Tag Archives: Phil Ochs

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Nov 2

Phil Ochs – Rehearsals for Retirement

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A very difficult album to listen to, this is. A sort of baroque folk suicide in progress. It’s an extraordinarily emotional experience, just living with this album. I think it would be so even if one didn’t know the story behind it, and the story to follow.

If one does know the stories, it’s only that much more heartbreaking.

At the song level, “uneven” is probably a pretty fair assessment. Some of the songs rank well below Ochs’ finest. But then some of the songs are easily as remarkable and poignant as anything Ochs ever released: The Doll House, William Butler Yeats Visits Lincoln Park and Escapes Unscathed, and The Scorpion Departs But Never Returns are almost unbearably gorgeous.

But it’s the lyrics to My Life that do the listener in:

My life was once a joy to me,
Never knowing, I was growing, everyday.
My life was once a toy to me,
And I wound it and I found it ran away.
So I raced through the night
with a face at my feet, like a god I would write,
All the melodies were sweet, and the women were white.
It was easy to survive, my life was so alive.
My life was once a flag to me
And I waved it and behaved like I was told.
My life was once a drag to me
And I loudly, and I proudly, lost control
I was drawn by a dream
I was loved by a lie, every serf on the scene
Begged me to buy.
But I slipped through the scheme
So lucky to fail
My life was not for sale.
My life is now a myth to me
Like the drifter, with his laughter in the dawn.
My life is now a death to me
So I’ll mold it and I’ll hold it till I’m born
So I turned to the land
Where I’m so out of place
Throw a curse on the plan
In return for the grace
To know where I stand
Take everything I own
Take your tap from my phone
And leave my life alone
My life alone.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – May 29 [Memorial Day Edition]

Phil Ochs – A Toast To Those Who Are Gone

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A Toast To Those Who Are Gone

Many’s the hour I’ve lain by my window
And thought of the people who carried the burden
Who marched in the strange fields in search of an answers
And ended their journeys an unwilling hero

Here’s a song to those who are gone with never a reason why
And a toast of the wine at the end of the line
And a toll of the bell for the next one to die

Back in the coal fields of old harlan county
Some talked of the union, some talked of good wages
And they lined them up in the dark of the forests
And shot them down without asking no questions

Here’s a song to those who are gone with never a reason why
And a toast of the wine to the end of the line
And a toll of the bell for the next one to die

And over the ocean, to the red spanish soil
Came the lincoln brigade with their dreams
But they fell in the fire of germany’s bombing
And they fell ’cause no one would hear their sad warning

Here’s a song to those who are gone with never a reason why
And a toast of the wine at the end of the line
And a toll of the bell for the next one to die

In old alabama, in old mississippi
Two states of the union so often found guilty
They came on the busses, they came on the marches
And they lay in the jails or they fell by the highway

Here’s a song to those who are gone with never a reason why
And a toast of the wine at the end of the line
And a toll of the bell for the next one to die

The state it was texas, the town it was dallas
In the flash of a rifle a life was soon over
And nobody thought of the past million murders
And the long list of irony had found a new champion

Here’s a song to those who are gone with never a reason why
And a toast of the wine at the end of the line
And a toll of the bell for the next one to die


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Jan 19

Phil Ochs – All The News That’s Fit To Sing

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On this, the eve of Inauguration Day, THIS … is an album to listen to. And THIS … is a song to listen to:

One More Parade

Hup, two, three, four, marching down the street
Rolling of the drums and the trampin’ of the feet
General salutes and mothers wave and weep
Here comes the big parade
Don’t be afraid
Price is paid
One more parade …

Sharp-eyed readers will note a distinct similarity between this album cover, and the cover of The National Blues:

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This is of course by design. An homage I felt I owed, for the influence this album had upon me. I first heard “One More Parade” on a folk music radio show when I was about 15 years old and living in Seattle. I was staggered by the song, and still am.

The years were not kind to Phil Ochs, and he probably wasn’t too kind to the years either. But, in “All The News That’s Fit To Sing” we have a perfect album. Frozen in time. The living enactment of what political folk music—protest music—was and could be. Of a time and place, yes. But still, perfect.

Historical side note: Danny Kalb plays second guitar on this album. Brilliant stuff. John Sebastian makes an uncredited appearance as well, playing harmonica.

There is in fact quite a bit more to this album than “protest music.” And even when it IS protest music, it’s often subtle, unique, and a special version thereof. Yes, there are the “talking blues” songs. And yes, there is Cuba and Vietnam. But there is also “Lou Marsh,” a deeply affecting song about a man not likely to have been remembered outside of a small circle of friends (that’s a reference to another Ochs song, about the Kitty Genovese story!) if it hadn’t been for Ochs’ beautiful memorial:

There were two gangs approaching in spanish Harlem town
The smell of blood was in the air, the challenge was laid down
He felt their blinding hatred, and he tried to save their lives
And the answer that they gave him was their fists and feet and knives

Will Lou Marsh lie forgotten in his cold and silent grave?
Will his memory still linger on, in those he tried to save?
All of us who knew him will now and then recall
And shed a tear on poverty, tombstone of us all

Even today, Lou Marsh’s identity is often considered a mystery, with some wondering if he was in fact a real person. He was. His obituary reads as follows:

Louis “Lou” Cordell Marsh died on January 7, 1963 in East Harlem where he was employed by New York City as a youth worker. He died after being beaten by members of a youth gang he was working with. Lou had enrolled at YDS in 1956 but then took time off for an extended campus ministry internship at Antioch College. In 1958, while at YDS, he traveled to the USSR (with Dave Wiley) as members of the first USA-USSR Eisenhower-Khruschev student exchange which was organized by the YMCA. Had he stayed at YDS, he could have graduated with the Class of ’61, but he took the position in New York instead. (See following article from The Christian Century on Lou Marsh by Dean Peerman, YDS ’59.)

Recommended song to start with: Lou Marsh

So you can feel the above. Then move on to “One More Parade.” So you can feel Inauguration Day.


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