Saturday, May 17, 2008

Another way of looking at it...
They say a picture's worth a thousand words, after all...
- it would follow that a good song is worth a thousand pictures? Perhaps. So I've got a song for you all to hear, by Phil Ochs (prounounced "oaks"). Phil Who?, you ask? For those of you who may not know, he was one of the most, if not the most, politically-oriented singer/songwriters of the '60s. He never achieved mass popularity, and according to his biography, he never lived like a star. Yet he recorded for such huge labels as Elektra and A&M records back in the day. He was on the protest lines, the disastrous 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago; he sang for West Virginia coal miners; he was part of the folk-environment that generated in New York City in the '60s, and was a contemporary of Bob Dylan, Peter-Paul & Mary, Tom Paxton, and others.
He was about as patriotic as anyone's ever been; some might say that being so politically-oriented fenced him in; as Bob Dylan's music grew ever more advanced and obliquely lyrical in nature, Phil remained politically focused, although his later albums, recorded in the late '60s and early '70s show his lyrics focusing more on his own personal outlook, emotions and feelings. Phil wrestled with the throes of schizophrenia, adopting an alter-ego by the name of "John Train"; whereas Phil was intellectual, committed and concerned, when he became John Train, he was abusive, arrogant and self-destructive. From what I've read, once the ghost of Train had passed, Phil felt that he'd pushed everyone too far and basically lost himself. He committed suicide in 1976...ironic, since that was our nation's Bicentennial year; you'd've thought Phil would have wanted to be around for the July 4th holiday that year.
The song I'm about to share with you is from his mid-60's album, "Phil Ochs In Concert", which features some of the most scathing ever between-song commentary. One song immediately captured my attention, although I wondered exactly what it was about. It's called "Love Me, I'm A Liberal", and of course, it's sarcastic. I wondered why, though...wasn't being a "Liberal" supposed to be a good thing, as opposed to the oppressive ways of conservatism and surreptitious political dealings in closed smoky rooms behind locked doors? It's been written that one of Phil's strong points was pointing out contradictions among his own contemporaries in order to make them see themselves anew and perhaps become truer to the cause. That's the impression I gathered, anyway. And so I believe this song is about Liberals who say they're True To The Cause, but when all is said and done, they're just like everybody else, really. So here it is...Phil Ochs, "Love Me, I'm A Liberal".

After seeing this YouTube video, I thought, "well, maybe I'm getting the point after all...THIS is what he meant so long ago." All of a sudden the lyrical point achieves clarity for us when applied to Images of This Current Time. Republicans or Democrats? Who is who? And how much do they resemble each other? And who's telling us the truth? Who's lying? And who's trying to manipulate us the most? Too bad Phil's not around...he'd have a field day, feeding on the bumbling fools who make up the Bush administration. EITHER Bush administration...take your pick. It just all goes to show that "intelligence" and "common sense" are two entirely different entities.

Philip David Ochs, 1940-1976.

If you'd like to find out more about Phil Ochs, may I suggest his biography, "Death Of A Rebel", written by his good friend Marc Eliot. Although Phil made his mark in the '60s, I didn't find out about him 'til the 1980's, when I read it. That led me to seek out his music. Intelligent and committed, and rewarding. And we sure need him nowadays, don't we?


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