Love me, I'm a liberal
February 26, 2012 7:04 PM   Subscribe

Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune - excellent 90-minute documentary of the trenchant folk performer who chronicled civil rights, politics, and the Viet Nam War until death by his own hand in 1976. Although he never achieved widespread popular acclaim, many found him to be the true voice of his generation - with themes that are sadly still relevant today. Just a musical taste to whet your appetite: Love Me, I'm a Liberal.

Interview about Ochs with Christopher Hitchens - Before his death, Hitchens offered his viewpoint on the music of Ochs, the United States involvement in Chile, how the modern documentaries have replaced folk music in activism, and more.

Tom Paxton tribute: Phil

No More Songs - a fan site
Remembering Phil Ochs - his sister Sonny's site

There But for Fortune
I Ain't Marching Anymore
When I'm Gone
Power and the Glory
Too Many Martyrs
The Ringing of the Revolution
That's What I Want to Hear
The Highwayman
The War is Over

Related, previously on Mefi
Remembering Phil Ochs
posted by madamjujujive (34 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Oh boy, I love "When I'm Gone." Thanks for the post.
posted by AwkwardPause at 7:11 PM on February 26, 2012

Pleasures of the Harbor. I think most Ochs fans hated this one for being over-orchestrated, but I've always had a soft spot for it.
posted by maudlin at 7:26 PM on February 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

I ran into Love Me I'm Conservative a few weeks ago and thought it was well done. I found it while looking at various updated versions of Love Me I'm a Liberal and liked it better than any of them.

Also, "When I'm Gone" is great.
posted by pseudonick at 7:26 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I saw the documentary when it was out in theatrical release. I enjoyed it a great deal.
posted by immlass at 7:32 PM on February 26, 2012

Nice post. I inherited a love of Ochs from my mom who was a big fan and played his records a lot. Saw the documentary a few years ago in the theater, it was OK but emphasized his life dramas too much and didn't have enough of his music.

Crucifixion is one of the best songs written by anyone in the sixties.
posted by octothorpe at 7:39 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

You know, I occasionally say that I read too much Nietzsche as a kid. But I've never said I listened to too much Phil Ochs.

Now if only someone would tell my why I'm convinced Piazza, New York Catcher shares a tune with a Phil Ochs song, my life would be complete.
posted by hoyland at 7:42 PM on February 26, 2012

The guy had a fascinating life!

Testified at the Chicago 7 trial

Commissioned a gold lame suit from Elvis's designer

Took on a second identity of John Butler Train for a number of months.

And From Wikipedia:

In August 1971, Phil went to Chile, where Salvador Allende, a Marxist, had been democratically elected in the 1970 election. There he met Chilean folksinger Víctor Jara, an Allende supporter, and the two became friends. In October, Ochs left Chile to visit Argentina. Later that month, after singing at a political rally in Uruguay, he and his American traveling companion David Ifshin were arrested and detained overnight. When the two returned to Argentina, they were arrested as they got off the airplane. After a brief stay in an Argentinian prison, Ochs and Ifshin were sent to Bolivia via a commercial airliner where authorities were to detain them. Ifshin had previously been warned by Argentine leftist friends that when authorities sent dissidents to Bolivia, they would disappear forever. When the airliner arrived in Bolivia, the American captain of the Braniff International Airways aircraft allowed Ochs and Ifshin to stay on the aircraft and barred Bolivian authorities from entering. The aircraft then flew to Peru where the two disembarked and they were not detained. Fearful that Peruvian authorities might arrest him, Ochs returned to the United States a few days later.


Thanks for making me check him out again!
posted by shushufindi at 7:47 PM on February 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

Pleasures of the Harbor. I think most Ochs fans hated this one for being over-orchestrated, but I've always had a soft spot for it.

In the band I was in in the mid-80s, we did a cover of it; our singer Janice rearranged it into a stripped-down minor-key version and upped the bitter undertones. Unfortunately, her husband, our co-leader, decided after a while that the tune was too dark, which isn't a reason not to do a song, IMO, but I was overridden. I wish we'd recorded our version. (I was fortunate not to have heard the original's arrangement; I only heard it years later. I would've despised it too.)
posted by Philofacts at 7:55 PM on February 26, 2012

What's That I Hear?
posted by arveale at 8:16 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

As a Sixties teenager, raised on folk music and liberal ideas (and opera...but that didn't take), I liked Phil Ochs a lot, perhaps because of the same reasons a lot of folk music purists threw him overboard. I liked the Beatles; I liked the carefully orchestrated overlaying of a lot of the Sixties pop music. If the chords, melody, lyrics (and message) worked: great!

I'm not sure that any other "folk" singer so fully embraced this new pop sensibility. He was not Woody Guthrie. His life story is tragic, as his filmed documentary illustrates well.
posted by kozad at 8:19 PM on February 26, 2012

Thank you. I have always loved Phil Ochs and am sorry he couldn't stay with us. Looking forward (in a sad way) to watching this. His voice was incredibly eloquent, his lyrics beautifully crafted and wise.
posted by Miko at 8:50 PM on February 26, 2012

Saw it on Netflix a few month ago. I got to see him during several anti-Vietnam-war demonstrations in LA. He was always there.

Incredibly sad that he could not get the help he needed.

Also, when Pleasures of the Harbor came out, that's when I caught onto him, originally. I loved that album, and it is back on my iPod now.
posted by Danf at 8:54 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've performed the song Pleasures of the Harbor at an annual sea music festival for a few years now. Rendered acoustically, it's a terrific song, one which captures completely much of the experience of young sailors for centuries back. Makes you cry.
posted by Miko at 8:59 PM on February 26, 2012

As a high schooler in the early 00s, I went to a summer academic ¨nerd camp;¨ my roommate there was the child of parents more hippie-ish than mine, and had one or two Phil Ochs albums with her. Coincidentally, we also happened to be taking a 1960s history class together. We´d listen to her Phil Ochs CDs back in our room at night, making the connections between his songs, our class material, and the contemporary world around us. Love Me I´m a Liberal especially stood out, not just because you could replace the Korea line with ¨Iraq¨ and have it be just as accurate, but also because of that sing-songy hook. I have vivid memories of walking around our hall, around our class building, singing ¨So love me love me love me, I´m a liberal.¨ We must have been insufferable.

We were smart, socially awkward kids just coming into a political conscience. I know now that the politics of the punk scene probably would´ve appealed to me, but quite frankly I didn´t have enough social knowledge then to track it down. So it happened that Phil Ochs´ was this millenials´ main introduction to political music, after being old enough to understand the politics. (The stuff my parents played when I was tiny doesn´t count for these purposes.) I´m sure his music doesn´t speak to me in the same way that it speaks to people who lived through Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement, but it speaks to me nonetheless.

These days my favorite Ochs song is The Power and the Glory. Somebody unseat the Star Spangled Banner and make The Power and the Glory the national anthem ASAP.
posted by ActionPopulated at 9:54 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

PBS says "Fuck you Canadians".... Alas.
posted by Chuckles at 10:48 PM on February 26, 2012

song of my returning is good too. also, the pinhead gunpowder version.
posted by cupcake1337 at 11:01 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Holy shit, When I'm Gone is beautiful…wish there was a decent live version on youtube without all that voiceover.
posted by saul wright at 11:04 PM on February 26, 2012

I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody outside a small circle of friends
posted by finite at 12:05 AM on February 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

Our boots are needing a shine, boys
Boots are needing a shine
But our Coca-Cola is fine, boys
Coca-Cola is fine
We've got to protect all our citizens fair
So we'll send a a batallion for everyone there
And maybe we'll leave in a couple of years
'Cause we're the cops of the world, boys
We're the cops of the world
posted by brokkr at 12:57 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

"We're sorry, but this video is not available in your region due to rights restrictions."

Ah, irony. At least they're upfront about restricting my rights.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:37 AM on February 27, 2012

"We're sorry, but this video is not available in your region due to rights restrictions."

Sorry to Canada and anyone else who can't access the film. For a generous slice of the film, see GRITtv's interviews with the director ... it has about 18 minutes, with substantial clips. I am not sure if this clip will cross borders either!
posted by madamjujujive at 2:19 AM on February 27, 2012

Here's a good cover of Crucifixion.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:53 AM on February 27, 2012

And a great cover of Tape from California by 80's punk proto-provocateurs, Squirrel Bait.
posted by perspectival at 4:11 AM on February 27, 2012

The term "liberal" when he wrote that song was seen as meaning a cop-ou twho dares not be radical (not just by Phil, but in the youth culture as a whole) and had to be rehabilitated over decades before it's modern use.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:26 AM on February 27, 2012

I have been singing "Draft Dodger's Rag" to babies for years. Now that I have my own baby, I've been singing him all the Phil Ochs I know.

"When I'm Gone" has been my theme song for years (except for the days when Joan Jett singing "Bad Reputation" is my theme song, of course).
posted by newrambler at 6:18 AM on February 27, 2012

I loved "When I'm Gone" as a teenager, and also his other great, timeless weeper, Changes.

Look at this output in such a short few years. Admittedly many were topical and hastily written, but I find that even at their most dated, Phil's voice and passion and way with words carry them anyway.

had to be rehabilitated over decades before it's modern use.

I don't think it really had to be rehabilitated - only radicals ever really used it in the way Phil uses it, and I wouldn't say the word's really been rehabbed among those who still hew to that worldview today. It's Phil's critique of a political philosophy he believed didn't go far enough and made too many compromises to preserve the status quo. But to everyone else who espoused liberal views, it still was (and is) an attempt at a positive descriptor.
posted by Miko at 7:01 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

that would be this output.
posted by Miko at 7:02 AM on February 27, 2012

The term "liberal" when he wrote that song was seen as meaning a cop-ou twho dares not be radical

...and this has changed how?

(limp liberal representing)
posted by madamjujujive at 7:55 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just for some variation, here's Francoise Hardy's french language version of "There But For Fortune."

I've always loved "There But for Fortune" (the song)--it seems to me to encapsulate a moral understanding that drove the 'liberal' vision of politics from the C19th through most of the C20th and which came under astonishingly successful assault in the latter part of the C20th. The inability to understand how easy it is for people to end up as "failures" of one kind or another--how thin the ice is beneath all of us that keeps us from scandal, degradation, crime, poverty, addiction etc.--seems to me the signature moral failing of our time. It's what lies at the heart of contemporary "conservatism" and makes its claim to "Christian" motivations so incomprehensible. The idea that we would look at prisoners, prostitutes, drug addicts and the homeless as anything other than people justly punished for their own failings seems radical these days. Why the American Right disclaims evolutionary theory when they are such ardent social Darwinists will always be a mystery to me.
posted by yoink at 9:58 AM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Nine eleven never forget
posted by Ayn Rand and God at 11:03 AM on February 27, 2012

Amen, yoink.
posted by Miko at 11:48 AM on February 27, 2012

I saw a performance of the one man show, The Ballad of Phil Ochs featuring Zachary Stephenson The play was reat, here is a short clip [youtube].

It was staged in a small coffee house, and completely entrancing. People called out requests after the show, and he played them for a while, then finally started to laugh as the requests became more obscure and said since 'he wasn't actually Phil Ochs', he didn't know all his songs.

It was a great show-- and he managed to capture his voice and humour really well, we all got caught up in the magic.
posted by chapps at 5:22 PM on February 27, 2012

Brilliant post, us usual, dear madamjujujive.

From the moment I heard Phil Ochs singing Outside of a Small Circle of Friends, Talking Vietnam Blues and I Ain't Marching Anymore, so many years ago, his achingly smart songs, I fell in love with him. What marvelous ability he had to put his integrity, his anger, bs detection, political activism into words and songs that were intelligent, courageous and likable. I did love Bob Dylan, but dang, that Brillo pad voice was harsh so much of the time. Donovan's voice was often too dulcet and Joan Baez's voice had that almost operatic birdsong quality which grated on me at times.

Something about Phil Ochs felt like listening to a folk song version of The New York Times, The Village Voice, but with anger and poetry added. I loved his voice too. The intelligence and wit came across in an alluring, intellectually astute way.

Then, when I heard he died, his suicide, so young, my heart broke really. I could not listen to his music until this very day, decades later.

This post and thread have been very moving for me. Prompting me to look up more about his childhood, his bipolar disorder, his alcoholism/speed/pills addiction, how he did not have much of a father in his life and then turned to Bob Gibson ( a huge influence on many folk singers at that time), who struggled severely with alcoholism.

From there I went on to learn about Sonny Ochs, his sister, in whose house Phil hung himself in Far Rockaway. God, how horrendous that must have been for her!

Then, thanks to yoinks' awesome, insightful and powerful comment, I went on to learn more about Françoise Hardy, her husband, Jacques Dutronc and the very cool, lively, hip and fun gypsy swing (a fave) music created by their son, Thomas Dutronc.

Feeling thoroughly energized, political spirits refreshed, thanks for this wonderful musical journey today.
posted by nickyskye at 8:02 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

*as usual
posted by nickyskye at 8:32 PM on February 27, 2012

« Older Whacky music to enliven your day   |   The Republican "brand" is collapsing Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments