January 24, 2012

Love Me I'm A Liberal

Last night on PBS they ran a new American Masters program on Phil Ochs (you can watch the trailer at the site).I'm pretty certain most folks under 50 won't know about him, any more than they knew what it was really like during the Viet Nam War era - seeing as how there's just so much ignorance and outright revisionism about that time going on. And as for his songs they are probably even more forgotten by what passes for collective memory any more. If you get a chance to see it in rerun go ahead and see what you think. I was sort of reminded about a lot of things I forgot.

Probably two of his most remembered songs are "There But For Fortune" and "I Ain't Marching Anymore." (I must have killed a million men and now they want me back again but I ain't marchin' anymore.").

Anyhow, if you could say that Bob Dylan wrote protest ballads, it would be Ochs who did the anthems. And there's an argument to be made that Dylan didn't really do much beyond a few iconic things that were more or less co-opted by the Left. Ochs organized civil actions in between songs, and was the only performer who came to the Democratic Convention in 68 to perform when all the other acts begged off because it was looking too dangerous.

Phil was not a liberal. He was an unabashed radical. He felt the same way about liberals as, say, Rush Limbaugh feels about them - only from the other direction. I'd forgotten this song, which I shouldn't have; because I do recall being suspicious of liberals when I was sporting the black flag to school every day. I'd forgotten, in my dotage, where that had come from.

This song was the one I liked best.

Ochs succumbed to manic depression and committed suicide in the 70's. In the documentary Billy Bragg does a magnificent rendition of "I Dreamed I Saw Phil Ochs Last Night," a take-off on the song about Joe Hill, and he's in perfect voice with it too.

A person is supposed to be a radical in their youth and grow more conservative as they age. I'm trying my best to do the opposite because nowadays it seems to be the other way around. I get so sad looking at all these young people trying to act like libertarians. Kinda makes me ill thinking I may have somehow helped in some small way to promote that ridiculous, unworkable philosophy.

It was good to see some of the old faces from those times. Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Pete Seeger, and a host of other old activists and roustabouts. You might like them, even if your a freaking Tea Party apologist because none of these people were liberals either.

We need to sing this song again.

Oh look! It's Charlize Theron!


Petunia said...

Amazing how many of those lyrics are still applicable today. Maybe not this line, but it's still one of my favorites: "But now I've grown older and wiser, and that's why I'm turning you in." You're just full of musical gems these days!

flask said...

hey, i'm under 50, and i know who he was.

but i wanted to say that although things have taken a tol on me and i'm not writing much, i still read and i still love you.

is that too weird to say? in a non-creepy, non-stalkerish way that you might say it to someone whose words you've only ever read?

adnyway, my real world is made better because you're out there somewhere.

sybil law said...

Hey- I recorded that last night! Haven't watched it, yet. I have heard of him, though.

B.E. Earl said...

I recall hearing a cover version of that song with some updated lyrics. Don't remember who sang it or when. Maybe it was Phil himself and just a different version. But I liked it then and I like it now.

Oh hai, Charlize!

RW said...

Petunia- I think that last line doesn't take too much of a stretch, really. Just think Wikileaks.

flask- You're welcome!

sybil- Lt me know what you think when you watch it.

earl-I know, Charlize just keeps turning up.

Petunia said...

Touché mon ami.

SK Waller said...

I first heard "There But For Fortune" in 1965, by Joan Baez. That got me interested in Ochs. I also like "Draft Dodger Rag". We sang them all back in the day!

By the by, Dylan himself has always maintained that he never wrote protest songs.

Brian said...

A person is supposed to be a radical in their youth and grow more conservative as they age. I'm trying my best to do the opposite because nowadays it seems to be the other way around.

FWIW, I consider you a roll model in this regard. I figure by the time I'm your age I'll be living in a stateless commune on a converted oil platform, somewhere in international waters.

RW said...

SK 0 I knew you'd like this.

brian - re: abandoned oil rigs and visions of the future etc. - you've mentioned things like this before. In truth, though, you should stop thinking of "systems." There will never be an anarchist paradise any more than there will ever be no flags in the world. ethical anarchism is a position whereby people don't really think of "systems" as much as we think of our personal, ethical relationship with the state or the powers that be or whatever it is. It's a question of how we maintain our own personal integrity when faced with the natural corruption that occurs with power.

You know, you really need to get on Fred's mailing list dude. I think you'd like the ride.