Monday, 17 March 2008

Theo: The Autobiography of Theodore Bikel

Back in the sixties, there were several major songwriters who dealt specifically with political events. One was Tom Paxton, who still continues to be extraordinarily productive, albeit not exclusively in the broadside vein. Another was a young man named Phil Ochs. Phil's pain from what he read and saw resulted in a prolific flow of lyrics from his pen and of music from his guitar. He would come to my apartment and sing for me his latest songs. I was often struck by the thought that he could not possibly keep on with these raw feelings without psychologically coming to grief. Little did I know that he would come to even greater harm than that. Occasionally I would sing his songs to people who were not familiar with Phil Ochs and the songs made quite an impact. One time I was a guest in Senator Gaylord Nelson's house in Maryland when Hubert Humphrey came to visit. I decided to sing Phil's song "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore" and wondered how the guests would take it. They applauded heartily, but I also saw some disturbed looks in their eyes, as though I had broached a subject that might better have been avoided in polite society.

With time Phil Ochs became embittered. Perhaps one should have had an inkling of what was going through his mind when, sometime around 1964, with John Kennedy dead and buried, he said to Bob Dylan, "Politics, it's all bullshit, man. That's all it is. If somebody was to tell the truth, they're gonna be killed."* Phil Ochs was a man who had dreams and a vision of a just society. Then he gave up on the dream and went and took his own life. He was right to have had the dream: How tragic that he lost it.

[*Bikel erroneously attributes this quotation to Ochs; in fact, Dylan said similar words to Ochs, as Ochs related in his 1968 Broadside interview.]

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