There were still close to a half million people standing around Max Yasgur’s water-logged dairy farm on the third day of the 1969 Woodstock music festival in upstate New York. It was about 6:30 p.m. and a violent thunderstorm had just passed when Country Joe and the Fish took the stage, bringing down the house with the tune that everyone had come to hear.
“Well, come on all of you big, strong men
Uncle Sam needs your help again
Got himself in a terrible jam
Way down yonder in Vietnam
Put down your books and pick up a gun
We’re gonna have a whole lot of fun.”
Joe McDonald’s "I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin'-to-Die Rag" electrified a crowd of young men and women who were sick and tired of hearing about the evils of communism and government excuses for dragging on the war in Vietnam that had never been officially declared — a war now in its 15th year. Woodstock came the same year the selective service brought back the draft lottery. If you were a young male, your birth date determined your fate. With the song, Country Joe and the Fish managed to do something no protest, sit-in, self-immolation or prior anti-war song had ever accomplished: capturing the futility of the war through a catchy jingle with gallows humor. Every face in the crowd was imagining the same thing listening to the lyrics:
“Come on mothers throughout the land
Pack your boys off to Vietnam
Come on fathers, don’t hesitate
To send your sons off before it’s too late
Be the first one on your block
To have your boy come home in a box.”
McDonald took advantage of the moment, imploring the crowd to sing louder, shouting, "I don’t know how you expect to ever stop the war if you can’t sing any better than that. There's about 300,000 of you f***ers out there. I want you to start singing. C'mon!" And off the crowd went, bellowing the refrain:
“And it’s one, two, three
What are we fightin' for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn
Next stop is Vietnam
And it’s five, six, seven
Open up the pearly gates
Well, there ain’t no time to wonder why
Whoopee, we’re all gonna die.”
Country Joe and the Fish disbanded in 1971. The war in Vietnam dragged on four more years.