Today, Andersen recalls Ochs — a musical poet who fought socially for many downtrodden Americans. “Phil will always remain one of the greats in my book,” he says. “His songs still ring true — just change the names of the countries and people he exposes and writes about.”
“When I was in high school, I was maybe 16, I started going to see Phil Ochs perform in Boulder. He would come once a year; I think I saw him three times. It was inspiring to see someone alone on stage with his guitar, a piano and his voice, singing about things that were going on. He would bring a kind of relief in several different ways that were important for my music.”
Back in the day, if there was a protest in the offing, you could guarantee that Phil Ochs would be there. Even in Chicago, at the Democratic Party convention when the police riot exploded and all the performers chickened out, Phil was there (as were the MC5).
Today, thanks to you-know-who, there’s an upsurge in protest music. It’s not just the usual suspects either – there are many young performers getting involved. Alas, I’m not really familiar with these new voices so I’ll write a column about the ones I remember.
Gunfight At Carnegie Hall, the last album protest singer Phil Ochs released before he took his own life on April 9, 1976, contains songs recorded at his infamous, gold-suited, bomb-threat-shortened Carnegie Hall concert in New York City on March 27, 1970, 47 years ago today.
It was the most notorious performance of his career, and I happened to be in the audience.
Spring in the city
I was just 16 and visiting New York City with my best friend Lisa. The two of us were suburban antiwar hippie chicks who loved Ochs and his music. Although we had yet to see him in concert, we listened to his albums for hours and knew his songs by heart. He was no Bob Dylan, of course, but songs like “I’m Not Marching Anymore” and “There But For Fortune” were heartfelt and evocative and could move you to tears. He had a funny side, too, which came out on silly, self-mocking songs like “Love Me, I’m A Liberal.”
It didn’t hurt that, unlike Dylan, Ochs had a conventionally lovely voice and was really cute in a scruffy, sincere, heart-on-his-sleeve kind of way.