Monday, 30 November 2009

Phil Ochs Covers: Bob Fox & Stu Luckley - The Thresher

War and American Popular Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia

By M. Paul Holsinger

Spanning more than 400 years of America's past, this book brings together, for the first time, entries on the ways Americans have mythologized both the many wars the nation has fought and the men and women connected with those conflicts. Focusing on significant representations in popular culture, it provides information on fiction, drama, poems, songs, film and television, art, memorials, photographs, documentaries, and cartoons. From the colonial wars before 1775 to our 1997 peacekeeper role in Bosnia, the work briefly explores the historical background of each war period, enabling the reader to place each of the more than 500 entries into their proper context.


OCHS, PHIL (Songwriter-Folksinger). No single songwriter more clearly expressed the anger and frustration felt by thousands of college-age youth over the United States' participation in the war in Vietnam than did Phil Ochs. His name was synonymous with protest, and his 1964 "I Ain't Marchin' Any More" became the rallying cry of millions of students determined not to participate in the war. "Peace," "treason," "love," or "reason" - it made no difference what one's rationale for refusing to fight might be, Ochs sang, as long as, in the end one could state forcibly: "I Ain't Marchin' Any More." His "Cops of the World," penned two years later, fiercely pilloried the nation's armed forces, and that same year's "Draft Dodger Rag" made clear his position in regard to joining such units. When he went to Washington, D.C., in October 1967 to protest the war at the Pentagon, he sang his own "I Declare the War Is Over" to uproarious applause from a mostly youthful audience of fellow protesters.

Despite his anger at the government's role in Southeast Asia, Ochs had an unbounding faith in the American democratic system. After the assassination of Robert Kennedy and his own arrest at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, however, his optimism waned drastically. Though more than 50,000 persons cheered him in May 1975, when he and other folk singers in New York City celebrated the official end of the war in Vietnam, Ochs grew deeply depressed. A year later, he committed suicide at the age of thirty-four. Five long-playing albums of his musical work, much of it nonpolitical and some quite lyrical, remain, but it is as the 1960's and the antiwar movement's quintessential protest singer that Ochs will always be remembered.


Schumacher, Michael. There But for Fortune: The Life of Phil Ochs. New York: Hyperion, 1996.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Taboo Tunes: A History of Banned Bands & Censored Songs

By Peter Blecha

From ancient Rome through the 1980s "Explicit Lyrics" labelling crusade and on to the infamous Taliban regime, repressive governments and self-appointed moral guardians have sought to limit musical expression. In this extensively researched ode to scandal, Peter Blecha recounts the travails of musicians who have dared to air "unacceptable" topics. Filled with several centuries' worth of raunchy sex ditties, morbid murder ballads, blasphemous satanic songs, paeans to intoxicating substances, and radical political anthems, Taboo Tunes lays the censors' stories bare.

Far from merely a recounting dusty history, Taboo Tunes casts a much-needed spotlight on current concerns over civil liberties and artistic freedom in the post-9/11 world.


Take the case of poor Phil Ochs. Here was a notable protest singer, a veteran of myriad civil rights and peace rallies, an effective rabble-rouser, and a genuine thorn in the side of the Establishment - a fact greatly appreciated by his fans, though less so by the FBI. After having been a recording artist with a major label contract for a half-decade (and with several albums to his credit), by 1968 he had yet to score with any kind of "hit" record. That's when he finally came up with his best-ever shot at scoring on the charts - a brilliantly cynical masterpiece featuring sing-along lyrics about the hypocrisy of modern society, all wedded to a fun, rollicking, ragtimey tune called "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends." Upon its release, the darn thing was embraced by a promising number of radio markets and began climbing a few regional sales charts. Hopes were high among fans that he'd finally gotten the shot at the "big time" that he'd always deserved.

But then the tides suddenly shifted. Overnight, it seemed, various stations began axing the song from their playlists. Initial word was that the disc was being shunned on the grounds that it "promoted drugs" - a criticism which, for once, was technically accurate since the lyrics did feature a comparative evaluation ("Smoking marijuana is more fun than drinking beer"). This explanation seemed a bit disingenuous though, especially when stories began to filter out that Nixon was leaning on the (theoretically independent) FCC, who were strong-arming radio managers and advising them to shun Ochs in general. While it can be debated which of Ochs's ideas troubled them the most, it is certain that the drug lyric issue could be the most easily employed as a rationale for governmental intervention. This would not be the first time, nor the last, that a political gadfly has been trumped by the playing of the drug card.


Since 1978, the Freedom of Information Act has allowed the public to review many secret government files, and through that process it was revealed that as far back as 1963 the FBI had taken an interest in protest singer Phil Ochs. As a regular at civil rights rallies - and an early and outspoken critic of the undeclared war in Vietnam in tunes like "Draft Dodger Rag," "I Kill Therefore I Am," "What Are You Fighting For?", and the classic "I Ain't Marching Anymore" (of which Ochs quipped, "The fact that you won't be hearing this song over the radio is more than enough justification for the writing of it") - Ochs had become a real thorn in the Establishment's side. According to agency Director J. Edgar Hoover, it was Ochs's "propensity towards violence and antipathy toward good order and government" that won the singer his place on their dreaded Security Index.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Songs of the Vietnam Conflict

By James Perone


Historian Ray Pratt describes "Draft Dodger Rag" and its contemporary "I Ain't Marching Anymore" as quickly having achieved "anthem status" in the peace movement. Pratt also writes that Ochs's albums All the News That's Fit to Sing, containing "One More Parade," and I Ain't Marching Anymore, containing both "Draft Dodger Rag" and the title song, became "essentials of the record libraries of activist students and early opponents of the war" (Pratt 1998, 176).

"Draft Dodger Rag" consists of several stanzas, each constructed of two identical eight-measure phrases, in which the singer details a litany of ailments and perversions he has that, he hopes, will make him unfit for military service. The "Rag" is actually misnamed; it contains no classical ragtime syncopations at all. What it does contain is a boom-chuck style guitar accompaniment (in Ochs's recordings of the song) suggesting the left hand part of a piano rag, and the type of dotted rhythms found in the post-ragtime, early jazz piano work of Jelly Roll Morton. In terms of the anti-war movement and the war resistance movement, the song's appearance coincides with the first of the publicized draft-card burnings related to Vietnam and the start of mass attempts to avoid the draft by seeking Conscientious Objector status and various types of deferments. The history of this resistance movement is detailed in journalist/draft resister Roger Neville Williams' book The New Exiles: American War Resisters in Canada (Williams 1971).

Easily Phil Ochs's best-known and best-remembered composition on the subject of the Vietnam Conflict, "I Ain't Marching Anymore" found a home at numerous anti-war rallies from 1965 through the end of the war. Ochs's magnum opus was printed in Broadside #54 (January 20, 1965) and Sing Out! 16/1 (February-March 1966). While right-wing writers called the song "notorious," "un-American propaganda" (Noebel 1966, 225, 226), and "subversive" (Allen 1969), a presumably left-wing writer in a letter to Broadside stated, "Phil Ochs speaks more than any other American I know of today for a segment of American youth which is discontented and restless and can not find the channels through which to register their discontent and bring about needed changes" (O.S. 1965, 12). Ironically, at about the time of the publication of "I Ain't Marching Anymore," Ochs himself told a Village Voice interviewer, "I'm writing to make money. I write about Cuba and Mississippi [and presumably Vietnam] out of an inner need for expression, not to change the world. The roots of my songs are psychological, not political" (Eliot 1979, 93).

Despite the reasons for Phil Ochs's songwriting, despite the deep feelings some listeners had about songs like "I Ain't Marching Anymore," despite the concern expressed by right-wing writers over the politics of Ochs, and despite the commercial popularity of folk revival and folk-rock in the early and mid-1960's, even an anti-war classic like "I Ain't Marching Anymore" made virtually no commercial impact. In the case of Ochs, context reigned supreme, and the context for Ochs's music was live performance, primarily at peace rallies. The more politically charged the atmosphere when Ochs performed his anti-war songs, the better they were received. As noted rock critic Greil Marcus writes, "That's why when Phil Ochs gets up to sing protest songs to people getting ready for a demonstration, telling them that they are right and that their opponents are wrong, he always sounds flat and empty compared to the singing that begins when the cops move in" (Marcus 1969, 91-2). By the time of "I Ain't Marching Anymore," Ochs was supplanting Bob Dylan as the favorite protest singer of the anti-war movement. As sometimes Broadside contributor Paul Wolfe wrote in reviewing the two musicians and their impact in the protest movement, the comparison between Ochs and Dylan at the time was "meaning vs. innocuousness, sincerity vs. utter disregard for the tastes of the audience, idealistic principle vs. self-conscious egotism" (Wolfe 1972, 148).

"I Ain't Marching Anymore," an up tempo protest number, usually sung by Ochs to his own guitar accompaniment, finds the musician picking out various American snapshot battles of the past, the Battle of New Orleans, the German trenches of World War I, the dropping of the atomic bomb, and so forth, responding that with what he has learned about the futility of war, he has decided that he will not march anymore. The song's chorus clearly paints war as a generational issue, with the older generation always being responsible for initiating wars, and the younger generation always suffering the deaths associated with those wars. The song was important not only at the more general peace rallies, but played an important role in the early resistance movement, voicing the feelings of draft resisters and military deserters.

Buffy Sainte-Marie on fighting LBJ and being inspired by Sesame Street

"My music was coming out of the student movement, there was a message and we wanted to be heard. Phil Ochs, Bob Dylan, people were doing things rich in content, but the Mamas & the Papas were not – they were professionally packaged, but what interested me was the truth."


Sunday, 15 November 2009

The Seventh Stream: The Emergence of Rocknroll in American Popular Music

By Philip H. Ennis

Philip Ennis presents a major social and cultural study of the origins and evolution of "rocknroll." With masterful command of general trends and telling details, he describes the artistic, economic, and political context that nurtured this radically new popular music. This "seventh stream," which drew from existing forms of pop music, began as a youth movement of rebellion and remains a worldwide banner of youth in search of alternatives. "Rocknroll" emerged, he shows persuasively, from the successive meeting and melding of the other six "streams"--pop, black pop, country pop, jazz, folk, and gospel. He chronicles how these were shaped by struggles over musical property rights, and by the new technologies of radio and phonograph record. The most decisive clash was between the New York based music publishers and the radio broadcasters. Their decades long contest resulted in many cultural changes. The basic unit shifted from sheet music to the phonograph record. The radio disc jockey in small, independent radio stations became the new focal point for all the popular musics. New venues, audiences, and talent appeared throughout the nation. The appearance of "rocknroll" marked a significant cultural moment, argues Ennis. This "seventh stream" was part of an explosive efflorescence in all the American arts after World War II. Its early stars--Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley--built a pantheon of performers with deep roots in all the other streams.


For Dylan, the incompatible elements of art, commerce, and politics in the folk-rock antagonism were resolved almost instantly in 1964. He couldn't get over the fact that the Beatles had eight of the top ten songs. The following views, reported by Anthony Scaduto, state both Phil Ochs' and Bob Dylan's stance at this crucial moment.

[Ochs:] I thought then that there was no end to what he [Dylan] could do now. I thought that he could become Elvis Presley on that level. Essentially he could physically represent rural America, all of America and put out fifteen gold records in a row. . . . My feeling at that time was that he did want that. . . . What happened then was the Beatles got in the way. Dylan wrote the lyrics, and the Beatles captured the mass music.
[Dylan to Ochs:] The stuff you're writing is bullshit, because politics is bullshit. It's all unreal. The only thing that's real is inside you. Your feelings. Just look at the world you're writing about and you'll see you're wasting your time. The world is, well . . . it's just absurd.

The bitchy tone of these words is probably not characterological. The interpersonal style of that Village club scene, set by the manners of the various scene-makers, ranged from southern-spiced barbs and New York brusqueness, through the normal show business character assassination, to black confrontational rhetoric. Whatever the motivation, Dylan and Ochs were responding to severe pressures. The folk stream was being devoured by the pop stream. Everyone in both camps was highly nervous about choosing the terms of the meal. Few could maintain a completely graceful composure under the stress, when hundreds of thousands of dollars were at stake in every record and a real shot at the big time was in the offing. The battleground was mainly over the integrity of the performer, his choice of songs, his inclusion of profanity, and issues of dress and manners. The rules of the game played by the pop stream were not the same as in the folk stream. Art, commerce, and politics had different meanings, were given different priorities. Dylan was clear, again according to Scaduto, on where he wanted to be. It was with the kids, and they were wise to the futility of student protest.


Emblematic of this moment of dissolution and the courage of some parts of the rock life to fight it, and fight in the same terms that had spawned rocknroll in the first place, was the action of Phil Ochs, one of the veteran folk singers of the early 1960s New York Village scene. He had been a stalwart and cheerfully unyielding singer-songwriter at the political end of the rock stream, a friendly antagonist of Dylan, but committed to the fusion of music and politics. After nearly two years of recovering from the defeats of 1968 at the Chicago National Democratic Convention, he returned to Carnegie Hall for a solo concert. John S. Wilson, senior jazz critic of the New York Times, reviewed the event. Its reprinting here in full is merited, I think, not only because of the drama of the evening but because it illuminates rock's pause period more fully than any other (fig. 12-3).

Ochs' personal musical development, from Elvis to the Kingston Trio and then to politics, was probably the route taken by millions. His plea to acknowledge and continue the journey may have succeeded that magical evening in Carnegie Hall. The gold lamé suit (see figure 12-4), also worn by Elvis, certainly was a shocker. It didn't work anywhere else, though, and it worked for him only partially and painfully. After several years of touring and a benefit concert in 1974 for victims of the Chilean junta with Dylan, he committed suicide in 1976.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Roots of Radicalism: Jews, Christians, and the Left

By Stanley Rothman & S. Robert Lichter

With a New Introduction by the Authors

When Roots of Radicalism first appeared, Nathan Glazer noted "this is a major work on the relationship between radical politics and psychological development." He went on to predict "no one will be able to write about the left and radicalism without taking it into account." Now finally available in a paperback edition, with a new introduction, the reader can evaluate just how prescient the authors are in their review of the student radical movement. Replete with interviews of radical activists, their provocative book paints a disturbing picture.

The book raises critical questions about much previous social science research and ultimately about the reason an entire generation of Americans was so infatuated with the radical mystique. Robert A. Nisbet called the book "an extraordinarily skilled fusion of historical and psychological approaches to one of the most explosive decades in American social history." Robert E. Lane added "it will be prudent to read Rothman and Lichter along with our well worn copies of Keniston and Fromm." Writing in Political Psychology, Dan E. Thomas argued "the [book] is arguably the most important and definitely the most provocative book in the field of personality and politics to have appeared in the past several years." Recently, in Forbes, Peter Britmelow referred to Roots of Radicalism as "Rothman's main achievement as a political scientist...his definitive study of the 1960s New Left."

In the new introduction, the authors review the initial reception of Roots of Radicalism and its subsequent treatment. They also review the major literature on the causes, course, and consequences of the student movement of the 1960s which has appeared since the publication of the book. Finally, they update their own analysis.


Phil Ochs's life and death bears a certain resemblance to that of Bob Starobin, although the pathology was clearly more serious. Unfortunately, we know little about the dynamics of his early life, despite a book-length biography and a profile in Esquire, both quite sympathetic. Ochs, a folk/protest singer of the 1960s, thrived on the excitement of mass rallies and the cheers of large numbers of people. His commitment to revolution and hostility to the Establishment were rather incongruously linked with admiration for the macho "gentile" heroes of western movies. As one friend noted: "The interesting thing about him was that he was sixty percent cultural conservative and forty percent political radical. He loved John Wayne, Audie Murphy, William Buckley and Che Guevera."

As the Vietnam War ended and protest faded, Ochs's talent seemed to decline as well. He also grew increasingly paranoid. Convinced that the CIA was going to kill him, he carried about a number of weapons, including a hammer and sometimes a pitchfork. He hired bodyguards and bought an interest in a bar in New York's Soho, which he intended to make the center of the revolution. This activity led to very little, and, given the loss of the narcissistic gratification provided by large audiences, Ochs's pathology grew more severe. He created a whole new personality called "Lewt Train." He would call up his friends to tell them that he had killed Phil Ochs and was just using his body. Eventually Lewt Train became John Train, a persona with grandiose ideas about such exploits as invading Chile on horseback or taking Fidel Castro on a tour of America: "Ochs became a shifting combination of all the heroes he had ever admired: John Wayne, Audie Murphy, Yasir Arafat, Howard Hughes - men of power and action. . . . At times it almost seemed as if he were living a movie and watching it at the same time." He became involved in drunken brawls again and again, threatening to kill people; always trying to establish his masculinity and create the revolution. It was to no avail. His hyperactivity was followed by a severe depression that ended in suicide. After he died, a large memorial concert was held for him. Thousands of the people in the Movement came. To them, Ochs was a tragic hero.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Rock Albums of the '70s: A Critical Guide

By Robert Christgau

Christgau on James Brown: "When he modulates to the bridge it's like the Spirit of God moving upon the face of the waters. After that he could describe his cars for three [LP] sides and get away with it." Christgau on Carly Simon: "If a horse could sing in a monotone, the horse would sound like Carly Simon, only a horse wouldn't rhyme 'yacht,' 'apricot,' and 'gavotte.'" Christgau on Van Morrison: "This is a man who gets stoned on a drink of water and urges us to turn our radios all the way into the mystic. Visionary hooks his specialty." Christgau on Lou Reed: "Reed sounds like he's imitating his worst enemy, himself." (Lou Reed on Robert Christgau: "What a moron! Studying rock and roll. I can't believe it!")

Robert Christgau: the man who has listened to more rock records than anyone else in the country, the record reviewer for The Village Voice for almost 20 years, probably the most influential rock critic in America. Christgau's Rock Albums of the '70s: the definitive guide to nearly 3,000 albums of the decade that brought us progressive rock, country rock, glam rock, funk, disco, punk, heavy metal, and new wave. An indispensable book.


Phil Ochs: Greatest Hits (A&M '70). Sporting his gold lame suit and boasting that "50 Phil Ochs fans can't be wrong!," the Singing Yippie bids for pop power once again on this prematurely entitled work of art. Van Dyke Park's classy, countrified production suits Phil's strange lyricism a lot better than the baroque excesses of Pleasures of the Harbor, but in the end Ochs's compulsive sweetness does him in anyway. It's always been one of the prime paradoxes of folkiedom that our most astringent protester should come on like Richard Dyer-Bennett gone Nashville, and the sad truth is that the lone protest number is the weakest cut on the disappointing second side. But even the first side, as strong as any pop Ochs has written to date, works in spite of his voice. Fond as I am of "James Dean of Indiana," I think it would be even more haunting done deadpan, by Arlo Guthrie or Tom T. Hall. B-

Monday, 2 November 2009

Bob Dylan and Selections from the Newport Folk Festival - July 26, 1963

The Friday evening concert (July 26) of Newport 1963 marked the debut performance of Bob Dylan at the festival, which helped to create his reputation as one of the greatest American folk singer-songwriters of the 1960s. The show that night, which ran from 8:30-11:30 p.m., also featured the Freedom Singers, Jean Redpath, Doc Watson, Bill Monroe, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul & Mary.

Video footage from that night:

Peter, Paul and Mary - "If I Had a Hammer":

Bob Dylan - "Talkin' World War III Blues":

Bob Dylan with Joan Baez - "With God on Our Side":

Bob Dylan - "Only a Pawn in Their Game":

Bob Dylan with Pete Seeger, the Freedom Singers, Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul & Mary - "Blowin' in the Wind":

Other songs performed that night:

Bill Monroe - "Uncle Pen":

Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee - "Crow Jane Blues":

Jean Carignan - "Reel" (audio from a Newport show):

Jean Carignan - "Devil's Dream" (audio from a Newport show):

Peter, Paul and Mary - "Tell It on the Mountain":

Doc Watson - "Every Day Dirt":

Doc Watson - "Country Blues":

Bob Dylan - "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues":

Bob Dylan - "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall":

Ensemble - "We Shall Overcome":

The complete set list from the evening concert reel-to-reel tapes is as follows:

1. Bill Monroe & the Bluegrass Boys - Mule Skinner Blues
2. Bill Monroe & the Bluegrass Boys - Uncle Pen
3. Bill Monroe & the Bluegrass Boys - Devil's Dream
4. Bill Monroe & the Bluegrass Boys - Molly and Tenbrooks
5. Bill Monroe & the Bluegrass Boys - I Am a Pilgrim
6. Bill Monroe & the Bluegrass Boys - Rawhide
7. Raun MacKinnon - I Am Going Home
8. Raun MacKinnon - When I'm Gone
9. Raun MacKinnon - Medgar Evers Lullaby
10. Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee - Crow Jane Blues
11. Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee - I Woke Up This Morning and Could Hardly See
12. Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee - If You Don't Want to Be My Neighbor, Please Be My Friend
13. Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee - Movin' to Kansas City
14. Hélène Baillargeon & Jean Carignan - ("songs of French Canada")
15. Peter, Paul and Mary - Tell It on the Mountain
16. Peter, Paul and Mary - Settle Down (Goin' Down That Highway)
17. Peter, Paul and Mary - Blue (2 versions)
18. Peter, Paul and Mary - 500 Miles
19. Peter, Paul and Mary - Puff, the Magic Dragon
20. Peter, Paul and Mary - Blowin' in the Wind
21. Peter, Paul and Mary - If I Had My Way
22. Peter, Paul and Mary - If I Had a Hammer
23. The Freedom Singers - Trying to Make Georgia My Home
24. The Freedom Singers - Been Down Into the South
25. The Freedom Singers - Woke Up
26. The Freedom Singers - Get on Board
27. The Freedom Singers - Guide My Feet
28. Jean Redpath - Dowie Dens o' Yarrow
29. Jean Redpath - Muckin' o' Geordie's Byre
30. Jean Redpath - The Song of the Seals
31. Doc Watson - Every Day Dirt
32. Doc Watson - The Train That Carried My Girl from Town
33. Doc Watson - Country Blues
34. Doc Watson - What Does the Deep Sea Say (with Bill Monroe)
35. Doc Watson - What Would You Give in Exchange (with Bill Monroe)
36. Doc Watson - Feast Here Tonight (with Bill Monroe)
37. Bob Dylan - Talkin' World War III Blues
38. Bob Dylan - With God on Our Side (with Joan Baez)
39. Bob Dylan - Only a Pawn in Their Game
40. Bob Dylan - Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues
41. Bob Dylan - A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
42. Bob Dylan - Blowin' in the Wind (with Pete Seeger, the Freedom Singers, Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul & Mary)
43. Bob Dylan - We Shall Overcome (with Pete Seeger, the Freedom Singers, Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul & Mary)