Although they did some goofy stuff, the best work from Country Joe and the Fish was incredibly psychedelic. Whoever recorded their first several records did a sensational job, as the transfers to CD show. Their instrumentation was simple, almost primitive – guitar, bass, drums, a particularly cheesy organ sound. But somehow they combined and amalgamated these elements into something that really was great, at least, for some of the time. But that’s not what I want to discuss.
Rather, I was listening to their song, “Superbird,” which goes in part like this:
“Look, up yonder in the sky, now, what is that I pray?
It’s a bird it’s a plane, it’s a man insane, it’s my President LBJ
He’s flying high way up in the sky just like Superman,
But I have got a little piece of kryptonite,
Yes, I’ll bring him back to land.
Said come out Lyndon with your hands held high,
Drop your guns, baby, and reach for the sky.
I’ve got you surrounded and you ain’t got a chance,
Gonna send you back to Texas, make you work on your ranch,
Yeah, yeah, oh yeah.”
Send you back to Texas, make you work on your ranch? Wait a minute, we’ve got another President now, also from Texas, who somehow has managed to involve us in another quagmire-like war, only this time it’s in the hot sands of the desert, as opposed to the wet jungles of Vietnam. I know that “pray” rhymes with “J,” but this strikes me as a minor detail, there must be some appropriate word that would go with “GWB.”
Then I was thinking that maybe Country Joe and the Fish could collaborate (somehow) with the Dixie Chicks, who have no love lost for W. As everybody knows, Natalie Maines (one of the DC’s), said between songs at a concert: “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas.” This provoked a storm of controversy, which arguably had genuine economic impact. For example, some people boycotted their concerts; and, country music radio, which generally speaking is pretty conservative, stopped playing their records. The other side of the coin is that they were transitioning out of being a country music act to begin with, like LeAnn Rimes or Faith Hill; and, the hubbub of activity created a ton of free publicity, dramatically enhancing their cultural profile and visibility. In fact, a movie about it, “Shut Up and Sing,” premiered at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival, and went on to so-so box office results. What better validation than to have an actual movie made about you!
So, Country Joe and the Fish, meet the Dixie Chicks; Dixie Chicks, meet Country Joe.