Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag

Joe McDonald, 1965

What instruments do you hear in the background? Where and with what kind of music do you usually hear these instruments? Why do you think the musicians chose ragtime and carnival music as a background? What would the effect have been on the radio in the late 1960s? What is the main message of the song? How does the music reinforce the message?

As you listened, when did you first realize this song wasn't really a recruiting song? What were the clues? What is this kind of writing called? Satire. How does satire work? Point out a few especially satirical lines. What other satires have you read or listened to? Why do you think people use satire instead of expressing an opinion directly?

What was happening in the Vietnam War in 1965 when this song was written? What events were happening at home?

What conflicting opinions or feelings might a young man of draft age have? His mother or father? A business owner? A politician? Which of these opinions or feelings would be common to all wars? What would be particular to Vietnam?

"Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag" performed by Country Joe and The Fish. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

The tune is reminiscent of the ragtime piece "Muskrat Ramble" that was a favorite of early Dixieland and jazz musicians.

For more information on Country Joe and the Fish, visit their official website.

Rights have not been secured to reprint the words for this song. Please consult this online source:


Country Joe & the Fish Sign
Country Joe and the Fish Concert poster.

Country Joe McDonald (b. 1942) was raised in a family of American communists and named after Joseph Stalin. McDonald’s first song was a campaign song for a friend’s high-school class presidency race. After a tour in the Navy and a year in college in Los Angeles, McDonald moved to Berkeley, where he began writing political and protest songs. He started his band the Fish in 1965. In 1969 they were arrested in Worcester, Massachusetts, for inciting lewd behavior by leading their audience in obscene cheers. Following this incident, their upcoming appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show was canceled. The Fish disbanded in 1970.

At his website devoted to Vietnam War related topics, Joe McDonald writes about this song:

  I wrote "Fixin' to Die Rag" in summer of 1965 after I had been discharged from the U.S. Navy for several years. It just popped into my head one day and I finished it in about 30 minutes. The song attempts to put blame for the war upon the politicians and leaders of the U.S. military and upon the industry that makes its money from war but not upon those who had to fight the war ... the soldiers. 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.

Compare this song to "Recruiting" songs from other wars:

"We Are Coming Father Abraam, 300,000 More" (Unit 4)

"Over There" (Unit 6).

Write a satire about an issue that is in the news today. Who are the main interest groups to address? What musical style will you use?



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