Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Power Misses: Essays Across (Un)Popular Culture

by David E. James

Ochs's intervention was focused by the chart-topping success in 1965 of Barry McGuire's 'Eve of Destruction.' While extremely controversial and accused of Communist subversion, the melodramatic foreboding the song projected was so vague that it could align fear of nuclear disaster with both anti-Communist and civil rights issues to suggest an equivalence between all the 'hate in Red China' and that in Selma, Alabama. Referring to it, Ochs insisted on the importance of distinguishing 'between songs that really make a point like [Bob Dylan's] "Hattie Carroll" and songs that make vague philosophical points that can be taken any way by anybody' (Pichaske 1989, p. xx) -- precisely the difference in the function between lyrics in folk and in rock. His own more specific writing reflected his belief that the folk singer had to become a 'walking newspaper' to compensate for the mendacity and irresponsibility of television and the mass media (Ochs 1963, n.p.). Ochs himself wrote songs about the Kennedy assassination, the Bay of Pigs, and, beginning as early as 1962, Viet Nam, including 'Talking Vietnam Blues' (1964), 'Draft Dodger Rag' and 'I Ain't Marching Anymore' (1965), 'The War Is Over' (1967), and 'White Boots Marching in a Yellow Land' (1968).

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