Jan Berry: “Universal Coward” (1966)

Jan Berry (1941-2004) was a member of Jan and Dean, a popular American musical duo of the 1960s. They formed in 1958 after Berry began performing with Dean Torrance (1940- ).

Like their contemporaries The Beach Boys, Jan and Dean became popular for West Coast surf rock, later releasing folk-oriented music. Among their more successful songs were Surf City, Dead Man’s Curve and The Little Old Lady from Pasadena.

jan berry universal coward

The son of a wealthy engineer who produced military aircraft, Jan Berry (pictured above) was a political conservative and a supporter of American military intervention in Vietnam.

In late 1965, Berry penned The Universal Coward, a conservative response to Donovan’s prominent anti-war song Universal Soldier. He recorded and released The Universal Coward alone after Dean Torrance declined to participate.

The lyrics of The Universal Coward launched a vitriolic attack on groups opposed to the Vietnam War, describing them as “scroungers”, “twisted”, “fanatic” and “thick-skulled”. Despite Berry’s profile, The Universal Coward was neither a critical or financial success. The song received little radio airplay and failed to make the singles charts.

Later that year, Berry was involved in a serious car accident. He suffered brain damage and partial paralysis, from which he later recovered. He died in 2004, shortly before his 63rd birthday.

He’s young, he’s old, he’s in-between
And he’s so very much confused
He’ll scrounge around and protest all day long
He joins the pickets at Berkeley
And he burns up his draft card
And he’s twisted into thinking that fighting is all wrong

He’s a pacifist, an extremist
A communist or just a Yank
A demonstrator, an agitator or just a nave
A conscientious objector
A fanatic, a defector
And he doesn’t know he’s digging his own grave

Oh he just can’t get it through his thick skull
Why the mighty USA
Has got to be a watchdog of the world
He’ll see the USSR
Will bury us from afar
And he’ll never see the missiles being hurled

He’s the universal coward
And he runs from anything
From a giant, from a human, from an elf
He runs from Uncle Sam
And he runs from Vietnam
But most of all he’s running from himself

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