Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The Phil Ochs Video Vault: Berkeley in the Sixties

This clip of "I Ain't Marching Anymore" was filmed by a local news crew at Sproul Plaza, UC Berkeley during the Vietnam Commencement event on May 17, 1968. The footage was released in this form as part of the documentary Berkeley in the Sixties.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Bob Gibson: I Come for to Sing - The Stops Along the Way of a Folk Music Legend

By Bob Gibson and Carole Bender

Preface by Allan Shaw - Epilogue by Peter Yarrow

with help from his friends:
Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Shel Silverstein, Tom Paxton, Peter Yarrow, Noel Paul Stookey, Glenn Yarbrough, Hamilton Camp, Gordon Lightfoot, Roger McGuinn, Studs Terkel, George Carlin, Ed McCurdy, Josh White Jr., Michael Smith, Bryan Bowers, Susan Gibson Hartnett, Meridian Green, Jim Gibson, Rose Garden And Many More!

In 1953 a young man named Bob Gibson, inspired by a meeting with Pete Seeger, left behind a successful job to hit the road collecting folk songs. When he emerged two years later, banjo in hand, ready to share what he'd found, he created an electricity the world of folk music had never seen. His arrangements, songwriting and musical innovations took his audiences by storm, lighting the fire that led to the full-blown folk revival of the late '50s to mid-'60s. He introduced Joan Baez in 1959, Judy Collins in 1960, and the album Gibson & Camp at the Gate of Horn in 1961, created musical history.

Bob co-wrote Abilene, Well, Well, Well and You Can Tell the World. His songs have been recorded by Peter, Paul & Mary, Simon & Garfunkel, the Byrds, the Smothers Brothers, the Kingston Trio and countless others. He is credited as being an influence on most of the performers that came out of the folk revival era, and that impact is still felt in most of today's popular music. He should have been folk music's biggest star, yet his name and story are sadly unknown by most. Out of personal frustration at the lack of information about him. I approached Bob Gibson in the last year of his life with an offer to help him tell his story.
-Carole Bender

In 1974 when doing publicity for my father's album Funky in the Country, I was fortunate to have mentors at the Old Town School explaining how to do it. Hamilton Camp helped too, giving me an earful one day at the cafe under the El tracks, when I showed him my first draft of the bio. He jumped up out of the booth, so frustrated that he was hopping up and down and hollering, "You just don't get it! Your father was not an influence! He invented folk music!"

I'm so glad to hear my dad's voice again, and I do hear it. Carole has done such a fabulous job of capturing his speech. He sounds like he's well again. Carole's offer was what he wanted and needed. Carole has not only gotten his story, she got his cadence. And I think he knew she would.
-Meridian Green

Sunday, 29 March 2009

American Troubadours: Groundbreaking Singer Songwriters of the 60s

by Mark Brend

"Some have chosen to decay
and others chose to die,
But I'm not dying, no I'm not dying,
Tell me I'm not dying."
From "The Scorpion Departs But Never Returns" by Phil Ochs, A&M Records

Phil Ochs started out as the archetypal protest singer producing "topical songs" on albums with titles like All The News That's Fit To Sing. Later in the 1960s he embarked on a fascinating phase of introspective pop experimentation, but by the early 1970s - just ten years since the start of his career - he had become a washed-up alcoholic on the way to an early death.

"On the first day of summer, 1975, Phil Ochs was murdered in the Chelsea Hotel by John Train, who is now speaking. I killed Phil Ochs. The reason I killed him was he was some kind of genius but he drank too much and was a boring old fart. For the good of societies, public and secret, he needed to be gotten rid of. Although he had good ideas, i.e. An Evening With Salvador Allende and a couple of songs like 'Crucifixion' and 'Changes', he was no longer needed or useful. He was too embarrassing at parties..."

The paranoid, violent, shambling drunk John Train was a sinister figure staggering through the closing chapter of the Phil Ochs story, brandishing a hammer, threatening friends and strangers, men and women. He had started life as some kind of darkly comic alter-ego - Phil Ochs's last creation - but came to acquire a malign power of his own that his creator could not or would not control. When the real Phil Ochs was depressed, directionless, despairing and vulnerable, Train stepped into his skin, spending his money, decimating his relationships and trampling over the detritus of his career, before leaving him broke and broken.

From childhood to the end of his life Phil Ochs found release, escape and inspiration in the movies, sometimes catching as many as six films during the course of a day. He loved the great screen idols - John Wayne, James Dean, Marlon Brando - not in an ironic, distanced way, but with the adoration of a fan, a dreamer and an enthusiast. He loved them for what their images stood for rather than what they really were. He also loved Elvis Presley, an infatuation that was to become manifest in a pivotal episode in Ochs's decline. "I'm a victim of myths, I love the idea of myths," he said. "I love the idea of Hank Williams, I love the idea of Jesse James, I love the idea of Elvis Presley, I love the idea of John Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy, and Malcolm X."

It was ironic, then, that a man so aware of the power of images became one himself, a symbol of the vacuum left by the evaporating idealism of the 1960s folk generation, an archetype of youthful idealism that burnt itself out.

The Phil Ochs who survives in public consciousness is a guitar-toting revolutionary firing acoustic broadsides at Republicans. It's an accurate enough reflection of his early career, when he was recording "topical songs" for Elektra. But one of the tragedies of this most tragic of stories is that as he moved beyond his folk-protest beginnings to the intriguing, ornate, baroque chamber pop of his later A&M albums, he started to lose his modest audience. That music, his best, is all too often obscured by the enduring picture of the strident protestor who finished up a lowly entry in the list of 1960s casualties, way behind the big figures like Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Brian Jones.

Philip David Ochs was born on December 19th 1940 in El Paso, Texas. He had an older sister, Sonia (known as Sonny), and a younger brother, Michael. His father, Jacob, was a Polish Jew who had emigrated with his parents to the US. Unable to get a place in a medical school in his adopted homeland, Jacob had moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, where he studied at the University. There he struck up a friendship with the brother of the woman who later became his wife, Gertrude Phin.

After marrying, Ochs's parents moved to the States. Almost immediately Jacob Ochs was drafted into the army. After postings in several different States he was sent overseas in early 1945, where he saw frontline action in the bloody closing stages of the war with Germany. When he returned, the balance of his sensitive, imaginative mind had become disturbed and he battled with episodic depression for the rest of his life.

The Ochs children had an unsettled childhood. Their father, too unreliable to sustain his own medical practice, found work in tuberculosis hospitals around the country, one of the lowest ranking jobs for a doctor. The family eventually landed up in Columbus, Ohio. Accounts of Phil Ochs's early years describe him as a solitary daydreamer, prone to staring out the window during classes, and finding solace in photography and cinema. By the time the family arrived in Ohio, Ochs had been persuaded by his mother to take up a musical instrument. He settled on the clarinet because the music shop didn't have in stock either a trumpet or a saxophone, his first choices. Despite being an initially reluctant pupil, Ochs excelled, and soon music was added to his list of consuming passions.

As a teenager Ochs chose to attend a military school in order to pursue his musical interests in the institution's band. Once there he became disillusioned with the formal, restrictive nature of marching-band music. By this time he was listening to the radio and developing infatuations for Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent and Elvis, passions that would survive through to adulthood. He had cosmetic surgery to correct what he thought was an ugly nose; he grew his straight dark hair long on top and slicked it back, in an attempt to look like Elvis. He started to talk about being a star.

In 1958 Ochs enrolled at Ohio State University where he studied journalism. In early 1959, when Fidel Castro and Che Guevara first started to appear on American television, Ochs adopted them into his pantheon of idols, initially as much for their romantic, rebel-chic appearance as their politics. Dropping out of college before completing his first year, he re-enrolled at the start of what would have been his second. He met a politically aware guitar-playing Elvis enthusiast called Jim Glover with whom he started to write, to play and to sing songs, and won his first guitar from Glover in a bet. They called themselves The Sundowners after a Robert Mitchum film, but following a falling-out with Glover, Ochs began to perform solo.

By now Ochs was consumed by the manic energy that would carry him through early adulthood and punctuate his later depressions. He was writing for the college newspaper, editing his own more radical publication, bombarding the local town newspaper with letters, and spewing out songs by the dozen. Ignoring the protestations of his parents, Ochs eventually quit his studies shortly before graduating. He became disillusioned when he was passed over for editorship of the college newspaper, apparently because he was too politically radical. This time he didn't re-enrol.

It was 1962, Greenwich Village in New York City was alluring for an American youth with a guitar, a political conscience and a few songs. Ochs made the inevitable pilgrimage. Within months he was as immersed in the burgeoning folk community as anyone. He was publishing articles and songs in the radical magazine Broadside, playing at Folk City and other clubs, and scribbling lyrics for songs on whatever scraps of paper he could find.

His early songs were rudimentary in construction, sharing similar chord sequences and melodies, and always about something specific: a current event, an injustice, a message. At this stage there was little to separate Ochs from the many other earnest young strummers - except perhaps an almost overpowering self confidence that manifested itself when he would barge in on conversations to tell people he was going to be a star, and when he played his songs to anybody who would listen.

The energetic, articulate, engaging Ochs - shabbily dressed, stammering, hair falling in a greasy forelock over his eyes - pushed through the massed ranks of contenders with enthusiasm and intelligence until he assumed a position in the upper echelons of the Village hierarchy. For a while he, Dylan and David Blue were close friends, a trinity of fast-talking iconoclasts who spoke, wrote and sang with cynicism, idealism, romanticism and a sharp, scathing wit.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Born in the U.S.A.: The Myth of America in Popular Music from Colonial Times to the Present

by Timothy E. Scheurer

Reflecting back on the songs of the folk-protest movement of the 1950s, one may recall that images of the patriots were an important component in building their vision of the "real America" that Irwin Silber talked about. Such was not to be the fate of the patriots in the sixties. This, of course, only makes sense: If the vision is flawed, so must the visionaries and those who implemented the vision be flawed. Phil Ochs wryly notes in his "Where There's a Will, There's a Way" (1962) that when the original thirteen colonies picked Washington to lead them into battle, he said that if we won, someday we'd have "a World's Far at Seattle," implying that the logical conclusion to our vision of greatness is sponsorship of a commercial exhibition. He does, however, respectfully evoke the image of John Brown as he tackles the issue of civil rights.

One of the favorite techniques used by the folk-protesters in dealing with the patriots' mytheme is what I call the catalog. In the catalog the songwriter relies upon cumulative effect to debunk and demythologize most traditional beliefs. Tom Paxton in his song, "What Did You Learn in School Today" (1962), has his youthful narrator catalog a series of suspicious truisms that he learned in school such as Washington never lied, soldiers never die, everybody is free, justice never ends, the government is always right, and war is "not so bad." Similarly, Phil Ochs, in his "I Ain't Marchin' Any More" (1964)--a song similar in spirit to Dylan's "With God on Our Side"--catalogs the disastrous effects of wars throughout American history, showing in the process that all that heroism, all that we've "won with sabre and gun," was hardly worth it. And finally, in a rather oblique reference to our patriotic past, John Prine declared in the early seventies that "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You into Heaven Anymore." Once again, as with the notion of manifest destiny, the songwriter chooses to highlight the anomalous aspect of the mytheme, chooses to show that it is not grounded in reality and that to believe the myth is to believe in a falsehood. Nothing is holy now, including George Washington.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Behind the Songs: Basket in the Pool

by Donovan Leitch

Before I returned home, Tom Smothers threw a party for me at Robert Redford's house. The guest list was as long as the press party with more faces. Tom took great delight in playing the "Barabajagal" single at full volume on the huge sound system, asking his guests who they thought the singer was. Everyone got it wrong. At the height of the excitement the crowds parted for a wild-looking chick with blazing eyes. She stuck her face close to mine. It was Janis Joplin.

"Just wanted to see what you looked like, Donovan!" And she was gone. Janis had gone back to the bedroom where all the musos were hiding from the "Hollyweird" crowd.

At the poolside there was a raffle, and the protest singer, Phil Ochs, won it. Everyone cheered as he went up to the microphone, but he was not pleased. He gave us all a tongue-lashing about Vietnam and the senselessness of Hollywood, this party, me included. Raising the huge basket of fruit he had won, he tossed it into the pool and left in disgust. Of course he was right, but the party went on regardless.

I climbed the rock waterfall high above the party (feeling a little like I also had been thrown away) and plunged into the pool to join the fruit.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

The Phil Ochs Video Vault: Twang!

This short clip likely originates from the TV show Twang! in an episode broadcast November 23, 1967. It was later released on the video compilation Village Voices in 1991.

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).

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Folk Music: The Basics

by Ronald D. Cohen

In 1962 Sis and Gordon launched Broadside, a topical song magazine, which quickly published Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, Malvina Reynolds, Frederick Douglas Kirpatrick, Eric Andersen, Janis Ian, and so many others. They also issued a number of Broadside albums, in conjunction with Folkways Records, and continued to publish Broadside until 1988, although it lost much of its market and influence after the 1960s.

Sis Cunningham was involved as a performer, songwriter, and promoter/publisher of folk music and topical folk songs beginning in the early 1930s. She was a seminal figure in promoting women's music, and her achievements (along with her husband Gordon) have been crucial in stimulating and promoting singer/songwriters for countless decades. She died on June 27, 2004. The Best of Broadside 1962-1988: Anthems of the American Underground from the Pages of Broadside Magazine, a survey of recorded songs that appeared in the magazine, was issued by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in 2000. The five CDs, with 89 songs, along with detailed liner notes, received two Grammy nominations, and serves as a monument to Sis and Gordon's vital role in promoting topical songs. Their book, Red Dust and Broadsides: A Joint Autobiography, was published in 1999, a wonderful story about their lives and hardships.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Josh White: Society Blues

by Elijah Wald

Josh would eventually appear on several network shows, but it would take many years; Oscar Brand recalls being forbidden to use him as late as 1963. At that time, Brand was the music director of Exploring, an NBC children's program. Though he had also been blacklisted, Brand was working only behind the scenes and therefore not attracting much attention. Getting a questionable performer's appearance on screen was trickier.

"I couldn't get Josh on for love or money," Brand says. "And the fellow who was running the show was an honest, straightforward, marvelous guy. I was able to get other people who were considered troublesome, controversial. I put Theo Bikel on it; Dyer-Bennet I tried to get on it, but he refused for the money I was able to offer. But Josh I couldn't get on. He was considered a troublemaker. I caused some difficulty with what they called the 'Continuity Acceptance People' -- that's a lawyer who has a copy of Red Channels."

Brand has no doubt that race played a major role in Josh's remaining persona non grata. "He was too proud," Brand says. "An uppity Negro. That was the description of Josh White. And they knew who Josh was. He wasn't small enough; like I got Phil Ochs on. Now, Phil was much more radical than Josh, but they didn't know Phil Ochs."

Sunday, 22 March 2009

America in White, Black, and Gray: A History of the Stormy 1960s

by Klaus Fischer

Although the music of the 1960s reflects the turbulence of the time, its general message is curiously apolitical. There is protest aplenty, but its mood reflects the personal alienation of the musician from what he perceives to be an unfriendly, even callous environment. Most musicians were young and white. Not surprisingly, their concerts were with their own fears and anxieties, though some white singers, notably Phil Ochs, Janis Joplin, and Frank Zappa, made genuine efforts to identify with the reality of black suffering in the south or in northern ghettos. Country Joe and the Fish warns: "But if you can't go to Harlem . . . Maybe you'll be lucky and Harlem will come to you," while Frank Zappa sadly admits, "You know something people, I ain't black but there's whole lots of times I wish I could say I'm not white."

Saturday, 21 March 2009

The Sixties

Edited by Peter Stine

That night, the Unbirthday Party for LBJ was held in the Coliseum, a peaceful sanctuary for bringing together the whole coalition. There were bruised faces and bandaged heads, diehard McCarthy volunteers, the tattered and tired and tenacious listening to Phil Ochs singing "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore" and "The War Is Over." At the chorus, somebody lit and raised a match in the darkened theater. Somebody else. And another. Ten. Fifty. Five hundred. A candlelight chorus, everyone singing, crying, standing, raising fists, reaching delirium at the words, "Even treason might be worth a try / This country is too young to die."

Friday, 20 March 2009

Liberation, Imagination, and the Black Panther Party: A New Look at the Panthers and their Legacy

by Kathleen Cleaver and George N. Katsiaficas, editors

The Newton trial made the spear poster chic. Huey developed tremendous support on the full spectrum of the white left, from liberal to pro-Albanian Communist, and he rose to become a controversial folk hero in Black America. Eldridge was the prime mover of the White-Black alliance. He made friends with everybody but retained a Yippie soft spot for Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, Phil Ochs, and me.


Unbelievably, Eldridge, Jerry, Huey, and Abbie and Anita Hoffman and Phil Ochs are now dead. But in the deepest part of my soul great memories live on about a time when we, Black and White, fulfilled each other's best dreams by joining in an outlaw's alliance dedicated to completely remaking and repairing the world.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

The Phil Ochs Video Vault: Summer Focus: Dissent or Treason

This footage was shown at the end of the documentary Chords of Fame, and was likely recorded for the ABC-TV special Summer Focus: Dissent or Treason, broadcast June 22, 1967. The clip was filmed at the Troubadour in Los Angeles and features "I Ain't Marching Anymore."

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Zapata's Disciple: Essays

by Martin Espada

I visited Biloxi in January 1998. Glimpsing the highway sign that read "Welcome to Mississippi" triggered a pulsation of dread. Even before I knew of my father's experience there, the Mississippi of my young imagination was an inferno. Here Emmett Till was murdered for insulting a white woman; NAACP leader Medgar Evers was assassinated; three civil rights workers were found buried in a dam, killed by the Klan with the collaboration of the local police. Phil Ochs sang of the cops in Mississippi: "Behind their broken badges / they are murderers and more." My father played that record over and over during my childhood years, and I never understood why.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Vancouver: The Unknown City

by John Mackie & Sarah Reeder

Looking at the Georgia Straight today, it's hard to imagine that it got its start as a wild hippie paper in the 1960s. And when we say wild, we mean wild: in its formative years, the Straight was in constant battle with the authorities over its liberal use of the F-word, graphic photos, and open advocacy of an "alternative lifestyle."

The story that best illustrates just how "out there" some Straight staffers were is the tale of how then-music editor Al Sorenson met Charles Manson and decided to start his own cult.

In the late '60s and early '70s, record companies were confused by the youthquake and were signing all sorts of bizarre acts and concepts. Sorenson was reputed to be one of the most brilliant people to work at the Straight in its wild years, and came up with an idea to record underground happenings. He went down to A&M Records in L.A. to try and get a deal. While there, he met Charles Manson, and thought he was pretty cool.

Upon his return to Vancouver, Al started his own cult. Former Straight editor Ken Lester, who had been sharing a house with him, thought Al was becoming a bit strange and moved out. Two nurses moved in with Sorenson and his girlfriend, and soon he was bedding all three women and walking around naked in their abode (so he could be ever-ready for action). One of the nurses even had her pet rat castrated, because she wanted the only man in the house to be Al. He eventually left Vancouver for a Christian camp in Hedley. When last heard from, he was working at a computer warehouse in Toronto.

Al never did get a record deal, but one of the tapes from the happenings project was released in 1990 as Phil Ochs, There and Now, Live in Vancouver 1968 (Rhino Records). The Ochs tape came from a benefit concert Ochs and poet Allen Ginsberg gave on March 15, 1969 at the PNE Gardens, for a defense fund for the Georgia Straight, which was having legal troubles at the time.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files

by Jon Wiener

Sinclair was a local activist leader who had been sentenced to ten years in the state prison for selling two joints of marijuana to an undercover agent. The rally had a huge program lasting eight hours; the speakers included Allen Ginsberg, Bobby Seale, and Jerry Rubin, and the performers included Stevie Wonder, Archie Shepp, and Phil Ochs as well as John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The FBI was interested because Lennon considered his appearance at the rally a trial run for a national anti-Nixon tour, on which he would bring rock 'n' roll together with radical politics in a dozen cities. At each stop, local organizers would give speeches, and young people would be urged to register to vote and vote against the war. Lennon had talked about ending the tour in August 1972 at a giant protest rally and counterculture festival outside the Republic National Convention, where Richard Nixon was to be renominated. The rest of Lennon's FBI file documents the Nixon administration's efforts to stop him from setting off on this tour, to silence him as a voice of the antiwar movement and critic of the president.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Greatest Hits

Greatest Hits was Phil Ochs' seventh LP and final studio album. Contrary to its title, it offered ten new tracks of material, mostly produced by Van Dyke Parks, and was released in 1970. Focusing more on country music than any other album in Ochs' canon, it featured an impressive number of musicians, including members of The Byrds and Elvis Presley's backing group alongside mainstays Lincoln Mayorga and Bob Rafkin. His lyrics were at their most self-referential and only one overtly political song appeared, "Ten Cents A Coup," which includes an earnest (though comical) spoken introduction strung together from two anti-war rallies. The song is an ironic tribute to Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, who Ochs wryly suggests are more laughable than Laurel and Hardy.

Among the self-referential tracks was "Chords of Fame," which warned against the dangers of popularity. "Boy In Ohio" saw Ochs pining for his childhood and "Jim Dean of Indiana" was a tale of James Dean's life, a tribute to him, written after Ochs had visited Dean's grave. "No More Songs" was the most telling of the tracks, as Ochs would release but five more studio tracks in his lifetime after 1970, never completing another studio album.

Track listing

All songs by Phil Ochs.

1. "One Way Ticket Home" – 2:40
2. "Jim Dean of Indiana" – 5:05
3. "My Kingdom For A Car" – 2:53
4. "Boy In Ohio" – 3:43
5. "Gas Station Women" – 3:31
6. "Chords of Fame" – 3:33
7. "Ten Cents A Coup" – 3:14
8. "Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Me" – 5:05
9. "Basket in the Pool" – 3:40
10. "No More Songs" – 4:31

Participants (partial list)

* Phil Ochs - guitar, piano, vocals
* Van Dyke Parks - producer, keyboards
* Andrew Wickham - co-producer ("Gas Station Women" and "Chords of Fame" only)
* Clarence White - guitar, backing vocals
* Laurindo Almeida - guitar
* James Burton - guitar
* Bob Rafkin - guitar, bass
* Chris Ethridge - bass
* Kenny Kaufman - bass
* Gene Parsons - drums
* Kevin Kelley - drums
* Earl Ball - piano, arrangements
* Lincoln Mayorga - keyboards
* Mike Rubini - keyboards
* Richard Rosmini - pedal steel, harmonica
* Ry Cooder - mandolin on "One Way Ticket Home"
* Don Rich - fiddle
* Gary Coleman - percussion
* Tom Scott - tenor saxophone
* Bobby Bruce - violin
* Anne Goodman - cello
* Merry Clayton, Sherlie Matthews and Clydie King - backing vocals
* Bobby Wayne and Jim Glover - harmony vocals
* Bob Thompson - arrangements

1968: A History in Verse

by Edward Sanders

Though the phrases "Trance of Sorrow"
and "Universal Joke"
showed up in my notebooks
by the end of the year
I'd never experienced the mood swings
and depressions
befalling a few of my friends

Phil Ochs in particular
began to experience
a late-century version of Fitzgerald's "Crack-Up"

He pulled together some tunes
in the fall and booked time to record
Rehearsals for Retirement.

It had a horrifying cover
a photo of a tombstone
"Phil Ochs (American)
Born: El Paso, Texas 1940
Died: Chicago, Illinois 1968"

I loved to hear him sing
& wished I'd been in Vancouver
for a concert late in the year
Phil sang his setting of Poe's "Bells"
with Allen Ginsberg
on hand to play the
on the bells.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Antiwarriors: The Vietnam War and the Battle for America's Hearts and Minds

by Melvin Small

After meeting at the White House, the doves marched to the foot of the Washington Monument to listen to music and speeches. Entertainer and pacifist-activist Joan Baez lent her talents to the rally, as did Phil Ochs who, capturing the SDS ethos, sang "Love Me, I'm a Liberal." Among the speakers were I. F. Stone and Senator Ernest Gruening. Stone, the editor of a one-person, muckraking independent newsletter, took issue with some of his platform colleagues. He was a longtime liberal who had "seen snot-nosed Marxists and Leninists come and go." SDS leader Paul Potter brought down the house with his question, "What kind of system" permitted "good men" to do such evil? He said "We must name the system. We must name it, describe it, analyze it, understand it, and change it."

Friday, 13 March 2009

The Bruce Lee Story

by Linda Lee

Phil Ochs, a member of the legendary New York folk music circle of the early 60s, has described how he "sat entranced" for five hours when he first viewed Bruce's films in the Philippines. "I could hardly believe my eyes. I had seen the Japanese samurai movies, but was not prepared for what was to come. The stories were simplistic and based mainly on revenge. They always involved fighting schools and a revered master teacher. 'I will teach you to be the best fighters in the world, but you must never use it to harm anyone unless absolutely necessary.' Near the beginning is the act of outrage; the insults of a rival school, the poisoning of a master, the murder of a loved one. Lee, the hero, the best fighter, demands vengeance and is always restrained until he can hold himself in no longer. Then follows the most exciting action ever filmed for the screen. One man against 50 with no weapons. He begins to wade his way through the lesser villains with his fists, his elbows, his feet. There are no camera tricks. The members of the audience are hysterical, clapping, cheering, sometimes leaping to their feet. When he gets to the major villains it becomes a dance of extraordinary beauty (one reviewer said that Bruce made Rudolf Nureyev look like a truck driver). It is not the vulgarity of James Arness pistol-whipping a stubbled, drunken stage robber; it is not the ingenious devices of James Bond coming to the rescue, nor the ham-fisted John Wayne slugging it out in the saloon over crumbling tables and paper-thin imitation glass. It is the science of the body taken to its highest form. And the violence, no matter how outrageous, is always strangely purifying. The face and mind of Bruce Lee are as important as the action. The expressions on his face as he psyches out his opponents are beyond description; at times he is lost in ectasy, almost sexual, and when he strikes, the force of the blow is continued by his mind and the look of concentration and satisfaction is devastating."

Thursday, 12 March 2009

The Phil Ochs Video Vault: From The Bitter End

A mixture of two separate appearances on the TV program From The Bitter End (November 12, 1967 and February 9, 1968), recorded in a TV studio meant to mimic The Bitter End nightclub located in Greenwich Village, New York City. Songs include: I Ain't Marching Anymore / There But for Fortune / The War Is Over / Flower Lady.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Da Capo Best Music Writing 2002

by Jonathan Lethem, Paul Bresnick

So many quotations, so many conclusions written on the wall, I needed not remind myself as I went out walking through Greenwich Village a few days ago. Dylan can spend the rest of his life inside whatever gated Eden in Malibu, but the Village will always be the mystic Mississippi Delta of Dylanology--Bob Ground Zero. Over there, downstairs at 116 MacDougal, where a bar called The Wreck Room is now, that was the Gaslight. Dylan sang "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues" there, before Dave Van Ronk did "Cocaine Blues." Upstairs was the Kettle of Fish, the bar where Dylan hung with the despondent Phil Ochs and once brought the Supremes, blowing blowsy folkie minds. Around the corner was the sainted Gerde's Folk City. Across Washington Square Park, now outfitted with surveillance cameras by Rudy Giuliani, was the Hotel Earle, currently renovated for tourists but then scruffy and bleak, $19 a week, home to Bob back in 1962.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Timothy Leary: A Biography

by Robert Greenfield

On Monday, May 11, a benefit for Tim took place at the Village Gate in Greenwich Village. Rosemary had organized it on what she described as "hallowed ground--the place where I first saw Miles Davis and Charlie Mingus." She had invited "all the big givers from the liberal left" in New York City and fully expected to raise enough money to help spring Tim from jail. Musicians scheduled to perform that night included folksinger Phil Ochs, the albino blues guitarist Johnny Winter, and Jimi Hendrix, whom Alan Douglas had persuaded to fly in from Chicago with his band just for this gig. Scheduled speakers included Abbie Hoffman, Allen Ginsberg, Alan Watts, Jerry Rubin, and Wavy Gravy. In a full-body cast after having been kicked in the back by a security guard at a Rolling Stones concert, Wavy Gravy showed up with a fellow member of the Hog Farm commune in New Mexico carrying a baby lamb in his arms. "Acid was flowing like water," Anita Hoffman recalled. "The punch was spiked and everyone was on acid. It was one of those very pivotal events because the mood was changing. The repression was increasing. Instead of all this love-and-flowers stuff, the attitude of politicos like Abbie and Jerry Rubin and myself was that you had to organize if you wanted to get people like Tim out of jail. But the Hog Farm people and all these religious people, all they wanted to do was chant."

Monday, 9 March 2009

Baby, Let Me Follow You Down: The Illustrated Story of the Cambridge Folk Years

by Eric von Schmidt and Jim Rooney

Because Taj had gotten into folk music for the music, he was able to think of it in those terms. He was using it to discover his own culture and find out who he was. Jackie Washington, however, had come into it when the Seeger political influence was still a force in the folk movement. The Greenhills had become his second family, and he found himself feeling more and more estranged from the folk "movement," especially as the civil rights struggle began to heat up in the early Sixties.

Manny was part of the left-wing, Jewish, liberal movement which was into unions and all that. You dream of Joe Hill, and let's hold hands with Chinese and Black people and Indians -- all dreaming about Joe Hill! "And the banks are made of marble...!" (And today they're damn glad of it!) So everybody had their own little thing that they wanted you to do. It was an incredible position to be in, but I didn't even know I was in it, asshole that I was.

It started to get foolish, because I started to feel guilty about the money. So I started donating a lot of money to causes, because we had to improve the lot of whoever. I don't mean offense to anybody, but I became white -- whiter than I had been. Guilt is a white, American trip. Black people and Puerto Rican people don't have guilt as a group thing. Pain and avoidance of pain is what I see in their music and culture. I didn't have to make up to the Indians! But here I was running around doing all that shit. And I also didn't realize that a lot of people that I thought were special like Eric von Schmidt and Bob Siggins and Jim Rooney and Bill Keith were not on that same soapbox as Seeger and the figureheads of this movement. That was my own blindness.

Then I got involved with the civil rights movement. There was an "army of guitarists" going down south in the summer of '64. So I joined this "army" and quit it when I got to Mississippi. I got in with a group of niggers, and we started working with the people instead of coming down and singing at them. I did one show with the "Freedom Caravan" or whatever it was called. It was a place that was hot as hell. Phil Ochs got up and started singing about how he wasn't marching and he wasn't this and he wasn't that. And these black kids were sitting there in the heat, bored shitless, listening to this guy who had nothing to do with them. They were being used. So I quit and got into the Free Southern Theater.

I realized that the folksingers were talking at people. Rhetoric. Joan Baez really started pissing me off. Although she was a goddess to me, I started saying, "This bitch is phony!" She was talking like she wasn't near anyone. What did the people down there need that for? They were singing their asses off! It was the one thing that they had going for them -- that got them through the week! They would get together and sing themselves to a fare-thee-well! Who needed Joan Baez or Phil Ochs or me, for that matter? Those people were being used to make the singers look good. They came down to HELP THE NEGRO, but they were helping themselves to all sorts of publicity as humanitarians and then splitting. So I left. I started living with families, and I stayed for several months. It had taken me a long time to begin to figure it all out, but I was starting.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Battleground Chicago: The Police and the 1968 Democratic National Convention

by Frank Kusch

The first incident with police took place three days before the start of the convention. On Friday the 23, the Yippies, showing their complete contempt for the political system, nominated their own Democratic candidate: a 145-pound black and white pig dubbed "Pigasus." The Yippie candidate for president was "released to the public" at the Civic Center Plaza and was promptly "arrested" by police as he was being "interviewed" by waiting journalists. Editor Abe Peck of the underground Chicago paper the Seed told a reporter for the New York Times that after the nomination, they were "going to roast him and eat him. For years, the Democrats have been nominating a pig and then letting the pig devour them. We plan to reverse the process."

A Yippie calling himself Wrap Sirhan stated that the group had sent President Johnson a telegram requesting Secret Service protection for their four-legged candidate. Five Yippies were taken to jail, including Jerry Rubin and Phil Ochs, while the pig for president's new official residence became the Chicago Humane Society. The Yippies were released after they each posted a $25 bond. "The only moment of levity between Chicago policemen and the Yippies that week occurred after we were arrested and were in jail and went in to be booked," said Rubin, following the convention. "One of the Chicago policemen came in and shouted out all of our names and then said, 'You guys are all going to jail for the rest of your lives--the pig squealed on you.'" The department had already put Hoffman, Rubin, Krassner, and some of their associates on 24-hour surveillance, sometimes uttering warnings that sounded to Yippie leaders like threats.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

The Press on Trial: Crimes and Trials as Media Events

Edited by Lloyd Chiasson Jr.

The Chicago Seven staged street theater in Federal District Court, with a parade of defense witnesses drawn from the counterculture. Folksinger Phil Ochs was called to the stand to perform a rendition of his protest song "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore" accompanied on a guitar that attorneys had submitted as a defense exhibit. The judge sustained the prosecution's objection to the guitar, permitting the singer to recite lyrics about how the old lead the young to war and death, about how they want the young to fight and kill and then do it all again, about how it's always the young to die. As Ochs concluded, "[B]ut I ain't marchin' anymore."

The judge later refused to let twenty-two-year-old Arlo Guthrie sing his folk anthem, "Alice's Restaurant." "No reflection on your professional capacity--just a matter of law," the judge remarked. At a news conference outside the court, Guthrie said of the trial: "It's like Perry Mason. The good guys are in trouble. The bad guys have the evidence. But the good guys are going to win--like they always do."

Friday, 6 March 2009

American Space, Jewish Time: Essays in Modern Culture and Politics

by Stephen J. Whitfield

Dylan managed to draw upon the cryptic imperatives of the modern literary imagination, and upon gnomic references that established him as a seer in a genre whose verbal resources stressed accessibility and immediacy, a field largely barren of such arabesques. One of the few other Jews in the folk and protest music of the 1960s, Phil Ochs, claimed of Dylan that, "from the moment I met him, I thought he was great, a genius . . . I had an increasing lot of secret fear: 'Oh, my God, what can be do next? He can't possibly top that one.'" When Ochs played Highway 61 Revisited (1965) for the first time, he "just laughed and said it's so ridiculous. It's impossibly good. . . . How can a human mind do this? The writing was so rich I just couldn't believe it." With that album, Ochs concluded, Dylan had "done it. He's done something that's left the whole field ridiculously in back of him. He's in his own world now." Dylan flew through the end of the envelope because, though a drop-out from the University of Minnesota (honorary degree, Princeton University), he has been so receptive to the complex possibilities of serious contemporary poetry.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Pleasures of the Harbor

Pleasures of the Harbor was Phil Ochs' fourth full-length album and his first for A&M Records, released in 1967. It is one of Ochs' most somber albums. In stark contrast to his three albums for Elektra Records which had all been basically folk music, Pleasures of the Harbor featured traces of classical, rock and roll, Dixieland jazz and experimental synthesized music crossing with folk, in hopes of producing a "folk-pop" crossover.

The best known track is "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends," a sarcastic jab at the apathetic nature of people in certain situations, at its base the story of the murder of Kitty Genovese in New York City (which numerous people witnessed, doing nothing to help), set to a Dixieland backing. Its mention of marijuana in one verse, however ironically intentioned, was misinterpreted, and its release as a single failed to do anything on the charts as it was banned from radio play by many stations.

"The Party" savaged high-class snobs, with Ochs taking the role of a singing (not playing) lounge pianist, observing the ridiculous nature of their gatherings. "Flower Lady" was a six-minute narrative about contrasting characters in the city, with each anecdote having one thing in common: everyone ignores the poor woman trying to sell her flowers.

"Pleasures of the Harbor," the title track, is a bittersweet dirge to lonely sailors seeking human comfort and connection while in port. Ochs composed it after watching a screening of John Ford's 1940 film The Long Voyage Home, which starred one of Ochs' movie idols, John Wayne. It features a lilting melodic line and what some consider to be an overblown film score-like orchestration (supposedly including a young Warren Zevon), a view which Ochs himself would later on come to share.

This recording of "The Crucifixion," which closed the album, was deemed a failed experiment by Ochs, as far as its avant-garde production experiment (by Joseph Byrd) is concerned. Lyrically and musically, however, many consider the song to be Ochs' masterpiece. Its ten verses compare John F. Kennedy and Christ, and explore the "cycle of sacrifice" where we build up our leaders into heroes so that we can enjoy tearing them down. The song brought Kennedy's brother Robert to tears when Ochs performed it for him a cappella in early 1968, months before the younger Kennedy's own assassination. All live versions of the song performed in concert featured Ochs alone, with just his guitar and voice, and one of those starkly beautiful live performances is on the posthumously released compilations Chords of Fame and Farewells & Fantasies.

Track listing

All songs by Phil Ochs.

1. "Cross My Heart" – 3:23
2. "Flower Lady" – 6:06
3. "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends" – 3:37
4. "I've Had Her" – 8:03
5. "Miranda" – 5:17
6. "The Party" – 7:57
7. "Pleasures of the Harbor" – 8:05
8. "The Crucifixion" – 8:45

  • Phil Ochs – vocals, guitar
  • Larry Marks – producer
  • Lincoln Mayorga – piano
  • Warren Zevon – guitar on "Pleasures of the Harbor"
  • Ian Freebairn-Smith – arrangements
  • Joseph Byrd – arrangements on "The Crucifixion"

Handbook of Death & Dying: Volume One

by Clifton D. Bryant

Hammering home one's criticisms of society with death as the heavy club is another dramatic maneuver. The counterculture movement during the Vietnam War was spearheaded by musical protests. Phil Ochs was on the front line in that struggle, one of his songs concluding every stanza with,
I am the masculine American man

I kill therefore I am.
Ochs self-destructed, one of all too many who have danced with death in an artistic modality and thereby forfeited their lives.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

A Change is Gonna Come: Music, Race & the Soul of America

by Craig Hansen Werner

Many of the students looked to the folk revival for perspectives and information excluded from the nightly news. The framers of the Port Huron Statement belonged to the first generation raised on television; many of them were enthralled by the moral dramas the SCLC constructed for the nationwide audience. In the early days of the movement, TV coverage usually placed viewers in a position closer to the demonstrators than to the authorities resisting their demands. White middle-class viewers in the North gazed into the steely eyes of state troopers snatching American flags out of the hands of schoolchildren in Jackson, Mississippi, shared the tension as the Freedom Riders--white ministers wearing clerical collars and well-dressed young black men--were swept away by the hurricane of violence in the Birmingham bus station. In her autobiography, Joan Baez describes King's constant awareness that the whole world was watching his every move. Walking beside King during an SCLC-sponsored campaign in Grenada, Mississippi, Baez responded angrily to the crowd harassing the marchers:
They looked particularly pasty, frightened, and unhappy on this day, not at all like a "superior race." I whispered to King, "Martin, what in the hell are we doing? You want these magnificent spirits to be like them?," indicating the miserable little band on the opposite curb. "We must be nuts!" King nodded majestically at an overanxious cameraman, and said out of the corner of his mouth, "Ahem . . . Not while the cameras are rollin'."
The SCLC's most effective use of the media strategy occurred in Birmingham, Alabama, where fire hoses and police dogs deployed against black schoolchildren made a clear moral statement in living rooms and dens throughout white America.

However biased in favor of the movement TV coverage might have seemed to George Wallace or Spiro Agnew--the godfathers of Rush Limbaugh's "liberal media" hallucination--white students seeking the meanings behind the SCLC's carefully orchestrated morality plays found television useless. Many of them turned to folk music, to Baez, Dylan, Phil Ochs ("Talking Birmingham Jam," "Too Many Martyrs (The Ballad of Medgar Evers)," and the devastating satire "Love Me, I'm a Liberal") and Peter, Paul & Mary ("Very Last Day," "If I Had a Hammer," and the hit version of "Blowin' in the Wind"). The folk singers provided the kind of insight the students sought.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Phil Ochs Honored at the 21st Annual Folk Alliance Conference

The Folk Alliance recently honored Phil with a lifetime achievement award, along with Guy and Candie Carawan and Roger McGuinn:
Among the awarded and honored, lifelong folk contributors Guy and Candie Carawan received the most emotional applause. The jam-packed ballroom was brought to their feet at the sight of the married couple that revolutionized the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome."

The Carawans shared Lifetime Achievement Award distinctions with the late Phil Ochs, whose brand of "folk journalism" captured the progressive 1960s Greenwich Village scene and changed the way lyrics were written forever. Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music, the noted institution that helped keynote speaker Roger McGuinn develop his twangy Rickenbacker sound, earned the third Lifetime Achievement Award.

Refugees from Militarism: Draft-Age Americans in Canada

by Renee G. Kasinsky

When asked whom they respected and identified with, most of the refugees I interviewed cited individuals who were also alienated from and repudiated by the mainstream of American society. Their heroes were the spokesmen and singers of the counterculture; singers like Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs and rock stars who described the distortion of the American dream. Young men like themselves, some of the New Left leaders and Yippies who fused New Left politics with the youth culture also rated very highly among those they closely identified with and toward whom they looked for leadership. Since they had turned their backs on almost all of the present adult leadership in the United States, these men were actively engaged in what Keniston, Erikson and others called a quest for identity. They sought role models of people they admired and identified with and past traditions and life-styles that stressed the kinds of goals they were seeking.

Monday, 2 March 2009

The Dylan Companion

Edited by Elizabeth Thomson and David Gutman

Word was out on the streets that Dylan just might show up and before midnight the normally sparse weekday crowd was elbow-to-elbow. Phil Ochs had a head start on everyone and wandered around, drink in hand, lecturing about 'the Jewish Mafia' and the strange case of Sonny Liston. Patti Smith shyly slunk into one corner, while Commander Cody showed up with two limos full of shitkickers. Roger McGuinn sat outside in his Sunshine limo, never one to arrive too early. Then, just past 1.00 a.m., a red Cadillac Eldorado pulled up and Dylan strode briskly in, followed closely by Kemp and Neuwirth. They greeted Mrs Porco, hugged Mike and retreated to a far corner of the club. Then with the inevitable tableside introduction, 'Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest star of all, Bobby Dylan', Dylan found his way up to the stage, grabbing Baez on the way for a duet of 'Happy birthday' and 'One too many mornings' -- but the music stopped abruptly when bassist Rob Stoner's bridge snapped right out of its mooring.

Jack Elliott joined in on stage and Dylan seized the opportunity to shout, 'Let's turn the stage over to Ramblin' Jack Elliott,' and headed back to the semi-solitude of his table. Jack did a hauntingly beautiful ballad, 'South coast blues'; Bette Midler fell on stage to duet with Buzzy Linhart; Allen Ginsberg sang some poem/songs backed by female guitarist Denise Mercedes. Then Eric Andersen and Patti Smith harmonised a bit. Finally, Neuwirth, looking like some turn-of-the-century Cuban porno star in a black eye-mask and cowboy hat, grabbed the stage and sang a touching 'Mercedes Benz' for 'someone who couldn't be here with us tonight'.

It seemed over but then Phil Ochs, who's been battling some of his own private phantoms recently, performed a moving medley of folk and country, stuff like 'Jimmy Brown the newsboy,' 'There you go', 'Too many parties' and 'The blue and the grey'. Everyone at Dylan's table was standing, gaping at this poignant moment.

Ochs spotted Dylan heading for the bar. 'Hey, Bobby, come up with me,' he shouted. 'I'm only going to the bar, Phil,' Dylan replied reassuringly. 'Well, here's a song of yours that I've always wanted to do,' Ochs answered, breaking into a dirge-like 'Lay down your weary tune'. But things lightened up when Ochs stumbled off the stage into the waiting arms of David Blue who, with Kemp and Neuwirth, was part of an ambush designed to retrieve the cowboy hat from Ochs that Dylan had worn in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Come Together: John Lennon In His Time

by Jon Wiener

John did not know that a similar "War Is Over" campaign had been launched by Phil Ochs and the Los Angeles Free Press more than two years earlier. Ochs wrote an article for the paper in June 1967 calling for a "War Is Over" rally in Los Angeles, across from the Century Plaza Hotel, where Lyndon Johnson was scheduled to speak at a five-hundred-dollar-a-plate dinner and the Supremes were to entertain. Ochs wrote a song for the occasion: "I Declare the War Is Over." Lots of people came, marched down the Avenue of the Stars to the hotel, and chanted, "The war is over!" Ochs started to sing his song; the police ordered the crowd to disperse and then attacked, beating the marchers while TV cameras, on hand for the President, whirred. Delighted by the extensive TV coverage, Ochs staged a second "War Is Over" demonstration in New York's Washington Square Park in November 1967. Paul Krassner and the Diggers commune helped organize it. This time the police did not attack, but again the press coverage was extensive. The Village Voice ran a front-page story on the event.

Ochs had demonstrated that clever and novel forms of protest could win much more media coverage than traditional antiwar demonstrations. Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman grasped the implications of Ochs's "War Is Over" events. Shortly after the Washington Square demonstration, they began to plan an even bigger festival at which their "Youth International Party" would nominate a pig for President outside the Democratic national convention in Chicago the following August.

Although the similarities between John and Yoko's "War Is Over" campaign and the proto-Yippie ones which preceded it are striking, the differences are equally significant. John and Yoko put up billboard; Ochs organized demonstrations which thousands of people attended. John and Yoko were a long way from real mass politics.

BBC-TV featured John as a "Man of the Decade" in a special broadcast on December 31, 1969. In a long interview, John reflected on the sixties. "Not many people are noticing all the good that came out of the last ten years," he said. "The moratorium and the vast gathering of people in Woodstock--the biggest mass of people ever gathered together for anything other than war. . . . The good thing that came out of the sixties was this vast, peaceful movement."

And with his sweet optimism, he said, "The sixties were just waking up in the morning. We haven't even got to dinnertime yet. And I can't wait! I can't wait, I'm so glad to be around."