When it comes to Anzac Day, Australian singer/songwriter JohnSchumann says, “There could be a hundred of me and there still wouldn’t be enough to go around!” referring to the huge success of his 1983 song, ‘I Was Only 19’.
I first met John when I started working for his then-record company, CBS, in 1988. I was 22. We had to attend the company Christmas party dressed as ‘a song’.
Fortunately, we survived this and remain friends to this day.
John Schumann will be spending Anzac Day this year in the Hunter Valley to perform at the Gumball Festival having chosen to do this local music festival rather than the numerous other requests he’s received for performances in different parts of the country.
John wrote ‘I Was Only 19’ after listening to the stories of returned serviceman, including family members, revealing the impact on themof serving in Vietnam.
The song has become an incredibly powerful anthem for generations of returned servicemen and their families and is one of the APRA Top 30 Australian Songs of All Time.
I’ve known John Schumann for over 25 years and spoke with him about how he feels about having written such an iconic song.
“It’s quite astounding that it’s been that long. It’s just extraordinary to think that we still talk about the song and that it’s still as powerful today as it was when it was written.”
“I’m really delighted that the song is still requested by listeners. A songwriter gets to write a song like Only 19 once in his or her life. I’m unbelievably blessed.”
“I remember there was a Jackson Browne song, The Road, in which there was a line that said ‘a good song takes you far’ and, boy, I’ve been to so many places and met so many amazing people and done so many amazing things on the back of ‘I Was Only 19’ that I couldn’t begin to tell you.”
“When we released the song the record company tried to interest the Americans in it.”
“The Americans came back and said, “We’re not sure our audiences are going to understand ‘Puckapunyal’ and ‘Shoal Water’ and ‘Canungra’ and ‘Townsville’ so can we change the words to make it more American?”
“You can imagine my response! It was based on the fact that we have to suck up New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Jackson, Michigan, Memphis, yada yada … in all the songs that we get spoon fed so what is it that’s so precious about the Americans that they can’t cope with Canungra, Puckapunyal, Townsville and all that stuff.”
“As it happens, all the American vets who’ve heard I Was Only 19 love it, and not one has ever suggested I should change the lyrics, they love it as it is.”