Country Joe's Place

How I Wrote the Rag


I wrote "Fixin’ To Die Rag" in summer of 1965 after I had been discharged from the US Navy for several years. It just popped into my head one day and I finished it in about 30 minutes. I did not have a conscious purpose in mind although I had been working on another song about the Vietnam War called "Who Am I?" for several days so I had the war on my mind. The "Who Am I?" song was part of a play I was writing songs for titled Change Over, written by Fred Hayden and directed by Nina Serrano. It was performed twice, once on the University of California Berkeley campus and once on the San Francisco State College campus. 1965 was the year that the Vietnam War became big news and a big protest issue with students.

I was raised in a family of American Communists and so I knew a lot about Capitalism and Communism. The song attempts to put blame for the war upon the politicians and leaders of the US military and upon the industry that makes its money from war but not upon those who had to fight the war ... the soldiers. It expresses the thoughts of a person trapped in the military system and forced to go to war by something called "conscription". Conscription or the "draft" as it was called then was a system which picked young people and forced them into the military and into the war with the only other choice being jail or an attempt to "dodge the draft" for religious reasons or physical or mental reasons. It was very hard to get out of the draft because so many people were being killed in the war that they would take just about any one. The song attempts to address the horror of going to war with a dark sarcastic form of humor called "GI humor". GI humor is a way people have of complaining about their situation so it will not get them in trouble and keep them from going insane in an insane environment: war.

Today we have a volunteer military but during the Vietnam War many people joined because they thought it was the right thing to do. It was patriotic. Lots of people were drafted. Also lots of people were given the choice of volunteering for the military or going to jail on charges of getting into trouble with the police for one thing or the other. It was a kind of government black mail. During the war people were even forced into the US Marines which was always considered to be a volunteer group because so many Marines were killed in the Vietnam War. The casualty rate for Marines was higher in the Vietnam War than in World War II.

The Rag first came out on an EP record in October, 1965.

-- CJM, Berkeley, April 2000


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