Wednesday, 10 June 2009

How the Left Lost Teen Spirit

by Danny Goldberg

I was still emotionally connected to aspects of the political agenda of the counterculture. In May 1970 I joined yet another antiwar march on Washington with Danny Fields. Danny knew writer Stu Werbin, one of the organizers of the event, so we were welcomed into the fenced-off backstage area. This was before the era of slickly produced plastic laminated backstage passes. If you got backstage, you stayed there.

I was astonished to see my hero Phil Ochs, who had walked out into the crowd, trying to convince one of the young antiwar-movement security guards to let him back into the stage area. I rushed over and yelled at the guard that Ochs was part of the program. The guard acquiesced immediately, since I was on the right side of the fence and had conviction in my voice. Ochs waved appreciatively.

It was to be my only face-to-face encounter with my hero.

In retrospect, I realize that the confrontation between Ochs--with his populist instincts and his expansive nature--and the insecure security guard, binding himself with ill-defined rules of turf and an arbitrary pecking order, was an ominous symbol of a sad but stubborn fact: Political activists don't always respect or understand artists, even politically committed artists. And the resulting failure to communicate has haunted progressive American politics since the sixties.

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