Sunday, July 16, 2006

Phil Ochs lives

The other day I took a deep breath and ventured down an overgrown section of Memory Lane. I bought a CD of the music of Phil Ochs.

Who is Phil Ochs? The short answer is that he was a folkie protest singer of the Vietnam era. However, that label doesn't begin to cover it. Unlike his gravel-voiced confreres, he had a beautiful clear tenor voice inflected with the twang of Ohio where he grew up. In his best songs the marriage of form and content is almost unbearably intense.

I went back to Phil Ochs in part because he is topical. Hie anthem "I Ain't a Marching Anymore" ofters advice that should be heeded. Ochs also wrote nonpolitical songs. My favorite is "Changes," a gentle ballad about the pacific ending of a relationship.

Ochs had a short career, ca. 1967-75. In those remote days some thought that a revolution was immminent int he US. I did not, but I saw that the tight controls the Establishment had forged at the height of the Cold War were crumbling, and a new era of freedom was dawning--if only we could seize the time. Ochs signed on for the Full Montie. Cops were killers and the Black Panthers heroes. Most of the people in jail were placed there wrongly. And so forth. As it became clear that his hopes were not going to be realized soon, he became despondent. Phil Ochs committed suicide in 1977.

In Ochs' time I joined the gay movement. Stonewall in 1969 was a thrilling event, but it was clear that we must stay focused for the long haul. And what a long haul it has been. It was only after a new century dawned that we finally got rid of the medieval sodomy laws in this country.

Unlike most political verbiage, Phil Ochs' music is alive. Despite his mistaken hopes, he can still move me to tears. Ave atque vale, Phil.


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