Redgum Classic ‘I Was Only 19’ Turns 40 -
Redgum I Was Only 19

Redgum Classic ‘I Was Only 19’ Turns 40

by Paul Cashmere on March 22, 2023

in News

‘I Was Only 19’, Redgum’s classic Vietnam War song, has just turned 40 years old.

‘I Was Only 19’ was released in March 1983. The song is a first person account of an Australia soldier’s experience in Vietnam. Schumann based the words on stories from his brother-in-law Mike Storen and Frankie Hunt, both Vietnam veterans.

John Schumann tells, “Its quite extraordinary to think how long that song has lasted. Even today I am surprised by the level of affection there is right across Australia for that song. Even from people who weren’t even born when it went to number one. I am definitely blessed. A songwriter very rarely gets to write a song like ‘I Was Only 19’.”

To put a timeline on the song, when the song was released in 1983 it was just eight years after the Vietnam war ended. John almost didn’t finish the song when Don Walker beat him to a Vietnam story in Cold Chisel’s classic ‘Khe Sanh’. “I was toying with the idea of a song about Vietnam veterans and then Don (Walker) wrote ‘Khe Sanh’ (Cold Chisel) and I thought he hit it over the fence for six and there was no room,” John tells “Somehow, for some reason or other I wrote mine anyway. While the broad mass of Australian’s still love ‘Khe Sanh’ the thing that gave mine its cred was I got the detail right. The Vietnam Veterans, they understood what Don was trying to say with ‘Khe Sanh’ but they absolutely identified and resonated with ‘I Was Only 19’. It was their commitment to the song, their approval, no matter how painful it was, it was their approval that dragged the rest of us”.

John adds, “The fact is Australian’s weren’t at Khe Sanh. I was singing about Nui Dat and Vung Tau and Don was singing about Khe Sanh. It is only those people that understand about Australia’s participation in the Vietnam War know that”.

John Schumann will be performing his shows ‘The Redgum Years starring John Schumann and the Vagabond Crew, ‘Lawson – A Life In Words and Music’, and ‘Backtracks’ over various dates in Canberra, Sydney, Newcastle, Melbourne, the Yarra Ranges, Adelaide, Brisbane and Byron Bay. For full details on when each show is playing visit John’s website.

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