[sixties-l] Country Joe focuses on causes he loves

From: radtimes (resist@best.com)
Date: Fri Sep 21 2001 - 18:25:14 EDT

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    Country Joe focuses on causes he loves

    COUNTRY Joe McDonald, former front man for Country Joe and the Fish, author
    of the world-famous "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag," (Gimme an F. . .),
    veterans rights activist and father of five, has a new CD out called
    He recorded it at his home in Berkeley and sells it himself from the
    Country Store on his Web site of the same name as the CD. It reflects his
    new way of doing business.
    "I haven't turned a profit yet," he says. "But I tell everyone I made as
    much money as Amazon.com."
    McDonald, 59, looks a bit more grizzled than he did when he posed as Pancho
    Villa for an early Fish album cover. But he has retained the bemused
    expression and sardonic manner that have served him well during more than
    three decades in the public eye. And the same concerns.
    His Web site has a discussion board about the current crisis because, as he
    says, it's "better to do something than just sit around and worry."
    In the sixties, Country Joe became famous for skewering the political
    ("Tricky Dickie From Yorba Linda"), cultural ("Now if you're feeling a bit
    low down / can't seem to get your feet off the ground / Maybe you oughtta
    try a little bit of LSD") and social ("Be the first one on your block to
    have your boy come home in a box") life of a nation at war with itself and
    a faraway enemy in Vietnam. And he did it in a way that both entertained
    audiences and got his deadly serious point across.
    His accidental appearance at Woodstock sealed his acceptance as a cultural
    icon. He could have mined the '60s revival vein for probably a long time
    and a lot of profit.
    But he veered instead to the area of veterans rights, working with Vietnam
    veterans associations to protest the shameful treatment the veterans had
    received when they returned home and to make sure their contribution was
    appreciated and recognized. And the work with the vets led him to another
    subject that's become a guiding passion for him: Florence Nightingale.
    "In 1981 there was a two-day Vietnam War Symposium at Veterans Hall," he
    recalls. "Ron Kovic was there, and Lynda Van Devanter, the Vietnam nurse
    who wrote 'Home Before Morning.' There were only about 50 of us there, but
    we were all movers and shakers. Lynda accused us of being sexist, and it
    was true. Here I was trying to be politically correct, and I had forgotten
    all about women in the military. The war on women is still alive and well.
    And it's become a cutting-edge issue for me because I have three daughters."

    McDonald wrote a song for Lynda about Vietnam nurses, called "The Girl Next
    Door." He wrote a song about Clara Barton, who started the Red Cross. He
    wrote a song called "Thank the Nurse," that appears on the new CD.
    He married a nurse, his current wife and the mother of his two youngest
    children. And he began researching the life of Florence Nightingale, who
    had tended wounded soldiers during the Crimean War and founded the
    profession of nursing.
    At the old Holmes Books in downtown Oakland, McDonald found some books
    about Nightingale. In his reading, he discovered an interesting thing about
    her. After the end of the Crimean War, Nightingale suffered from a
    mysterious nervous malady that caused her to become reclusive for the rest
    of her life, which lasted another fifty years.
    Its parallels with post-traumatic stress disorder intrigued him. PTSD was
    an issue he had embraced in his work with the vets. He wrote a song about
    her, "Lady With the Lamp," and became a student of her life. His tribute to
    her in the link from his Web site is recommended by Britannica.com and the
    California Nurses Association.
    McDonald's own life has been remarkably consistent. He is a stay-at-home
    dad who likes to describe himself as "a housewife." He tries to practice
    guitar for about two hours each day, works out to maintain the stamina he
    needs to perform two sets, cooks and cleans for his family and helps his
    children with their homework.
    He says he doesn't need to write many new songs, because he's recorded 35
    albums, and most of those were his own songs.
    "Reclusiveness is an aspect of old age," he says. "You just wanna be left
    He is pleased that the latest recording technology and Web marketing enable
    him to do most of his business from home. He suffers from a malady he calls
    "phonephobia" but likes to communicate by e-mail.
    McDonald will be playing at Biscuits and Blues in San Francisco on Oct. 11.
    He doesn't play many gigs in the East Bay, he says, and when he does,
    people don't come to hear him.
    "Berkeley takes no pride in its radical individualism," he says. "Since my
    mother died (Florence McDonald served on the Berkeley City Council and the
    Rent Board before her death in 1988), it's become really cliquey and
    bourgeois. It's a bourgeois town," he says, quoting the old Leadbelly song,
    "and it's grumpy as hell."
    Of course he has no plans to move or retire. "I have to work," he says.
    "Work is value, and what you get from work is money to buy food, and then
    you get to eat it. I like to cook. I've been doing it for 33 years. And I
    like to work. I sing my causes and the things I'm interested in."
    You can e-mail Susan Lydon at slydon@angnewspapers.com

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