John Fogerty's song "Déjà Vu (All Over Again)" seems likely to be one of the most enduring antiwar songs of our time.[1] It can be heard free of charge at the web site below.  --  Extensive notes on the song follow.[2] ...


By John Fogerty

      Did you hear them talking about it on the radio?
      Did you try to read the writing on the wall?
      Did that voice inside you say, 'I've heard it all before'?
      It's like déjà vu all over again.

   5 Day by day, I hear the voices rising --
      Started with a whisper, like it did before.
      Day by day, we count the dead and dying --
      Ship the bodies home, while the networks all keep score.

      Did you hear them talking about it on the radio?
 10  Could your eyes believe the writing on the wall?
      Did that voice inside you say, 'I've heard it all before'?
      It's like déjà vu all over again.

      One by one I see the old ghosts rising,
      Stumbling across Big Muddy, where the light gets dim.
 15  Day after day, another momma's crying --
      She's lost her precious child to a war that has no end.

      Did you hear them talking about it on the radio?
      Did you stop to read the writing at The Wall?
      Did that voice inside you say, 'I've seen this all before'?
 20 It's like déjà vu all over again.

      It's like déjà vu all over again.

Note: Lyrics retranscribed from the song as recorded, with words spelled out; punctuation and accent marks added.


By Mark Jensen

United for Peace of Pierce County
October 17, 2004

Title - 'Déjà vu' is a French expression made up of an adverb and a past participle of the verb 'voir'; the phrase means 'already seen' and can refer to the well-known psychological phenomenon of uncertain explanation; see for example Neppe Déjà Vu Research and Theory. The French lexicographer Paul Robert has dated the first use of the substantive ('le déjà-vu') in French to 1908, and the expression 'du déja-vu' (meaning something tiresomely trite or hackneyed) to 1938. The Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary defines 'déjà vu' as "an illusory feeling of having previously experienced a present situation; a form of paramnesia" and records a use as early as 1903. In 1937 Arthur Koestler wrote in Spanish Testament: "He is unable to shake off a dream-like feeling that he has had this nightmare before, a feeling that the psychologists term déjà vu." The OED adds a second definition: "The correct impression that something has been previously experienced; tedious familiarity," first appearing in 1960; it is in this sense that John Fogerty uses the term. For the expression 'déjà vu all over again,' see the note on line 4.

Line 1 - About one quarter of the American public now depends on Talk Radio for their knowledge of the world. "[T]he syndicated talk show host out of Washington . . . ranked by USA Today as one of the 25 most influential in the United States . . . demanded 'Don't they get it? Without us, they'll be riding camels again.' [Another] talk show host, skewing for the older listener . . . wanted to know whether I was frightened talking to Arabs. Much of this could have been amusing, but a recent Gallup poll, released in Jan. 2003, found that 22 per cent of those surveyed in the United States said that they got their news every day from Talk Radio, more than double the percentage who confessed the same thing just four years ago. . . . 'It's not producing an informed democracy,' said Amy Mitchell, at the Project for Excellence in Journalism, a group which strives to improve journalistic standards. Not only is Talk Radio, and America's increasing reliance on editorial opinion dressed up as infotainment not producing people who understand, and have a factual basis which they can use to evaluate the issues of the day, it is also reinforcing deeply held stereotypes born out of ignorance." --Sheila MacVicar, CNN correspondent.

Line 2 - An allusion to the handwriting on the wall at Belshazzar's feast, described in Daniel 5; the writing on the wall signifies the folly of those who are mad for power and wealth and worship "the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone," prophesying their inevitable demise, which they and their counselors are, however, unable to comprehend: "King Belshazzar made a great festival for a thousand of his lords, and he was drinking wine in the presence of the thousand. Under the influence of the wine, Belshazzar commanded that they bring in the vessels of gold and silver that his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. So they brought in the vessels of gold and silver that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone. Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and began writing on the plaster of the wall of the royal palace, next to the lampstand. The king was watching the hand as it wrote. Then the king's face turned pale, and his thoughts terrified him. His limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together. The king cried aloud to bring in the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the diviners; and the king said to the wise men of Babylon, 'Whoever can read this writing and tell me its interpretation shall be clothed in purple, have a chain of gold around his neck, and rank third in the kingdom.' Then all the king's wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king the interpretation. Then King Belshazzar became greatly terrified and his face turned pale, and his lords were perplexed. The queen, when she heard the discussion of the king and his lords, came into the banqueting hall. The queen said, 'O king, live forever! Do not let your thoughts terrify you or your face grow pale. There is a man in your kingdom who is endowed with a spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father he was found to have enlightenment, understanding, and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods. Your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and diviners, because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will give the interpretation.' Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king said to Daniel, 'So you are Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah? I have heard of you that a spirit of the gods is in you, and that enlightenment, understanding, and excellent wisdom are found in you. Now the wise men, the enchanters, have been brought in before me to read this writing and tell me its interpretation, but they were not able to give the interpretation of the matter. But I have heard that you can give interpretations and solve problems. Now if you are able to read the writing and tell me its interpretation, you shall be clothed in purple, have a chain of gold around your neck, and rank third in the kingdom.' Then Daniel answered in the presence of the king, 'Let your gifts be for yourself, or give your rewards to someone else! Nevertheless I will read the writing to the king and let him know the interpretation. O king, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar kingship, greatness, glory, and majesty. And because of the greatness that he gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. He killed those he wanted to kill, kept alive those he wanted to keep alive, honored those he wanted to honor, and degraded those he wanted to degrade. But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he acted proudly, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and his glory was stripped from him. He was driven from human society, and his mind was made like that of an animal. His dwelling was with the wild asses, he was fed grass like oxen, and his body was bathed with the dew of heaven, until he learned that the Most High God has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals, and sets over it whomever he will. And you, Belshazzar his son, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this! You have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven! The vessels of his temple have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines have been drinking wine from them. You have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know; but the God in whose power is your very breath, and to whom belong all your ways, you have not honored. 'So from his presence the hand was sent and this writing was inscribed. And this is the writing that was inscribed: mene, mene, tekel, and parsin. This is the interpretation of the matter: mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; tekel, you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting; peres, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.' Then Belshazzar gave the command, and Daniel was clothed in purple, a chain of gold was put around his neck, and a proclamation was made concerning him that he should rank third in the kingdom. That very night Belshazzar, the Chaldean king, was killed. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old." (Revised Standard Version)

Line 3 - Plato, in the Apology (a version of the speech Socrates gave in his defense before he was put to death in 399 B.C. on charges of impiety and corrupting the youth of Athens), described the authority of the inner voice, and its incompatibility with service to the state: "Someone may wonder why I go about in private, giving advice and busying myself with the concerns of others, but do not venture to come forward in public and advise the state. I will tell you the reason of this. You have often heard me speak of an oracle or sign which comes to me, and is the divinity which Meletus ridicules in the indictment. This sign I have had ever since I was a child. The sign is a voice which comes to me and always forbids me to do something which I am going to do, but never commands me to do anything, and this is what stands in the way of my being a politician. And rightly, as I think. For I am certain, O men of Athens, that if I had engaged in politics, I should have perished long ago and done no good either to you or to myself. And don't be offended at my telling you the truth: for the truth is that no man who goes to war with you or any other multitude, honestly struggling against the commission of unrighteousness and wrong in the state, will save his life; he who will really fight for the right, if he would live even for a little while, must have a private station and not a public one."

Line 4 - On Feb. 20, 2002, Nancy Snow, in a piece entitled Déjà Vu All Over Again published by Common Dreams, asked: "Is the War on Terror beginning to sound like déjà vu all over again?" She was referring to the Pentagon's announcement of the "Office of Strategic Influence": "Poor Yogi Berra. He never knew just how analogous baseball would be to the propaganda war. The Pentagon has just publicly announced the existence of the Office of Strategic Influence (OSI). Created shortly and in secret after September 11, OSI is an arm of the Bush Administration’s overall wartime communications effort to advance the U.S. government’s perspective in Islamic countries and to generate global support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism. OSI is now 'developing plans to provide news items, possibly even false ones, to foreign media organizations' in an effort 'to influence public sentiment and policy makers in both friendly and unfriendly countries.'" (The office was closed down as a result of the public outcry that followed its announcement, but several months later Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged that its programs were still being carried out.) A recent commentary on the expression, now well known, complained: "'It seems like it's deja vu all over again,' is a redundantly mangled saying usually attributed to baseball player Yogi Berra. Over the ensuing decades clever writers would allude to this blunder in their prose by repeating the phrase 'deja vu all over again,' assuming that their readers would catch the allusion and share a chuckle with them. Unfortunately, recently the phrase has been worn to a frazzle and become all but substituted for the original, so that not only has it become a very tired joke indeed -- a whole generation has grown up thinking that the mangled version is the correct form of the expression. Give it a rest, folks!" Far from being trite, however, Fogerty's melancholy refrain plays on the tiresomeness the phrase is apt to evoke.

Line 5 - On May 16, 2004, Zogby International reported: "Nearly two in three (63.8%) disapprove of Bush's job performance regarding the war in Iraq -- an eighteen-point drop within the last six months. Just over one in three (35.6%) rate his performance as 'positive.'"

Line 6 - Immediately after the invasion of Iraq, the percentage of Americans who opposed the Iraq dropped to 22% (April 8-9), according to Zogby International, from 42% on March 14-15.

Line 7 - Ed Stephan of Western Washington University has produced a superb graphic illustrating how we "count the dead and dying."

Line 8 - In fact, how (and whether) the networks "keep score" has been the subject of much criticism. Ellen Goodman wrote in April 2003: "As Michael Herr wrote about covering the Vietnam War in Dispatches, he 'never found a way to report meaningfully about death, which of course was really what it was all about.'"

Line 10 - By introducing the question of credibility, Fogerty raises the problem of media failure. As Paul Craig Roberts wrote on Oct. 16, 2004: "By substituting fiction for reality, the U.S. media took the country to war. The CNN and Fox News 'journalists" are as responsible for America's ill-fated invasion of Iraq as Cheney and Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Perle." The connection between 'wall' and media is also established by the role of the talking walls in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, in which Montag's wife, Mildred, has more of a relationship with the voices that speak to her from the 'walls' than with Montag, who thinks: "Well, wasn't there a wall between him and Mildred, when you came down to it? Literally not just one wall, but so far, three!"

Line 14 - The Vietnam antiwar song Waist Deep in the Big Muddy Pete Seeger sang in 1967 itself looked back to a previous wartime disaster: "It was back in nineteen forty-two,/I was a member of a good platoon./We were on maneuvers in-a Loozianna,/One night by the light of the moon./The captain told us to ford a river,/That's how it all begun./We were -- knee deep in the Big Muddy,/But the big fool said to push on./The Sergeant said, "Sir, are you sure,/This is the best way back to the base?"/"Sergeant, go on! I forded this river/'Bout a mile above this place./It'll be a little soggy but just keep slogging./We'll soon be on dry ground."/We were -- waist deep in the Big Muddy/And the big fool said to push on./The Sergeant said, "Sir, with all this equipment/No man will be able to swim."/"Sergeant, don't be a Nervous Nellie,"/The Captain said to him./"All we need is a little determination;/Men, follow me, I'll lead on."/We were -- neck deep in the Big Muddy/And the big fool said to push on./All at once, the moon clouded over,/We heard a gurgling cry./A few seconds later, the captain's helmet/Was all that floated by./The Sergeant said, "Turn around men!/I'm in charge from now on."/And we just made it out of the Big Muddy/With the captain dead and gone./We stripped and dived and found his body/Stuck in the old quicksand./I guess he didn't know that the water was deeper/Than the place he'd once before been./Another stream had joined the Big Muddy/'Bout a half mile from where we'd gone./We were lucky to escape from the Big Muddy/When the big fool said to push on./Well, I'm not going to point any moral;/I'll leave that for yourself/Maybe you're still walking, you're still talking/You'd like to keep your health./But every time I read the papers/That old feeling comes on;/We're -- waist deep in the Big Muddy/And the big fool says to push on./Waist deep in the Big Muddy/And the big fool says to push on./Waist deep in the Big Muddy/And the big fool says to push on./Waist deep! Neck deep! Soon even a/Tall man'll be over his head, we're/Waist deep in the Big Muddy!/And the big fool says to push on!" In a Reuters piece published on Oct. 10, 2004, (Seeger, Fogerty, Rollin' down a River) Jim Bessman wrote: "Seeger, who gave us 'We Shall Overcome' and 'Turn! Turn! Turn!,' was blacklisted in the early 1950s as a member of pioneering folk quartet the Weavers. The legendary folk singer has just been informed that the title track from John Fogerty's new album, 'Deja Vu All Over Again,' alludes to Seeger's nettlesome '60s anti-war anthem 'Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.' The Vietnam-era song is an allegorical tale of reckless military maneuvers in a Louisiana river ('We're waist deep in the Big Muddy/And the big fool says to push on!'). Controversy surrounding Seeger's performance of it on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" in 1968 contributed to the TV show's cancellation. 'It's fascinating to see how the establishment reacts to the arts,' Seeger says, referring to the [Youssef] Islam [Cat Stevens] flap, 'but a good song is hard to keep down and can leap all barriers.'" In the same Reuters piece, John Fogerty is quoted talking about Seeger's song: "'"Big Muddy" was definitely in my mind as I was completing "Deja Vu,"' Fogerty says, referring to the single. 'It took several months to get that second verse. I wanted to try and measure up to what Pete has done in fulfilling the idea rather than cheapening out, and I had him in mind many, many times.' . . . 'It's a direct descendent of what he had done,' Fogerty notes. 'He influenced me so much. That's how I was able to come up with it.'"

Line 15 - Perhaps an allusion to Lila Lipscomb, the bereaved mother who figures prominently in Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11."

Line 16 - On October 21, 2001, Bob Woodward published an article in the Washington Post which quoted Vice President Dick Cheney as saying that the war on terrorism was "different than the Gulf War was, in the sense that it may never end. At least, not in our lifetime" (Rahul Mahajan, Full Spectrum Dominance [Seven Stories Press, 2003], p. 42).

Line 18 - The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., is often referred to (even in the URL of one of the many web pages devoted to it) as The Wall. This extraordinary 248-foot-long black granite monument in the heart of the nation's capital, on which nearly 58,000 names of U.S. war dead appear, was designed by Maya Ying Lin while she still a student at Yale University and built in 1982. It has been the subject of many studies and tributes and is so well-known as to need no commentary here. More than 25 million people are estimated to have visited The Wall; at present about 2.5 million Americans come each year.

Line 21 - The repetition of an often repeated line about repetition, in reference to war, can itself be taken as a subtle commentary on what James Joyce called the "nightmare" of history (from which Stephen Dedalus, in Ulysses, so ardently desires to awake).