The old anti war ballads are new again

An anti-war collaboration between a famed ‘60s counterculturalist and the Bard of the Yukon has recently resurfaced.

An anti-war collaboration between a famed ‘60s counterculturalist and the Bard of the Yukon has recently resurfaced.

Country Joe McDonald is thrilled with the piece, and hopes it continues to build a fan base.

War War War is the American rock musician’s obscure 1970 album of Robert Service poetry put to music.

It was recently re-recorded live at an outdoor festival in Castlegar, BC, honouring Vietnam War resisters.

Consisting mainly of poetry from Service’s Rhymes of a Red Cross Man, the album is a powerful journey throughout all the different human stages of war.

McDonald is well-known for his 1965 anti-Vietnam protest song Fixin’ To Die Rag, which acquired legendary status after being performed live at the 1969 Woodstock music festival.

McDonald still performs the song at festivals, and is heavily involved in the contemporary anti-Iraq war movement.

“I’ve been part of the anti-war movement for, gosh, 40 years,” he said.

War War War was a commercial flop; the album only existed on vinyl for about 10 years.

“We sold way less than a 100,000 copies,” said MacDonald.

But for years, McDonald has received requests from fans looking to obtain a copy of the now-discontinued album.

(A used copy of the record can cost upwards of $150 on .)

Blocked from re-release by the original publisher, MacDonald’s 2007 recording was done to resurrect the music and bring it to a wider audience.

Consisting mainly of poems from Service’s Rhymes of a Red Cross Man, the album is a powerful operatic journey throughout the different stages of war.

Through nine acoustic songs, the album follows soldiers, munitions makers, refugees and grieving fathers.

The Man from Athabasca is a haunting ballad about the journey of a northern Canadian trapper to the trenches of northern France. 

In one passage, the man regales French soldiers with stories of Canada while war rages around them.

“And I tell them of the Furland, of the tumpline and the paddle,

      Of secret rivers loitering, that no one will explore;

        … While above the star-shells fizzle and the high explosives roar.”

War Widow is laden with typical Robert Service sarcasm: the war is praised for ridding an overpopulated society of young men.

The album ends with The March of the Dead, a poem imagining a parade of resurrected war dead crashing the jubilant celebrations of a Boer War victory celebration.

The song is a fitting finale because, even with all the heroism and sacrifice of war, at the end “all you’ve got is a bunch of dead people.”

From beginning to end, the album is “interesting and typical of the memories of people who experience war,” said McDonald, who has spent extensive time with Vietnam War veterans.

A former military-man himself, McDonald’s career has always sought to take anti-war stances from the perspective of the soldiers.

Recorded in only two days, McDonald still sees the album as a masterwork from “on high.”

“Just last year when I sang them all together … I thought, ‘man, this is great stuff, the most powerful anti-war musical piece I’ve ever heard in my life.’”

“That I had a part composing it is unbelievable,” he said.

I just did it because I was inspired, because it was fun, and I’m amazed that it’s (lasted this long)

The advantage of looking at war through the experiences of the First World War is that it can be examined beyond the context of politics, said MacDonald.

“We develop issues around current wars … but with WWI we have the luxury of distance, and we can all agree that this was fucking horrible.”

Media surrounding more recent conflicts can still be tainted by personal feelings of anger, patriotism and resentment, said McDonald.

War War War (live) is available through Apple’s iTunes or

Just Posted

Willow Brewster, a paramedic helping in the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre, holds a swab used for the COVID-19 test moments before using it on Nov. 24. The Yukon government is reopening the drive-thru option on June 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Drive-up COVID-19 testing opening June 18 in Whitehorse

The drive-up testing will be open from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. everyday and increase testing capacity by 33 spots

A draft plan has been released by the Dawson Regional Use Planning commission on June 15. Julien Gignac/Yukon News
Draft plan released by the Dawson Regional Land Use Planning Commission

Dawson Regional Land Use Commission releases draft plan, Government of Yukon withdraws additional lands from mineral staking in the planning region

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Let them live in trailers

“I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city… Continue reading


Wyatt’s World for June 18, 2021.… Continue reading

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Yukon News file)
Yukon logs nine new COVID-19 cases, 54 active cases

More CEMA enforcement officers have been recruited, officials say

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council at its June 14 meeting

Murray Arsenault sits in the drivers seat of his 1975 Bricklin SV1 in Whitehorse on June 16. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Bringing the 1975 Bricklin north

Murray Arsenault remembers his dad’s Bricklin, while now driving his own

A presumptive COVID case was found at Seabridge Gold’s 3 Aces project. (file photo)
Presumptive COVID-19 case reported at mine in southeast Yukon

A rapid antigen rest found a presumptive COVID case on an incoming individual arriving at the 3Aces project

Jonathan Antoine/Cabin Radio
Flooding in Fort Simpson on May 8.
Fort Simpson asked for military help. Two people showed up.

FORT SIMPSON—Residents of a flooded Northwest Territories village expected a helping hand… Continue reading

A woman was rescued from the Pioneer Ridge Trail in Alaska on June 16. (Photo courtesy/AllTrails)
Alaska hiker chased off trail by bears flags down help

ANCHORAGE (AP)—An Alaska hiker who reported needing help following bear encounters on… Continue reading

Two participants cross the finish line at the City of Whitehorse Kids Triathlon on June 12 with Mayor Dan Curtis on hand to present medals. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
2021 Kids’ Triathlon draws 76 young athletes

Youth ages five to 14 swim, run and bike their way to finish line

NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq rises in the House of Commons, in Ottawa on May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Unacceptable’ that Inuk MP felt unsafe in House of Commons, Miller says

OTTAWA—It’s a “sad reflection” on Canada that an Inuk MP feels she’s… Continue reading

Lily Witten performs her Canadian Nationals beam routine on June 14. John Tonin/Yukon News
Three Yukon gymnasts break 20-year Nationals absence

Bianca Berko-Malvasio, Maude Molgat and Lily Witten competed at the Canadian Nationals – the first time in 20 years the Yukon’s been represented at the meet

Most Read