©Roz Payne www.newsreel.us firstname.lastname@example.org
CHORDS OF FAME liner notes
In a bar at the New York Hilton after a meeting of the American Booksellers Association in May of 1975, book people packed the tables near a smooth marble sphinx crouched upon an elevated plinth, while a piano-whacker played jazzy guzzle music in a sunken hollow beneath the level of the eyes. Next to his table, Phil Ochs knelt down and -examined an aged Royal typewriter residing in one of those yellow-brown herringbone tweed cases which looked like a relic abandoned in Budapest by a N.Y. Times correspondent during the early Cold War.
The typewriter had belonged to former CIA Officer Philip Agee, and had been used by him in writing his controversial book, Inside the Company: CIA Diary. Hidden in the lining of the typewriter case was the only CIA bugging device in captivity, a brass-colored grid of electronic gadgetry which apparently had emitted radio signals so that the CIA could tell at all times the location of Mr. Agee's writing project, about which the Agency was evincing a bit of angst and trepidation.
Phil looked carefully and even touched the grid-like bug, much of which lay exposed after the lining of the case had been ripped aside. But then Phil seemed more interested in the Royal writer itself, as he held the case and seemed to be measuring it with his eyes. "I think I used to have one just like it," he commented, then turned back to his on-the-wagon orange juice, one of his shyest smiles on his face.
Phil Ochs was. a man of a million anecdotes-- ask any of his friends, and when you interview a bunch of them, as I have, it's very much like reading a very good short story anthology as you hear caper upon caper from the marvelous life of Mr. Ochs.
We are not here, however, to grovel over galactic gossip, but rather we are here to listen to a brilliant two-volume anthology which traces the career of a clear-voiced singer, a true chronicler of the age, and a shaper of beautiful melodies. This anthology is a mix of Phil's early starkly topical songs and his later and final works which are subtle commentaries on the mores of fame, the mores of fortune, and the mores of napalmery and death.
In a way, Phil's songs, taken as a chronological whole, are a history of our time. Let us recall that his first song was about the Bay of Pigs invasion, a clandestine murderous project which began to be planned in the fall of 1960, with vice-President Richard Nixon in charge of the operation's planning. Phil's final song was Here's To The State of Richard Nixon, which A&M bravely released as a single in early 1974 when it really was not certain whether Nixon might pull an achtung! scene and assume the title of Augustus Milhous. In one light, Phil's career can be seen as that of a singing historian-- chronicling the 13 year battle between the forces of clandestinity and openness-- between the forces of Nixon arid Kennedy. Phil's heartbreak was upon the desolation of that battleplace.
THE SHAKING WALLS
As a youth, Phil Ochs once described himself as an American nebbish. "I was going to military school in Virginia," he said. "I had no. idea what I was going to be. I wasn't political. I wasn't musical (although his family has described him as a dynamite clarinet player), I was just an American nebbish, being formed by societal forces, completely captivated by movies, the whole James Dean, Marlon Brando trip. I was about sixteen. My brother was heavy into rhythm and blues. I was into country and western music. I memorized all these songs, my music teacher being the radio. There was Webb Pierce, Ray Price, Johnny Cash, Faron Young. And then I really fell for the Elvis image.”
Phil attended Ohio State University, where he studied journalism, and won his first guitar by betting on JFK in the 1960 election. He began to study economics and converted to democratic socialism, a cause the banners of which he raised throughout his life. He wrote his first serious song, The Ballad of the Cuban Invasion, after the CIA's Bay of Pigs invasion in April of 1961. Around that time Phil and Jim Glover formed a duo called the Sundowners, which featured a repertoire of Pete Seeger, Kingston trio material, and other topical songs, including a heavy rock version of Scarlet Ribbons. Phil dropped out of Ohio State over the issue of freedom of the press (he had troubles as editor of campus publications) and shortly thereafter came to New York, settling in Greenwich Village, to bask in the rebel traditions of its former residents-- John Reed, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Emma Goldman, e. e. cummings, Paul Robeson, Eugene O'Neill, and later the beats, and now of the flash flush of the folk song.
In 1962, when Phil Ochs arrived, the Greenwich Village folk scene was a glorious beehive of yodeling, strumming, harmonicas, hoots, flip-outs, and sexual rebellion; with folk clubs and bistros arising i and sinking like blobs in an hallucination.. These were the Kennedy years when protest singers could believe that they were reflecting their ideas off something besides a nightmare.
My God, what Phil didn't write about. The Ballad of Billy Sol Estes— remember him? The Ballad of the AMA; Talking Cuban Crisis; Freedom Riders; Ballad of Oxford Mississippi; the Ballad of John Henry Faulk; Medgar Evers; these songs and many others were written during Phil's initial years in New York, when he reacted virtually on a daily basis to the incoming flood of - political information. It was the era of the Topical Song, and Phil was its most brilliant partisan.
It was also the Age of Investigation. The electromagnetic revolution, with its computers, recorders, photographs, microfilm, microdots, bugs, wire-taps, satellite surveillance and other data-retentive mechanisms, was to provide an investigative troubadour with the incentive for a million songs. Information no longer vanished into the void, but the plots of groups and governments were held forever in the files and holding systems of the electric era.
Phil was not arm chair, Phil was direct investigation. He was on his way to Mississippi to participate in the civil rights drive of the summer of '64, the day the radio broadcasts began about the discovery of the bodies of the civil rights workers Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, whom the klanites had hidden under an earthen dam. In another instance, Phil went to Hazard, Kentucky to aid a prolonged and bloody miners' strike against corrupt owners who were trying to circumvent the provisions of the Mine Safety Act. Phil's subsequent song, No Christmas In Kentucky, became a theme every Christmas among the organizers.
His ability to shape beautiful melodies grew with his ability to delineate a topic. Bob Gibson, with whom Phil wrote several songs, including Too Many Martyrs (The Ballad of Medgar Evers), and one More Parade, remembers how Phil grew as a composer: "Phil started writing really sophisticated tunes. I think that some of his songs were incredibly musical. So often, when the song's got something they're trying to say, well, the music takes a back seat."
KNOW THE NEW FACTS EARLY
The essence, to paraphrase poet Charles Olson, was to KNOW THE NEW FACTS EARLY. And to en-mode the facts, to place them upon a melody, and to adorn them with metrics. It's not easy. But Phil had legendary zeal and energy, and there was no limit to where he thought he could take the topical song. His sister Sonny recalls visiting him at his apartment on Thompson Street in the Village. “He was sitting on his couch,” she wrote, “playing a chord progression over and over on his guitar. I said, ‘what is that supposed to be?' "
"The greatest song I'll ever write, Phil replied. He told her he had not yet written the words. "So how do you know it's the greatest song?” she wanted to know. Phil looked up: "Because I know." The song was The Power and Glory, Phil's most patriotic song, in which he unabashedly sings of his love and hope for America.
The Kennedys, Vietnam, Crucifixion
Phil knew the new facts early about Vietnam. He stood up against the war in the very early' 60' s when it was still a bunch of CIA weirdos with walky-talkies and pistols. Here it is in his " own words: "I was writing about Vietnam in 1962, way before the first anti-war marches. I was writing about it at a point where the media were really full of shit, where they were just turning the other way as Vietnam was being built. It was clear to me and some others-- I.F. Stone-- but the New York Times, CBS, Walter Cronkite, and all those other so-called progressive forces chose to look the other way several years before they decided it had gone too far. "
No one was more creatively critical of the Kennedy and Johnson years than Phil Ochs. Yet immediately after the assassination of President Kennedy, Phil wrote his hauntingly beautiful ballad That Was The President, which appeared on his second album. Phil received considerable criticism from leftist friends for his support of the Kennedys., but Phil years later still held the era in close focus: "There was a definite flowering- out of positive feelings when John Kennedy became president. The Civil Rights movement was giving off positive vibrations. There was a great feeling of reform, that things could be changed, that the government cared, that an innovator could come in... Things looked incredibly promising.”
“Then,” he continued, “came the Bay of Pigs, the beginnings of Vietnam and the assassination was the big thing. It ruined the dream. November 22, 1963 was a mortal wound the country has not as yet been able to recover from; things have happened that seem almost to have been re-plays of that...”
Later Phil wrote his song Crucifixion, which was partly about the death of JFK and its implications. In 1967, when Senator Robert Kennedy delivered his first major speech on the floor of the Senate against the Vietnam war, Phil sat in the gallery. Afterwards, writer Jack Newfield brought Phil to Kennedy's office to meet him. There in the office Phil sang an a cappella version for the Senator who quickly realized that it was about his brother and the emotion between Singer and Senator was intense.
People often speak of Phil's ceaseless curiosity-- his closest friends mention how much his idealism and moral standards meant to them. "I am sure glad I knew him. He did a lot for my political consciousness," one states. Another friend: "He had incredibly high standards. He changed my life." A well known I artist: "He stimulated me to be a lot more inquisitive, and a lot less concerned about appearances. He showed me a lot more dimensions to the world."
His between-songs patter on stage was legendary, and people will tell you that in private he was the wittiest and most spontaneously brilliant humorist they have ever met. Heraclitus, the Greek pre-Socratic, said that the road up and the road down are one and the same. Phil was capable of feeling the profoundest peaks of exuberance, of brilliant insight, but also the profoundest troughs of guilt and despair. Out of his despair sometimes his art could flow-- as when, in a period of remorse over his personal life, one night he wrote his beautiful song Changes.
Phil felt keenly the gap between idealism and actuality, even in his own life. “I realize I can’t feel any nobility for what I write because I know my life could never be as moral as my songs,” he wrote in the acket notes for I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore, his second album.
It is hard to estimate the amount of money Phil raised doing benefit concerts. Harder still it is to gauge the effect he had on those who through his songs heard of issues or of insights or were exposed to new ways of seeing the problems of the age. Topical songs needed a body of people interested in the topics. And when Phil began his career, in the sunset of the McCarthy era and the sunup of Camelot, idealism and social zeal were also on the rise. The audience was there, by the tens of thousands, and the potential was millions.
One thing is certain, Phil Ochs gave up numerous paying gigs to travel to remote places to sing for causes of his belief. He injured his commercial career by this exposure, and did it without reserve.
A quick spiffle through the Ochsian newsclip archives reveals that Phil began benefit appearances almost from the day he arrived in N.Y. City in '62. A list of benefits includes those for Broadside Magazine, the striking miners of Hazard, Kentucky, the victims of Hurricane Flora, the Sobell Committee, for underground newspapers under siege, for the Columbia University strikes of '68, for the draft resisters in Sweden, the Black Panther Hot Breakfast- Free Clinic program, the Chicago 8, the Chicago 7, for John Sinclair serving ten for two, for the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the University of Hanoi, the Gainesville 8, the National Committee for Free Elections in Mississippi, Broadway for Peace candidates, for the victims of Wounded Knee, for the bombed Bach Mai hospital, for the campaigns of Senator Eugene McCarthy, Ramsey Clark, and others.
Because of his dedication to the topical song, and because of his political concerns, Phil suffered the scorn of certain of his fellow singers, some of whom he intimately admired. Time, which hurls the ultimate garbage, will surely place a pall of silence upon the scoffers, who hid their concern for social ills beneath a veil of put-downs and character chop-up.
Phil himself said it best in 1967: "An entertainer earns his public position by wit, charm, talent or connections and if he feels strongly enough about a particular issue, he should apply his abilities at tasteful opportunities. If he is correct, he will have been a catalyst to the furtherance of something important; if he turns out to have been wrong, he will have to suffer the intellectual consequences and if his talent comes out unscathed, he should emerge somewhat wiser while having the issue in point discussed and perhaps clarified further. "
While unceasing in his efforts to raise money for the causes of justice, Phil remained personally frugal. Even when he was selling out concert halls across the land, his personal lifestyle was never luxurious. On the contrary, as a friend of his once remarked, "Anything, to Phil, was expensive.”
Illustrative of his stewardship in matters of money was an incident which occurred early in Phil's career during a Tuesday Hoot Night at the Gaslight in New York City. Phil was due on stage and the I crowd was impatient and there were yells for the bard to hurry up. Phil was standing in the kitchen. He was wearing contact lenses and he accidentally rubbed his eye with a shirt sleeve, and a lens I came off upon the cloth. Then he wiped his mouth with the sleeve, with the result that he swallowed his contact lens. Many a man would have surrendered to fate, and would have lost forever the expensive lens. But not Phil, who quickly wiggled his fingers down upon the sensitive tissues of his throat, and forthwith tossed forth his dinner. Where? Onto the kitchen counter. Then, as employees of the Gaslight bustled back and forth preparing sandwiches for unsuspecting customers, Phil searched through the former food, located the lens, wiped it off, and walked triumphantly upon the stage to begin his set.
For several years after arriving, Phil appeared mostly at Village clubs, including Gerdes, The Bitter End, Village Gate, The Thirdside, and at the Tuesday night hoots at the Gaslight. The money was sparse, and was mainly derived from a passed straw basket. At The Thirdside the response to Phil was so great by 1963 that the manager broke basket-pass precedent and offered Phil a twenty dollar minimum for an advertised performance. But Phil was on his way up the ladder of fame-- that is, on his way to the Gaslight. The manager of the Gaslight booked Phil, and right away Phil began organizing among his fellow singers. He was the first to demand pay for the Tuesday hoots. He organized a system for the orderly dispersing of funds collected in the basket. Later Phil brought the concept of the written contract to the folk clubs, and one former club-owner recalls a rather humorous clause in Phil's contracts that guaranteed a picket line outside his performances.
The Newport Folk Festival of 1963 was a major breakthrough for the topical song. When Phil was through singing, they gave him a standing ovation. Up to that point there was strong resistance to political folk music. "The breakthrough was Newport '63," Phil once said; "with the Freedom Singers, Dylan, Baez, the songwriters workshop, where it (the topical song) suddenly became the thing. It moved from the background to the foreground in just one weekend."
During 1964 and '65 Phil's art began to attract national attention. It also attracted the attention of right wing nuts. The Committee for Miners, the organization aiding the Kentucky strikers, had booked an auditorium in Baltimore in early ’65 for a concert featuring Tom Paxton and Phil. Two organizations, The John Birch Society and the Fighting American Nationalists, demanded that the concert be canceled on the grounds that the performers were "subversive" and were "communists." A local school official checked Phil and Tom out with the police and FBI and both, according to press accounts, “were given a clean bill of health.”
But that did not stop the Birchies, who picketed the concert carrying a sign that read “Agrarian Reformers Go Home!”
Phil was so controversial during this period that there was some fear that he might be offed from the stage. During the concert harassed by the Birchers, for instance, friends were positioned at the side of the stage constantly monitoring the audience for an assault by a nut.
By 1966, Phil was performing to packed concert halls. His first Carnegie Hall concert, January 7, 1966, was sold out 4 or 5 weeks in advance. There is a remarkable photo in the Phil Ochs archives showing him standing in shiny pants and overcoat, smiling brightly, in front of Carnegie Hall, with the SOLD OUT sign pasted upon the poster of the show. Throughout the late sixties he sold out large halls across the country.
Others began to record his material. In May of '67, Joan Baez' single of There But For Fortune became a big hit in the United States and England. Glen Yarbrough, Peter and Gordon, Jim and Jean, and others featured Phil's material in their repertoire.
With his success, he still could not break into television. As far back as the early '60's Phil and others were disgusted over the censorship of lyrics on the old TV Hootenanny Show, which had banned Pete Seeger from performing, but had not banned bland, watered-down versions from Pete's repertoire. Phil once organized a picket line outside the Hootenanny Show during a taping, and it was said that there was more talent on the line outside than on the inside stage.
All through his career Phil was eager to perform on television (the only TV special he got to do was in Chile in 1971) but the opportunities were few. He was angry with those who ran the airways, and was in favor of criminal indictments against those who prevented opinions of every kind from being aired before the public. “I can outdraw people who appear on national TV,” he once told an interviewer, "yet I can't get a booking on Tonight or Ed Sullivan.”
Plato said, “When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake." But Phil knew that in order to make the walls shake in an electromagnetic society, you have to have access to the electronic media. God, how hard it was for a singing democratic socialist to get a booking on the Johnny Carson show!!!
He had trouble with his singles also. When Outside of a Small Circle of Friends was released as a single from the Pleasures of the Harbor album, it looked for a while, in early '68, that, it might become a hit, but the ugly but effective farce of censorship chopped up the single. The FCC reportedly called a Los Angeles radio station that was featuring the song, and threatened them because of objections... to the song's contents.
The Late Sixties
In early '68 Phil moved to Los Angeles after which his songs began to reflect the various modes and conflicts to be found in trying to relate the concept of democratic socialism to the empire of sauna. 1968 was a crushing year. Phil was super busy-- concerts, traveling, writing songs, giving interviews, drinking, benefits, and struggling against the war. By the spring, Phil was feeling despair. In an interview given just a day or two before Johnson's abdication on April Fool's Eve, he said: “Everything that has happened since the death of Kennedy, the whole history of this country day by day has been blacker and blacker, more and more insane. Now I say to myself if they use the nuclear bomb in Vietnam I just won't feel like an American anymore. Then I ask myself, what are they doing now, in using napalm? It's a steady process of numbing, of alienation. What I'm thinking now is of either splitting, or working for the active overthrow of the government, or of finding a means of communication among people who believe in the real America.”
A few days later, just hours after a tired Phil Ochs who hadn't slept in four nights had given an inspired concert in Chicago, Martin Luther King was assassinated, and the cities burst out in angry fire. Phil was disgusted with the outpouring of praise for King from warloving demi-liberals. Right after the death, Phil said "There is very little talk about King's Vietnam stand. It is exactly the same crazyness that killed King. There is no ultimate difference between the guy shooting King and Humphrey praising King and saying what a great man he was. Really, what he stood for was not killing the white man. But 'non-violence' now seems to imply 'just forget about everything he ever did.' It's the Russians rewriting history allover again, but we have it developed to a science and we do it publicly and do not even think about it. You've got to pay for all your lies and that's what America refuses to learn."
That spring and summer Phil toured extensively for the presidential campaign of Sen. Eugene McCarthy. He was torn between Robert Kennedy and McCarthy-- Kennedy wanted Phil to be a part of his campaign-- but then the evil gloom and sharp spits of death in the Ambassador Hotel kitchen stopped him. Phil sang for McCarthy all the way to Chicago.
The riots of Chicago at the Democratic Convention were something from which Phil never quite recovered. His own words best describe his experiences in the gas-filled electric nightmare: "I spent two weeks in Chicago...I actually started on August l5th, just singing for McCarthy. Then I came back with the Yippies and just hung around with Rubin and friends and was arrested bringing the pig (the Yippie candidate) in to the civic center and spent 8 hours in jail. I just went around and sang at every conceivable l' place. I sang with Bobby Seale... And I sang to the troops out in front of the Hilton a couple of times, asking them to desert and nobody deserted. And I spent time on the l5th floor of the Hilton watching television I wanted to get the television experience too and you know --sort of on the periphery of the tear gassing. I was in the worst police brutality, right when they charged up by the Hilton. I was between the charging cops and the crowd and I raced into the doorway in the nick of time.
I sang at the unbirthday party for Lyndon Johnson... There were armed soldiers with helmets and guns walking through the lobby of this very plush hotel where the delegates were staying... While racing away from the tear gas, I just had a sensation of Yeats. I thought of Yeats (laughs) for some reason."
When Phil's sixth album, Rehearsals for Retirement, was published in 1969, the cover showed a gravestone with the inscription, "Phil Ochs (American): Born: El Paso, Texas 1940; Died: Chicago, Illinois, 1968"
There is yet no way to measure the effect of frustration, partial victories, quilt and harsh experience upon the natural biologic ups and downs. And so it was to his friends as they watched the legendary singer during his final several years. Sierras of happiness and brilliance; Snake River Valleys of doom. When the Kennedys were shot from the White House, Phil placed his faith, at least partially, in that leaflet-breathing dragon known as the Movement. The Movement arose, and then was creepy crawled by the forces of war. Phil says it best: "I don't think the movement dwindled out until after Kent State or even after that,” he told an interviewer. “The movement dwindled out about 1971. It dwindled out for several reasons. Number one was lack of a real ideology and lack of a party structure to function through. The biggest weakness in the Movement was the infiltration of drugs, which I basically assume was government inspired... And then Kent State-- those two girls got killed-- that meant for white people that the government was prepared to blow your head away with an M-I. That demonstrations didn't mean a half-million- strong picnic, it meant the possibility of death. Everybody in their semi-drug state was so paranoid anyway that that was enough to finish it off, with four shots. That was the end of the movement.”
Or so it seemed at the time.
It was in such a political climate that Phil, under the urging of friends in California, embarked on one of the most controversial periods in his career. He purchased from a c&w/rock costumer in Los Angeles a gold lamé suit with shiny silver trim similar to one that Elvis Presley once had worn. Phil performed golden suited at several concerts, including Carnegie Hall, backed by a band and singing medleys of rock songs, not to mention a version of Merle Haggard's Okie From Muskogee, to a rather unruly audience. "Phil Ochs is dead!" someone yelled at the end of the first Carnegie show.
A storm of semi-scorn ensued, that Phil did not see fit to weather, and he put the suit away, although at his Max's Kansas City gig in early '74 he brought it back for a taste of the past. Phil viewed the suit and the Buddy Holly medley, and the rock, as an experiment in a revolutionary Ché/Elvis synapse. "If there is any hope for a revolution in America," Phil told the audience at Carnegie Hall, "it lies in getting Elvis Presley to-become Ché Guevara..."
“I came to the conclusion, " he later told an interviewer, "that Colonel Parker (Elvis' manager) knows more about organizing America than Angela Davis or SDS. He understands the American mentality. In terms of changes in America you have to reach the working class, and to me Elvis Presley, in retrospect, is like a giant commercialization of the working class singer, also a true integrationist in terms of bringing black music and country music together, which is why his strength is so long-lasting."
Phil traveled a lot during his last years. In '71 he traveled to Chile to observe the socialist culture in action. In 1972 he went to Australia where he toured and recorded his single, Kansas City Bomber which Phil tried to have premiered at the roller derby track in L.A. In 1973 he toured the states, playing mostly at folk clubs, and in the fall of that year traveled to Africa, including Tanzania where he examined the socialist government. He recorded a single in Kenya in Swahili and Lingala which he reported was “released throughout East Africa.”
Phil created a stir in South Africa during his tour. The Rand Daily Mail in Johannesburg noted, in its review of one of his concerts that he performed "the haunting Pleasures of the Harbor, inspired by John Ford's film of Eugene O'Neill's The Long Voyage Home, and There But For Fortune which, coupled in medley with some Johnny Cash songs, he dedicated to the prisoners on Robben Island."
During the next few days Phil gave a couple of additional performances reportedly of "exceptional caliber" and then postponed traveling to Nigeria in order to give what was billed as "a special concert for non-Whites... in the men's common room of the Universi ty of Witwatersrand. "
While Phil was in Africa in the fall of '73, the CIA-funded coup chopped up the elected government of Chile, and Phil's friend, singer Victor Jara, was murdered-- another blow from which he never quite recovered.
Great artists often take off for a few years, and then return to write their greatest works. So it might have been for Phil Ochs. But there was that tradition of death: Keats, Thomas, Schumann, Shelley... all down on the worm farm early. And that baleful triad: dissipation/dissolution/divinity still held its magic, even in our era. The users of Bleecker Street eagerly rolled over for Phil just like the bums on the Bowery once rolled over for Stephen Foster.
Certain writers in the popular press always seemed to snicker in print about the few years in which Phil did not write many songs-- the hundreds of songs in the collected works did not count. Phil felt this most keenly, and in the spring of 1973, after a period of depression in L.A., went on a concert tour to try to jog the creative flow. He hoped by touring to find new inspiration. "My theory, " he said, "will be to sing wherever I can now-- that this will inspire new songs. I'm waiting to write new songs; they could come anytime. They could come five years from now. I have no idea. I was never trained to be a writer. They just came subconsciously, so whenever that happens, it happens.”
Phil's final years are probably more packed with legendary anecdotes than the final flame-out of an English romantic poet of the last century. There was the time one night at the Troubadour in L.A. when he ripped out the sink in the bathroom, with a resulting spewing gush, after Van Morrison refused to honor Phil's request to sing Madame George. But many of the anecdotes one hears are grimmer by far than the sink rip-out-- as Phil reacted to the tyranny of booze, despair and maddening mood swings.
His final single, Here's to the State of Richard Nixon, written to the melody of his earlier Here's to the State of Mississippi, was released in early 1974. The flip side was a new fife-and-drum-backed rendition of Power and the Glory, a tune which may well wind up as a new national anthem. Phil predicted the fall of Nixon in a series of articles in 1973, about a year before it seemed probable. He still felt, in spite of napalm, the climate of assassination, in spite of his own despair, that there was, in his own words, "still something inherent in the fibre of America worth saving."
In later years Phil found some measure of salvation in public service, and in his researches into socialist economics. He carried on complicated and intimate friendships with an astounding variety of people. On one front, it was said that he had the fastest tongue in the West. But his major hunger was for a better world . and a better Phil. Hence the endless benefits, and his role in organizing events such as the Chile concert at the Felt Forum in '74, and the War Is Over rally in '75 after the final chopper had lifted away from the U.S. Embassy in Saigon.
There's no need here to chronicle his sad last months. Let the biographers begin preparing their file cards, and the movie makers focus their lenses, for already Phil is the stuff of legends.
Meanwhile the songs remain. And those of us who had the honor of knowing him remember his voice. To encounter Phil unexpectedly at a party, or at a riot, or on the street-- what a twinge of happiness. Sometimes, we'd be talking, and suddenly he'd burst into a phrase of song-- it was always a pleasure. He was a wonderful singer. In my mind I hear Phil sing his songs all the time-- a permanent concert I turn to at will. I would go so far as to say it's part of a stream of eternity into which I dip each day, Struggle and survive, o singers.
from AMERICA: A HISTORY IN VERSE, Vol 3. (1962-1970)
The center-left magazine Ramparts
just about the most influential American magazine of its era
in its vehement & ethical advocacy
ran large ads
in the Washington Post & N. Y. Times on 2-14
to announce an article in its March issue:
"The CIA has infiltrated and subverted the country's student
leadership. It has used students to spy. It has used students to
pressure international student organizations into Cold War
positions, and it has interfered in a most shocking manner in
the internal workings of the nation's oldest and largest student
The CIA went tweedily bonkers
They naturally wanted to know how much Ramparts
had learned of the inner workings of the Agency
They created some detailed files on Ramparts backers
and sicced the IRS on as many as they could
as when on February 15, 1967
when requested by the CIA, the IRS forked over copies of
Ramparts' tax returns to Richard Ober
the CIA counterintelligence officer
looking to harm Ramparts as much as possible
Not long later, a right-wing break-in man
(hired by right-wing California grape-growers
also to steal Cesar Chavez's supporter list
to try to break the national grape boycott)
stole the Ramparts CIA files in California
and they were brought to DC
where 2 CIA officers
took a look at them.
Robert Kennedy's Take on the CIA
During the scandal over the CIA money- flow
to the National Student Association
Johnson putatively ordered the CIA
to end all secret programs assisting student groups
Around this time the writer Jack Newfield
had a chat with Robert Kennedy about the CIA
and later published Kennedy's positive views:
"What you're not aware of is what role the CIA plays
within the government. During the 1950s, for example, many
of the liberals who were forced out of other departments
found a sanctuary, an enclave, in the CIA. So some of the
best people in Washington, and around the country,
began to collect there. They were very sympathetic, for
example, to nationalist, and even Socialist governments and
movements. And I think now the CIA is becoming much
more realistic, and critical, about the war, than other
departments, or even the people in the White House. So it is not
so black and white as you make it."
Robert Kennedy arose in the Senate to speak on the war
that had sent 400,000 men to its widening
He raised his voice against the escalation
& urged the Nation to "dare take initiatives for peace."
The singer phil Ochs had flown down from NYC
for the speech
Afterwards Jack Newfield brought Phil
to Kennedy's office where phil sang an
a cappella version of his song "Crucifixion"
with lines especially meaningful to RFK such as
"The stars settle slow, in loneliness they lie.
Till the universe explodes as a falling star is raised.
The planets are paralyzed; the mountains are amazed;
But they all glow brighter from the brilliance of the blaze.
With thie speed of insanity, then he dies!"
Jack Newfield later recalled the response:
"Kennedy quickly grasped
that it was half about his brother—
and it was a very heavy scene
that it was half about his brother
—he was wiped out by it."
at the Abbey Road studio in London
The Beatles recorded John Lennon's
era-stirring tune, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"
for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band