining member yelled "what's that spell?" We overdubbed ourselves and workers from the Vanguard Records office answering each yelled command: "gimme an F," "gimme an I," "gimme an S," "gimme an H," and then "what's that spell?" yelled many times -- the answer being "Fish Fish Fish," of course.
Time passed and audiences, having heard the record, were prepared to spell F-I-S-H out in front of us performing the "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin’-to-Die Rag." The mood in the country began to sour over the Vietnam War. While playing the Shaefer Beer Festival in New York City, Gary "Chicken" Hirsh got the great idea to change the "FISH" cheer to the "FUCK" cheer that night for the first time! We did. And the audience loved it. We were kicked off of the Shaffer Beer Festival for life and also paid to STAY OFF of the Ed Sullivan TV show which had paid us in advance for a future appearance. They said "keep the money but you will never be on the Ed Sullivan show." Today it is sometimes stated that Country Joe and The Fish played on the Ed Sullivan show. This is because surviving records show our scheduled appearance but in fact we did not appear by their personal request.
Listen to the cheer from Woodstock (in RealAudio).
Read an essay about The Word.
Listen to an audio essay on The Word (in RealAudio).
The following is from an interview with Dale Bell for his book Woodstock -- An Inside Guide to the Movie.
Dale: When you first saw yourself in the movie, what was your reaction, please?
Joe: I was... awe, I would say. Stunned. Stunned. I was totally unprepared to see it. You mean my solo performance?
Dale: Your solo performance.
Joe: Yeah. I don't think I even saw the band performance before the film came out. But the solo performance yeah, I was there by myself, in a viewing room with Michael (Wadleigh). And I was blown away. Blown away.
Dale: Did we have the titles on at the time we showed you that?
Joe: Yes, and he told me he wanted to put the FUCK on the screen and they had said no, but they had the bouncing ball and the whole thing. Yeah, that's what I saw, yeah.
I don't think I realized that there was even a movie, you know, that I was going to be in the movie. And Michael didn't really tell me anything. He said, "I want to show you something. And when I saw it, it was just like, "Fuck!". I didn't even make a rational decision, now when I look with hindsight... Because that appearance totally changed my professional life. And it changed,... well it had an unbelievable effect upon Joe McDonald's musical career. But that never occurred to me at the time. We never had a discussion ... I think he might have said, "Well, do you like it?" and I said, like, "Wh-huhhh!". I mean I don't remember saying I liked it. Or I didn't like it. I just was like, just blown away. Because of course I was... large. You know? Larger than life.
Dale: That was a big screen.
Joe: Yeah, I saw it on a pretty big screen. Yeah. I wasn't prepared, to see myself that way. And then the bouncing ball was just so cute and clever; I realized also that my harangue in the middle, because of the audience not singing, was untrue. I could see their mouths moving and I heard them; when I saw the movie, it was obvious to me that they were all singing along and they knew the song very well.
Dale: As well as you did.
Joe: That's right. The vast majority of the audience knew the song as well as I did, and the cheer in front of it too. And I wasn't aware of that because the sound was going up, you see, and outside it goes up and you can't hear it; inside, it bounces around, you hear it on stage; but outside, you have to learn from experience that the audience is singing and, you know, don't yell at them!
But I didn't know this so I just said, "...you fuckers out there, I want to hear you singing!" And then from the film, I actually learned that they did even try to sing a little bit louder, but they were sure singing from the very first moment. That was obvious. You don't see in the film that I had been on stage 25 minutes before that, and no one paid any attention to me. I walked off stage even and no one even noticed I walked off stage. I had a conference about doing the cheer and the song. And it was decided that it didn't matter, because no one was even paying any attention.
So, what the hell. I mean, up to that point I was a little bit scared, needless to say, performing in front of that many people, solo acoustic. But when I actually realized that no one was paying any attention, and they were all having a good time talking to each other, then I came back on stage and I went, y'know, "Gimme an F!". And then, it seemed to me as though every single person in that audience stopped talking, looked at me and yelled, "F!".
And you know, in show biz parlance, I thought to myself, "It's too late to stop now, fuck! Here we go, here we go...". And I completely forgot that there was cameras around, I don't remember cameras being around me when I was doing that solo thing at all. That's why, when Michael said he wanted to show me something, I had no idea what he was going to show me.
Dale: How did it change your life?
Joe: There's many, many, many reasons. First off, it established me as being Country Joe McDonald, a solo act, which I never was before. There was a group called Country Joe and the Fish, and I guess I was Country Joe; but with the release of that film, and that image of me singing that song, I was definitely Country Joe McDonald. A solo act, singing that song.
I wrote the song in '65, and this was 1969; so the song was an underground smash global hit. even Pete Seeger recorded it in '72 and no one would sell it it was so controversial, just the lyrics themselves, not with the cheer in front of it at all. But when I put the Fuck cheer in front of it, which we had invented, the band had invented months before and we were used to doing it then, it guaranteed that it was unplayable. Absolutely unplayable. Absolutely unplayable.
So you combine this lyric, which was blasphemous because it was, from a military point of view, essentially demanding the right to be empowered and make a decision on whether you're going to lose your life or not, and it dissed everybody that was important - Wall Street, the Commander-in-Chief, the generals, everybody, just in general all the fuckin' leaders, it dissed in the song, and not the rank and file at all, and so it made all the leaders mad, right, of course?
It made the left wing mad as hell; they didn't really know what to do with this song because of the satire in it anyway. The Anti-War Movement, they loved it, the rank and file, but the leaders, the left-wing leaders themselves who were very puritanical actually, in a left-wing way,... when I put the Fuck Cheer in front of it and it came out , and millions of people saw it, I mean, that just guaranteed that I would never be a left-wing darling in my life. Never. Never. Which means that the Right Wing hated me now, and the Left Wing also hated me.
The Establishment didn't know what the fuck to do. Like, I saw Bowser from Sha Na Na like ten, fifteen years after the film came out, and he came up to interview me for some Rock and Roll thing he was doing. And he said that Sha Na Na, the whole group, thought that I was non-existent. That someone had created a Country Joe McDonald, and it was an act. You see? It was like a Tiny Tim act or something, like a shocking kind of a "Country Joe" suit that I put on and I came out there and did that ... but that isn't what happened at all, so, it made Country Joe like, I don't know... like a living legend but also an asshole as far as the business was concerned. So it made me unbelievably famous. I mean I had the number one hit song, for the Viet Nam War era. The number one hit song as far as the Woodstock Festival was concerned. People have now said, most people have said that one of the greatest highlights of the film was yelling "FUCK!". And singing that song, you know, which was not apparent at all.
So to this day I haven't sold quadruple-platinum copies of "Fixing To Die Rag". Today you don't hear it. So it just stuck me in a larger-than-life weird place, that forced me in the long run to deal with my role in the Viet Nam War and my military background and my political background, in a way that no one else from the Festival or the Generation has had to cope with. I have become a living symbol of the Viet Nam War, and now I'm a living symbol of not only the resistance to the Viet Nam War, but of the veterans themselves. And almost all the veterans have come to love that song.
And so it's still today. Here we are, it's 1999, and the song is really not,... the Woodstock version of that song is really not playable. In an era of Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dog, ... (laughs from both) it's unbelievable that Country Joe still strikes fear into the heart of program directors. Many who are thirty-something now and have never even heard the Fuck Cheer. Maybe. But they just know the reputation of Country Joe McDonald. And well, I can laugh about it now but at times, it was a real albatross around my neck, and that's why I said that if I had thought about it from a boxoffice point of view, ...
Well, I tell a story sometimes that I was touring around Germany, because I had to work a lot in Germany after the Fuck Cheer came out because, well, I worked in non-English speaking countries...(laughs) I was banned in every municipal hall in the country....from the Hall Managers Union, you know, this organization they have.
I was touring in the 80's in Germany. It just went on and on and on, the reputation of this thing, and we would go everywhere, and on government radio and government TV and we would always talk about the Woodstock film and the Fuck Cheer. And the person I was talking to on television or on the radio would always talk in German except for the part where they'd go to say Woodstock. And then in German they would say something like "F.U.C.K. " and then they would go on, and speak in German. I couldn't stand it after two weeks of this. I said to the tour guide, "now what the hell is going on?" This is the most progressive country I've ever encountered in my life, in the States I can't ,... I got dissed big-time for saying fuck and all that, and people got fired from radio stations for playing the Woodstock track and he said "No, no, you don't understand; In German, the verb is fichken, and they don't know what fuck means at all!". They have no idea. And then I thought, Christ, if I had done the FICH Cheer at Woodstock I could still work in the States big time; I probably couldn't work in Germany, you know? But I mean, Jeeze, there's a fine line between fich and fuck. ...I don't know.
Dale: (laughing) Wonderful, wonderful,... We gave you a premiere on Broadway at 80th Street, when we were editing. We put two big huge speakers out the windows of the second floor, on 81st and Broadway, just down the road from Zabars, and put on the Fuck Cheer outside... There was a march going on.
Joe: End the War march. Probably.
Dale: Yeah, probably. And we had pande-fuckin-monium for about three blocks, from about 79th Street up to 81st Street. 'Cause we kept re-playing and re-playing and re-playing the song. Finally, we were busted.
Joe: Oh, really?
Dale: It was sensational. Just classic.
Joe: Well, see, I told you the whole thing is a miracle. That it turned out the way it did, that you put the bouncing ball in, because the sound was all muddy, and whatever. The end result was, just miraculous. Unstounding (sic). And to this day, it's cutting edge. Even to this day, I mean, it makes hell of people nervous (sic). That performance, that little excerpt there you know? There's some parts of the film that just make people nervous as hell, and it's the pre-frontal nudity (sic) is one of them, and Country Joe, I mean, singing that thing.
I always thought, "Well listen,..." (it was Richard Nixon in office, right?) and he must have said "What the hell is going on up in New York?", you know? And they said, "Oh, well, there's like,... they closed the freeway down..." . (This is stuff I imagine in my mind, because the FBI had been watching my family and they were watching me, and I know they were really aware of what the fuck I was doing, anti - war and all that.) There must have been a point where they said, ( voice Nixon-esque) "W-hell, what happened? Tell me." "Well Mr. President, the whole audience just yelled FUCK! And sang a song that essentially said, 'fuck you, we're not going to Viet Nam.'"
And I just always thought "Whoa, what did he say, 'Get that guy!'" Or something 'cause it must have made him really pissed. It must have made a lot of people really, really pissed off. You know? That that was in there. And even to this day, like I said, it doesn't get played as much as "Give Peace A Chance" I'll tell you that.
Dale: Well listen; You're marvelous, I thank you, we thank you.
Joe: The other thing that's funny, is that : you know when they had the 25th Anniversary (of Woodstock ...). Michael Lang has written a book and he gave me a copy of the book proudly and he said, "Here's my book about Woodstock." And I came back to him and I said, "I'm not in the book!" and he said, "What?!"..... (laughter from both) ... right? Like he didn't even know I wasn't in the book. But then at the 25th anniversary I muscled my way onto his stages, and I had my press agent, and we were constantly harassing him about, "How can you have Woodstock without Country Joe and the Fish?" Without Country Joe and the Fuck Cheer and whatever... And I know he's thinking to himself, "God damn, can't I shake this shit?" (you know?) "It just follows me around, all I want to do is make a pile of money and put on a show, you know? But these fuckin' hippies, 'an shit; they're following me around, harassing me."
And next year the same thing's gonna happen. Several people are gonna put on Woodstock 30th Anniversary shows, and Country Joe is going to be ringing their phone, going like you know, "Hey, how can you have a 30th Anniversary of Woodstock without a Fuck Cheer in it, you know? And Fixing to Die Rag?" And they all want to forget the Viet Nam War, and they want to forget Fuck, too, actually...
Oh, I remember: when I saw "Network" and Fay Dunaway, remember "Network"? When was that, 15 years ago or something? I couldn't believe it; I was in a big theatre, the theatre was packed out, and there was Fay Dunaway, and she was saying "fuck" every five minutes. And I thought, "What a rip! I can't believe it." I kicked down the fucking door so she could say fuck every five minutes in a Hollywood film and make a million bucks! And I still can't get played on the radio. Unbelievable! Unbelievable that they say "AW, Country Joe. He's the guy that invented the word fuck and made everybody say it.". No, no no, it's not my fault, man.
Dale: I don't know whether you can license that or not, Joe,...
Joe: Well, we've licensed it from the "Gimme an F..." I have coffee mugs now that say, "1, 2, 3, what are we fighting for?". I was thinking of sleepwear that said "Gimme an F..." maybe on it, you know.
Dale: That's a great idea! For the Boomers? Come on!
Joe: I can get Disney interested! They seem to be very hip lately, ...
Dale: Right. Sam's Club and Walmart
Joe: Yeah, yeah, "Gimme an F..." Woodstock Commemoration Sleepwear, you know? Little shortie nighties, and Teddies, you know those Teddy things? "Hey, Hunny, gimme an F..."
Dale: Right now!
Joe: Put a little dissing Michael Lang in there, you can use my words and I ...
Dale: I will only use your words!
Joe: He already knows he's afraid of me. ... I can't believe in all the years, didn't Warners or anybody ever say anything to you about the Fuck Cheer? Didn't they ever have a commercial conversation (sic) with you where they said, "You know, Jeeze, this maybe wasn't a good idea," or "was a good idea" or what. I mean, you know...
Dale: Well what I'll do is I'll ask Wads to comment on that, I don't remember it myself, ...
Joe: And on the record didn't they know that they had this monster hit on the record that couldn't be played on the air? Because, you know it just ... I was with DJ's when we were on the air, and we were on the radio live, and we used to play a joke on them, you know, they'd say, " What do you want us to play?" you know? And we'd say, "Oh, why don't you play this track." And we wouldn't tell 'em, right, and they'd just put the, drop the needle on there and they'd turn the volume down 'cause we'd engage them in a conversation so they wouldn't hear that they were pumping the Fuck Cheer out over the airwaves, and then we'd leave, you know? And then the shit would hit the fan, you know? General Manager call in and say, "What the hell's going on?" You know? And the guy'd get fired, he never knew what happened. Right?
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