Phil Ochs, the Pre-Revolutionary Clown
Phil Ochs lived a short, extraordinary, tragic life—despite that his career was eclipsed by Bob Dylan. Part of the “topical song” movement of the 1960s, Ochs played protest music with little more than an acoustic guitar, a nasal croon, and a subscription to the New York Times.
I’ve been obsessed with Ochs for about five years—his clever folksy poetry, his political passion, his mid-career fascination classical music, his inflated ego, with his descent into paranoid lunacy, and his legacy. Ochs is tattooed on my right bicep, guitar slung over one shoulder, holding a hammer in one hand and a pistol held to his head in the other, a halo floating above him.
Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune, a documentary recently released to DVD, chronicles the singer’s rise and fall, his steadfast sense of justice, and the zeitgeist of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Here’s an excerpt from the long review I wrote at my day job:
Five thousand people streamed through the streets of Manhattan. The crowd marched against the stream of traffic: It made it harder for the NYPD to follow them. Some carried briefcases and umbrellas, having been caught up in the throng on their way home from work or during an afternoon stroll. Others lifted bright placards above their heads. “God Bless You Lyndon For Ending The War,” read one. A smallish man in wire-rimmed glasses and a black military duster led the pack, singing, “I declare the war is over” in an off-pitch, nasal croon.
The man’s name was Phil Ochs, and the Vietnam War wouldn’t actually end for another seven and a half years.
Read the rest of the review at Utne Reader, and watch the trailer below.