The songwriter who penned one of the country’s most iconic war anthems says parody versions about the coronavirus crisis are disrespectful to Diggers.
The songwriter who penned one of the country’s most iconic war anthems says parody versions about the coronavirus crisis are disrespectful to Diggers.

‘It was COVID-19’ parodies are disrespectful: Songwriter

John Schumann has a message for COVID-19 parody songwriters - his Vietnam War anthem I Was Only 19 is strictly off-limits.

The Adelaide singer-songwriter recently approached a prankster who had replaced the words to I Was Only 19with lyrics about COVID-19 and asked him to remove the song from social media.

The joker complied, but it prompted Schumann to ask others to refrain from making new parodies out of respect for Australian Vietnam veterans and other military personnel, for whom the song is something of an unofficial anthem.

"When I pointed out the issues, the guy was actually really good," Schumann said.

"He told me that, instinctively, it felt a bit wrong when he was writing it but he persevered anyway.

"The musician was decent and genuine and he took it straight down, which was really good of him. I didn't want to create another war. There's plenty of them already.

"Unfortunately, however, there have been a few other parodies since, some of which have been broadcast nationally on mainstream media outlets."

Schumann said he was "not without a sense of humour" and had even recorded parody songs himself, but he felt I Was Only 19 was "a bit different".

"19 is very important to veterans," he said. "It's still their song. That's a song they play on Anzac Day. That's the song that resonates with them."

Schumann said he had always turned down any requests from people wanting to do parodies of the song out of respect for those who'd served.

John Schumann in concert.
John Schumann in concert.

"There are some things you don't mess with," he said.

"But most importantly, people need to stop to think that this is a song about veterans who will find themselves in the firing line of this virus. They're old and their health is compromised, often by their service. I don't want their song to be used to make a joke about the very thing that could take them out."

I Was Only 19 - also known as A Walk In The Light Green - was released by Schumann's folk-rock act Redgum in 1983. He wrote the song based on the experiences of his brother-in-law.

Originally published as 'It was COVID-19' parodies are disrespectful, songwriter says