Country Joe McDonald and the Fish “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die-Rag”

Contributed by Joe Knap, Bay High School, Bay Village, OH.

Rationale

“I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die-Rag” by Country Joe McDonald has been played with great success in classrooms for over twenty years. While it conveys literary elements such as theme, point of view, and irony, it also functions as an entertaining primary source illustrating the part angry, part irreverent anti-war sentiments of the counter-culture in the late 1960s.

Objectives

The student will be able to:

  1. Recognize the point of view of the speaker;
  2. Identify the audience for whom the song was written;
  3. Explain the historical context of details of the song;
  4. Analyze what this primary source reveals about the era in which it was written.

Materials

CD/tape players and the music and lyrics for “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die-Rag”

Time Frame

One class period should be sufficient to discuss the song; more time may be need if the historical context needs to be presented.

Audience

This song should be accessible to students grades 9-12. Note: the word “damn” appears in the refrain. If the live version from the Woodstock album is used, avoid the “Fish” cheer that immediately precedes the song, and be aware that before the last stanza, Country Joe, when talking to the audience, uses the “f” word. The word may be easily edited out when taping the song.

Procedures

Preliminary discussion may be held on both pro- and anti-war sentiment during the late 1960s. Distribute lyrics to each student and play the song. Discussion should focus on:

  1. Point of view. The students should know that the speaker is anti-war, and that many of his statements illustrate a sarcastic or ironic point of view. Students should have no trouble recognizing that such lines as “We’re going’ to go have a whole lot of fun” and “Whoopee! we’re all gonna die!” are not to be taken literally. They should approach the entire song with that understanding.
  2. The intended audience. While some audiences might have been offended by certain parts of the song, the counter-culture, anti-war audience would have enjoyed the elements of sarcasm and irreverent humor. A sophisticated class might be able to see the same attitude inherent in other forms, be it Abbie Hoffman’s Yippies or Joseph Heller’s Catch 22.
  3. Historical context. Each stanza of the song parodies concepts about the war. The “better Red than dead” position, the idea that war is good for the economy, career opportunities for generals, and the “keep up with the neighbors” attitude are all mocked in the song.
  4. Diction and structure. The colloquial diction gives the song an informal and conversational tone. The nursery rhyme-like “AABBCC” rime scheme emphasizes the humorous tone of the lyrics.

Selected Recordings

“I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die-Rag” by Country Joe McDonald and the Fish