I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag

Album: I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die (1968)


  • This song is a satire of US government attitudes toward the Vietnam War. Country Joe McDonald released it at the height of the war after he had been discharged from the US Navy for several years. He wrote it in about 30 minutes after it popped into his head.
  • The song attempts to put blame for the war upon the politicians and leaders of the US military and 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, was a system that picked young people and forced them into the military and into the war. The only other choice was jail or an attempt to "dodge the draft" for religious, 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 anyone.

    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 like war.
  • This was the title song for Country Joe & the Fish's second album. When they performed it at Woodstock, they created one of the more memorable moments of the festival when they led the crowd in the "Fish Cheer":

    "Gimme an F... Gimme a U... Gimme a C... Gimme a K..."

    The album version of the Fish Cheer: "Gimme an F... Gimme an I... Gimme an S... Gimme an H..."

    At Woodstock, the Fish Cheer was uncensored.
  • The first version of this song was an acoustic rendition recorded at Arhoolie Records Studios in El Cerrito, California, in 1965. McDonald released a limited number of copies on his own independent label, Rag Baby, many of which he distributed in October that year at a Berkeley, California, anti-war protest called the Vietnam Day Teach-In. The band started playing an electric version of the song at live shows and earned a following on the West Coast with a psychedelic sound that was coming into vogue. Signed to Vanguard Records, they released an electric version on their second album with the label, I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die, in 1967. The "Fish Cheer" came about in August 1968 at a show in New York City's Central Park when McDonald came up with it on the fly.
  • The tune is based on ragtime music, which is why the song is a "rag."
  • The Woodstock performance proved to be the legacy of Country Joe & the Fish, which was a problem. "My most famous song really couldn't get airplay," McDonald told Entertainment Weekly in 2019. "It got me banned from municipal auditoriums for a long time after. So I paid a price. But I'm proud to say that I've carried with me the reality of the Vietnam War. I'm the elephant in the room."
  • One person who did not appreciate this song is Billy Joel, who saw the band perform it at Woodstock when he was 20 years old. Joel told Howard Stern: "This hippie comes on stage and starts going, '1-2-3, what are we fighting for,' and I'm thinking, 'this song sucks. It wasn't even about the lyric, it sucked as a song."

Comments: 24

  • Citizen from FloridaBilly Joel didn’t appreciate the song ... no surprise - Billy Joel sucks
  • Karol from Pori, FinlandNice word-play: "One Two Three: "What are we fighting", Fo(u)r:" Don't ask me I don't give a damn, the next stop is Vietnam..."
    It's like three soldiers are asking officer who doesn't want to hear questions, only "to be a soldier".

  • Karol from Pori, FinlandThis song is monumental, lyrics remind me a "Catch 22" sense of humor.
  • Shroomduke from Napa, CaGreat song and a deeply meaningfull time for music...

    If I handed you a gun and told you to kill someone wouldn't you ask WHY?
    If I demanded your money wouldn't you want to know what I needed it for?
    If 60,000 young men died wouldn't you want to know why?
    If we, togather, plan to kill 1Million people wouldnt you demand to know why,
    and after we sacrifice 60K of our children and slaughtered 1 million people,
    wouldnt you want to know why
    wouldn't you remember the lessons of failures past?
    What were the lessons of Korea, Vietnam, Nazi Germany?

    you can call people dirty hippy, stupid, unpatriotic, but your dehumanizing yourself more than anyone...
    whatever people are they are human, you can not deny a persons rights, values or humanity without forfeiting your own!
  • Aerie from Gold Coast, AustraliaI know I'm only a kid, really, compared to some of you but when I saw images taken of the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam, I felt sick.
    I never really liked politics too much, why should I when I'm only sixteen? But, politicians at that time needed to pull their heads out of the sand and take a good, hard look at the blood on their hands. I'm not claiming to be any better than them and I'm trying to say this without sounding conceited, but even a four year old could've looked at that and said it was wrong, it was not supposed to happen, it should be burned from the face of humanity and never seen again.
    Whenever I hear people at school talking about Osama Bin Laden and how he's a monster I can't help but say, well, look at the rest of us. By no means am I saing he's correct, he uses the beliefs of innocent Muslims against them, turning them into suicide bombers and what not but isn't that kind of the same as what war does to us?
    It takes the patriotic beliefs of a country and turns them into little killing machines. Back in the old days (as in 1800's wise) it was with swords and bows, now it's with missiles, nuclear weapons, bombs of every and all descriptions. Histroy repeats itself, like one huge cycle of time. I can't help but wonder, with all this war in our history, how long it'll take until it kills us all. Just like those little kids and their mothers and fathers in the massacre.
  • Robert from Vasteras, SwedenComment to the origin of the tune, as noted on top of page: "The tune comes from a Ragtime song from around 1900. It was recorded at Arhollie Record's Studio in Berkely. Arhollie is a major Blues and folk music label in the US."
    I've just listened to 'Muskrat Ramble' with Louis Armstrong Hot Five, recorded February 26, 1926 and released on OKeh 8300. The most parts of this song is EXACTLY the same as the whole I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die-Rag, you can just sing along to it.
    Credited composers are E. Ory and R. Gilbert, but was composed by Louis Armstrong (uncredited) - all Edward 'Kid' Ory did was simply give it its title Muskat Ramble (after Muscatel Wine), but this was changed to Muskrat Ramble.
    /Robert Gille
  • Joel from Halifax, NsInteresting considering Joe was in the Navy. Still I love the song.
  • Tony from Mariposa, CaBy the sounds of a few of you here it is obvious why we are in Iraq today. Do you think maybe it was to stop the mass murdering that was going on with Saddam? And that we liberated 55 million human beings from a horrible life and for many a horrific death? Have you noticed that we haven't had any more terrorist attacks since 9-11? Or don't these facts matter to you? What Bush and Cheney have done is absolutely right. They have made mistakes like you and all of us. They are not perfect. They are human beings. But it is so like the U.S. to be generous, not just with our money, food, etc... but with the lives of our greatest hero', our troops. Obama wants to gut the military and run like France and Spain did/does. We should take oil from Iraq to help pay for the astronomical expenses we are incurring but we won't. AND, we should get this war over with. Fast. NOT by running but by hitting them hard, real hard. Show the world we cannot be forced into a corner. Power is the ONLY thing these terrorists understand. They want to be martyers? I say fine by me! But next time, remember Bill Clinton had Osama bin Laden handed to him on a silver platter and he said nope. If he would have paid more attention to his job than Monica we wouldn't even had to go to Iraq. It's too easy to blame someone, especially when people are ignorant to what and why it's happened/happening. Let's blame the president, let's blame big oil companies. Blame, blame, blame. Maybe for once we could be a country united again and quite blaming someone else. Now, go out and do what's right. Stand behind the troops and this president for once and show these terrorists what we're really made of.... PATRIOTISM. Like our father's had during WWII. Guts. Stamina. Compassion. Short on blame. Just my opinion. But I believe we'd set one heck of a great example to these terrorist that would love to cut your wife's throat in front of you that we're going to stand up to them and have some guts and stay the course come heck or high water. Let's get 'er done!

    Just one man's opinion, that's all.

  • Bobby from Killen, AlI read several Songfact Comments like the one from Steve in Atoka, OK, which, instead of commenting on the song, use the forum as a bully pulpit to declare God is dead yet Bush / Cheney are the devil... Music is the one thing that brings everyone together, and was , incidentally, created by God. I am a believer in God and have been saved by the grace of Jesus Christ. I believe you, too, can receive this free gift of salvation. But if you choose not to believe, that is up to you. Please, though, do not belittle yourself and offend others by declaring that once you are dead, you are dead; it is simply not true.
  • Steve from Atoka, Ok We should fight only to defend our country. Unfortunatly we are brain washed by our parents or we just don't read and become informed in our youth. Some don't all their lives. Thats why we have Bush and Chainey, who should both be tried and put into prison. We should be raised and know the truth about God and all other myths. When you are dead, you are DEAD. No Six Flags over Jesus when we die. Gimme a etc..........
  • Mark from Byrdstown, Tnyep this song should be played now....of course the line 'what are we fightin' for?' still applies as it does for most wars.

    The version they did at Woodstock has Joe leading the crowd of 400000 in a spelling of the word 'f--k' and then they whole crowd yells the word in unison about 5 times.very cool to hear that many people shouting "f--k", then they do this song.very awesome moment at a very awesome event .
  • James from Hillsboro, OhI believe this song pokes fun at those who fought as well. The way Country Joe McDonald and the Fish portrays the soldiers seems to show them as some mass group of mindless, obediant followers. They definately do not show the soldiers as individuals. The band relates some mass procedure of enlistment for national duty, as if they were the recruiters. I think this was a point hidden in the confines of the song.
  • Musicmama from New York, NyTo Roddy, Jillian and Wyatt: Amen! To Leroy: What, exactly, do you mean by "supporting our troops?" The government isn't even doing that: It's not only failing to provide protection for soldiers they send out on missions with no purpose other than to give Halliburton a billable; they also demand that maimed soldiers return their enlistment bonuses upon returning to the US.

    The best way to support the troops is to bring them home. I say this as someone who served in the US Army. I was fortunate not to be sent into a combat zone, although the possibility was always there, of course. Ever since my own experience, I've advised anybody who's thinking about joining to think long and hard about why they're enlisting. There are other ways to pay for college (the reason I joined), learn trades, travel to exotic foreign lands and such.

    About the song: Where are today's versions of it? It seems that the Dixie Chicks, Bruce Springsteen and U2 are the only current major musical performers who are specifically addressing America's current and past imperialistic wars in their work.
  • Wyatt from Anywhere, United StatesLeroy it gets pretty old hearing people saying things like you do. The arguement that one doesn't support troops because one doesn't agree with an unjust war is simply nothing more than using peer presure in an attempt to shame people into not following their conscious. It is our DUTY to keep the politicians and others in power inline, thats democracy (although we aren't really a democracy) I'm reall fed up with politiciams using the troops to hide behind and I'm e even more tirred of people who don't bother to find out the fact and expect others to just stick their heads in the sand because it rocks the boat of those abusing power. The problems in the middle east have roots in the exploitationof third world countries by western powers, includin the US. Geez the CIA overthrew the democratically elected government in Iran to put the Shah, who had no claims to power there. Similar things have been done in many countries including the CIA backed Penochet overthow of Chiles Democraticaly elected government. Now the US govenment wants to do similar things in Venezuala. The US needs to start practicing what it preaches and stop enforcing its brand of economic imperialism by covert action and military force. Now that the excuse of the Soviets is gone there is terrorism. What do you think the CIA is?? Its a terrorist organization employed by a powerful government with resources people like Bion Laden can only dream about. We are playing right into the hand of people like Bin Laden and they know the most powerful governments can't fight a populist war, BinLaden Knows his best chance for jihad is by having us there becasue we are ticking off the populations there who know our goverment's lack of integfrety better than we do becasue they see it all the time while we are over here isolated from the rest of the world and getting more so all the time. I remember George w Bush saying "there ought to be a limit to freedom" when his dirty dealings with the San Antonio Baseball team and dirty oil deals wer being exposed befoer he was elected. Well he's been trying to pull off his wish to limit our freedoms but even his buddies are turning against him now. There isn't a chance I'm going to shut up about this facade and I have that right, whether you like it or not! The only thing they have to be afraid of is the truth and its catching up to them!!!
  • Mike from Kingman, Az"Be the first one on the block to have your boy come home in a box." Just as Vietnam is now correctly considered as mistake and a terrible waste of lives and tax dollars (we accomplished nothing- except made the military industrial establishment wealthy), so too will Iraq be considered as a mistake someday. It is a mis-managed quagmire. There is no goal except making the military industrial establishment wealthy again. It is too bad that so little changes from generation to generation. This is not to disparage our soldiers- our leaders are the problem. Our soldiers are brave people who are misled or don't know any better. You will probably see the draft emerge again, as the Iraq war (actually world war 3) drags on.
  • Jillian from New York, Ny@ Leroy:

    Why stop arguing about the war? Is it not healthy for a democracy to dissent in time of "war"?

    You support the soldiers. I'm pretty sure most people do. I value human life. That is why I don't support this war. There is a big difference.

    Calling someone a hippie/weed smoker/unemployed is rather elementary...

    And if you actually read the documents from Vietnam and compare them to the media/events happening now, you will see some parallels.

    And to beat you to it: I have a life. I am employed. I am also a full-time university student. I just like to UNDERSTAND things, rather than accepting what has been claimed in the media and the political arena.
  • Leroy from Possumville, Vaplease take jake laehns comment of of this site it was not supposed to go on here, some one put it on there and it was not wuposed to go on, sorry for the horrible comment.
  • Leroy from Possumville, VaYou guys should stop arguing about the war in Iraq and do what you can to support the brave soldiers that are fighting for your freedom. You should be asamed of your selves, you are nothin but a bunch of hippies who have too much time on your hands. You are probably all hopped up on weed. Get a life and get a job and stop complaining, this is not nam.
  • Michael from Carbondale, IlI play this song at my own gigs and hope everyone els that performs will do the same.
  • Jaems from Washington, Nei mean world
  • Mark from Colorado Springs, CoJoe played a free outdoor show in west Colorado Springs a couple weeks ago, and in several instances he DID change Vit-Nam to I-Ran, ........and it worked!
    Joe looked good, healthy & was in good voice. He came out w/o a band, just he & a wooden guitar, and we all had a great, great time.

    Gimmie an F !
  • Fyodor from Denver, CoI think the key lyric is "What are we fighting for?"
  • Shaun from Sheffield, EnglandHey should' nt we change the word Vietnam to I-RAN?
  • Kim Phillips from Wichita, Ks Listening to the live performance at woodstock, chills came over me when in the middle of the song he encourages the audience to sing louder.
    "Listen people, I don't know how you expect to ever stop the war, if you can't sing any better than that..."
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Jackie DeShannon - "Put a Little Love in Your Heart"They're Playing My Song

It wasn't her biggest hit as a songwriter (that would be "Bette Davis Eyes"), but "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" had a family connection for Jackie.

Strange MagneticsSong Writing

How Bing Crosby, Les Paul, a US Army Signal Corps Officer, and the Nazis helped shape rock and Roll.

Chris Robinson of The Black CrowesSongwriter Interviews

"Great songwriters don't necessarily have hit songs," says Chris. He's written a bunch, but his fans are more interested in the intricate jams.

Billy Joe ShaverSongwriter Interviews

The outlaw country icon talks about the spiritual element of his songwriting and his Bob Dylan mention.

Michael BoltonSongwriter Interviews

Into the vaults for this talk with Bolton from the '80s when he was a focused on writing songs for other artists.

The FratellisSongwriter Interviews

Jon Fratelli talks about the band's third album, and the five-year break leading up to it.