The Late President of Protest

Folk singer-songwriter Phil Ochs gave voice to the righteously rebellious 1960s, while trying to keep his depression in check.

There’s no place in this world where I’ll belong when I’m gone
And I won’t know the right from the wrong when I’m gone
And you won’t find me singin’ on this song when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

– “When I’m Gone,” Phil Ochs

“I just can’t keep up with Phil,” Bob Dylan once said of his friend and fellow folk singer, Phil Ochs, who was just one year Dylan’s senior. The two met in the early 1960s New York music scene, cementing their fates—and often, their respective legacies—as forever intertwined. In the 2010 Ochs documentary, There but for Fortune, cultural commentator Christopher Hitchens noted that while anyone can like Dylan, many do not even know who Ochs was.

 

Read more at…The Late President of Protest

The War is Over

The War is Over

by Phil Ochs

Fifth Estate # 33, July 1-15, 1967

Editors’ note: The following opinion was written by folksinger Phil Ochs and originally appeared in the LA Free Press. The article was written before President Johnson was in Los Angeles on June 23, when thousands greeted his holiness.

image, Phil Ochs, 1960s

The war is over and what a relief. It sure was depressing—but now, thank God, we can celebrate. It has been called off from the bottom up, and now the only ones participating in it are those that still believe it exists.

Now some of you may not believe the war is over—and that, essentially, is the problem. The mysterious East has taught us- the occult powers of the mind, and yet we go on accepting our paranoid presidents notion that we actually are involved in a war in Asia. Nonsense. It’s only a figment of our propagandized imagination, a psychodrama out of 1984.

By this time it must certainly be apparent that Johnson is absurd, as compared to being wrong. It should also be crystal clear that the war has been extended so ridiculously long that it is more absurd than immoral, and that the standard moral arguments have been repeated so many times that they seem to have lost their meaning. There is no dialogue on the war, only the repetition of clichés. One outrage must be answered with another; only absurdity can speak the language of absurdity.

Demonstrations should turn people on—not off. The spiritually depraved public of America has shown it won’t stand for the blunt truth served on a negative platter which it always defensively assumes is insult. A protest demonstration does not satisfy the demands of modern mass communications; it is somehow out of tune with the electric age. A protest rally is an act of negation against an act of negation, canceling each other out. The times demand a positive approach to demonstrations, a pro-life, joyful, energized, magnificently absurd demonstration against the sucking vacuum of war.

The underground must discard the establishment labels like “underground,” “hippie,” “flower children” and other assassination words; they’ve shown their colors—now they must show their true strength. The trick is not to go against the establishment, but not to believe them. Come on, now—do you really believe that a war is being fought in this day and age—certainly, not a war that has anything to do with us. Why, that would be absurd—don’t you think?

On June 23, there is going to be a celebration of the end of the war. This celebration could be a love-in, a be-in, a to-be or not to be-in, a happening, a rally, a demonstration, an earthquake, a premature solstice, living theatre, living movies, a huge Hollywood production, a statement of numbers that you can attend without insulting your aesthetic.

The old standbys of the left and the attitudes they encompass should be avoided at this meeting. Classics like Hey Hey LBJ—How many kids did you kill today? are about as dated as the M-16. Since the war is over, we should have positive signs, like “Johnson in 68—the Peace President,” “Welcome Hanoi to the Great Society,” or “Thank you, Lyndon, for Ending the War.”

As a living movie everyone should do something creative and positive. Make up your own sign, wear appropriate clothes to the theme of a reenactment of VE Day, wave a flag and mean it. It’s time for aesthetic rebellion, for creative anarchy; time for the use of surreal humor to ask now what our country is doing.

Johnson will be speaking at a $500 a plate dinner inside the Century Plaza Hotel, so we can have a penny a plate dinner outside at the celebration. How ironic to have this bit actor give a speech demanding that people support a demented war while outside thousands are celebrating the end of the war!

Perhaps some people will walk up and say, “Hey, you guys must be crazy -there IS a war going on; don’t you read the papers?” To which you can reply, “No, you’re the one who’s crazy.” History will decide who is really absurd.

We must realize that numbers and time are on our side, and that the establishment needs us to fight this non—existent war. The one thing that will totally undermine Johnson’s position is not to believe a word he is saying, to ignore the preposterous reality he has created for America and create our own reality. Let me repeat: if enough of us truly believe the war is over we have the power to change our reality. Belief and faith can move mountains; power to change our reality. Belief and faith can move mountains; this dated and corrupt generation should be easy. Hippies of the world unite—you have nothing to lose but your paranoia!

California is the most beautiful part of the country, and yet it has been taken over by the ugliest elements. Los Angeles is a plastic paradise, the exaggerated frontiersmen of a decaying materialist culture. This is a foundationless land of dreams, a studio posing as a city, a freak circus; what better place to make a bizarre stand? Without putting herself through any of the tasteless political changes of the East, LA has a golden opportunity to leap from total disinvolvement to the vanguard of the peace movement.

The thousands of young people flowing through California would respond to a call for this kind of rally rather than another protest demonstration. The psychedelic community can also create in the framework of this living theatre. Hopefully, this will create an opportunity for the disparate elements of the state to merge gracefully.

The war in Vietnam is an amphetamine trip, a reflection of the spiritual disease that has gripped this country and distorted every principle on which it was built. This generation must make a choice between the total rejection of the country and the decision to regain a spiritual balance. I believe there is still something inherent in the fiber of America worth saving and that the fortunes of the entire world may well ride on the ability of young America to face the responsibilities of an old America gone mad.

Old America has proven herself decadent enough to be willing to sacrifice one of her finest generations into the garbage truck of cold war propaganda. What kind of depths have they sunk into to dishonor the very meaning of the word honor by asking young men to die for nothing? This is not my America, this is not my war; if there is going to be an America, there is no war—la guerre est finie!

The criminal patriotism of today demands that every citizen sell himself and now we pay the consequences floundering in the jungles, not of Asia, but of New York to Los Angeles. Now we are the lost patrol who chased their chartered souls like old whores following tired armies.

Have you heard? The war is over!

Are we living in an age-reversed version of ‘Wild in the Streets’?

That they just happened to get carried away, bringing worse than they had suffered, betrays the filmmakers’ own reactionary beliefs. The movie stars the forgotten Christopher Jones — then famous for headlining the show “The Legend of Jesse James” — but Max’s shoes were originally to be filled by folk god Phil Ochs. He took a look at the script and turned it right down, and rightly saw it for what it was: A youth movie written by scared olds, saying that it misrepresented the real revolution.

Ochs was right; it did. But maybe it accidentally predicted a second revolution, to come a half-century later. The people who voted for Trump may have have seen “Wild in the Streets” during its first run. Now Trump is their own Max Frost. Or it may really be Steve Bannon, who’s spoken about his dream to dismantle the government, just as Frost once did on the big screen.

Read more at . . .Are we living in an age-reversed version of ‘Wild in the Streets’?

Why Phil Ochs is the obscure ’60s folk singer America needs in 2017

“Anybody know who Phil Ochs is?” Lady Gaga called out to her audience at a free concert last summer during the Democratic National Convention. Her setlist that day was eclectic: from the Beatles to Edith Piaf to her own gay rights anthem, “Born This Way.” But her decision to perform Ochs’s “The War Is Over,” a 1967 folk song about Vietnam, was particularly surprising.

 

It isn’t often that Ochs, who died four decades ago and is mostly unknown to those born since the 1970s, gets even a brief moment of mainstream recognition. Yet as we enter the Trump era, and as a new mass protest movement begins to take shape, his music would be worthy of a revival. Taken together, his songs offer an exceptionally compelling tour of the deepest questions currently confronting liberals — questions about democracy, dissent and human decency in a grim political age.

The song Lady Gaga performed is a good example. “The War Is Over” was composed in the middle of the Vietnam War but insists that the conflict had already ended. “One-legged veterans will greet the dawn,” Ochs sang. “And they’re whistling marches as they mow the lawn. And the gargoyles only sit and grieve. The gypsy fortune teller told me that we’d been deceived. You only are what you believe. I believe the war is over. It’s over, it’s over.”

Read more at . . .Why Phil Ochs is the obscure ’60s folk singer America needs in 2017

Classic Music Review: Rehearsals for Retirement by Phil Ochs

In contrast to the horror my mother and I experience daily as we pore through news and tweets related to the accession of King Donald to the throne of the most powerful and dangerous nation on the planet, my flaming liberal father is rather philosophical about the whole thing. “Been there, done that,” he shrugs.

The “been there” period he refers to is that dark period in American history characterized by the Vietnam war, race riots and the emergence of white backlash. Americans were divided on issues of patriotism, long hair/short hair, liberation movements, the “drug epidemic,” race and the “creeping socialism” of The Great Society. I asked him to reproduce his rant while I captured it on my keyboard.

“You think the 2016 campaign was ugly? Go back to 1968. Two major assassinations. Riots at the Democratic Convention, cops beating the shit out of kids. After the tear gas had cleared, the Gallup Poll put the Democratic establishment nominee in third place—behind George Wallace, a mean-spirited, lifelong segregationist. After losing Bobby Kennedy, we were down to a choice between Wallace, Hubert Humphrey—who spent his time as vice-president licking Lyndon Johnson’s ass and supporting the war—and Richard Nixon, who had been left for dead as a loser years before. A whole generation of young voters who had become engaged through Gene McCarthy and Bobby decided to check out—just like a lot of Bernie voters did. People voted for Nixon and Wallace for the same reason they voted for Trump—it was all about white people feeling threatened by what they saw as an erosion in the white version of the American Dream. Things were tense—families were falling apart over the war, the generation gap was huge, and if you had long hair or black skin, you stood a pretty good chance of having some redneck kick the shit out of you, just for the hell of it. The people who voted for Nixon and Wallace were just as dumb, uneducated and uninformed as the typical Trump voter. Wallace was constantly sneering about the “pointy-headed intellectuals,” and Nixon resented anyone who went to a more prestigious college than he did. Wallace and Nixon were bitter, fearful men who tapped into the bitter fear of the majority of voters who wanted law and order no matter what. Nixon called them the Silent Majority, and you’ve seen one of them on TV reruns—Archie Bunker. People thought we’d made all this progress by electing a black president and they forgot that all those Archie Bunkers were still hanging around, nursing their resentment. We all laughed at Archie Bunker, just like liberals laughed at the deplorables. Back then, that attitude gave us Richard Nixon. Now it’s Trump.

“People are calling Trump fascist, anti-democratic, corrupt, dishonest—all the labels we applied to Nixon. Just like Trump, Nixon was a dishonest prick who fixed an election, too, and it eventually caught up with him, just like it will for Trump. So to me, this is ‘Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.’”

To support his argument, he introduced Exhibit A, Phil Ochs’ post-Chicago release, Rehearsals for Retirement, ghoulish cover and all. “Listen to this and then write your review. It’s all there.”

Read more at . . .Classic Music Review: Rehearsals for Retirement by Phil Ochs

Your Facebook Teenage ‘10 Albums’ Lists Matter More Than You Think

Folk music was utterly simple, based on three chords and a message, and it held the secrets that made our older brothers seem so cool. It was the tollbooth to Ginsberg and Ché and terrors about the draft, and just like punk rock it could instruct and incite and hold those in power accountable. I think this has been way overlooked: For many of us, Folk served as a gateway to punk as logically as the Stooges, the Seeds, or Nuggets did.

Even at age 14 or 15, I sensed that Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger, or Tom Paxton were coming from the same place as Joe Strummer or Johnny Rotten (and I have written, on numerous occasions, that Ochs, with his peculiar and aggressive wit and desire to hold the hypocritical to the fire of truth, was the closest thing America ever had to Johnny Rotten).

Around age 13 I became almost obsessively enamored of Phil Ochs, a quirky, moody, sarcastic songwriter of extraordinary vision and sensitivity.

I now recognize that my deep love of Ochs was also my first entrée to the dark, sardonic, melodic poet singers like Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Scott Walker, and even (going a bit sideways) Nick Drake and Elliot Smith.

Ochs taught me the beauty that could be found in the most talented, troubled mind, and I was severely attached to his nearly savagely confessional later work, like Rehearsals for Retirement.

Read more at . . .Your Facebook Teenage ‘10 Albums’ Lists Matter More Than You Think