"Cops of the World": remembering Phil Ochs
October 29, 2002 5:42 AM   Subscribe

"Cops of the World": remembering Phil Ochs -------------------------------------------- Ochs lyrics: “We're hairy and horny and ready to shack. We don't care if you're yellow or black. Just take off your clothes and lie down on your back.'Cause we're the Cops of the World, boys. We're the Cops of the World.”------------ LISTEN to his songs (realplayer/quicktime) Amidst the unilateralist talk of invading Iraq, and the (mostly media ignored) “biggest anti-war protests since the Vietnam War” [quote-Wash.Post,Oct. 27] last saturday, I thought of Phil Ochs......some of his songs [see Ochs lyrics index] haven't aged well, but some are still as searingly acidic as the day he wrote them, as above or in ”Love me, I’m a liberal”:“Once I was young and impulsive, I wore every conceivable pin...But I've grown older and wiser, and that's why I'm turning you in. So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal.” ------- Phil Ochs ------- (born 1940, suicide 1976)
posted by troutfishing (22 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I once heard someone describe Phil Ochs: "He's like Bob Dylan, but a better singer. And he's a better guitar player. Oh, and he writes better songs." I've always liked the bitterness, myself.
posted by transient at 5:59 AM on October 29, 2002

"Love me I'm A Liberal" was updated by Jello Biafra & Mojo Nixon.
posted by falameufilho at 6:07 AM on October 29, 2002

Smoking marijuana is more fun than drinking beer!

"Phil Ochs' songs have been recorded by many artists, from Joan Baez to Jello Biafra, from The Four Seasons to Teenage Fanclub, from Marianne Faithful to Ani DiFranco. Songs written about Phil Ochs include: 'I Dreamed I Saw Phil Ochs Last Night', by Billy Bragg; ' All My Heroes are Dead', by Dar Williams; ' The Parade's Still Going By', by Harry Chapin; 'The Day', by They Might Be Giants; and 'Patriot's Dream', by Arlo Guthrie." http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A789997
posted by xowie at 6:23 AM on October 29, 2002

Don't dis beer, man.
posted by transient at 6:31 AM on October 29, 2002

Ah, the anthems of my youth. "I Ain't Marchin' Any More" still gets my motor going, though I don't see how even Ochs could have honestly thought Communists on the AFL-CIO board of directors would have been a good thing.

<not_ochs>Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.</not_ochs>
posted by Slithy_Tove at 6:31 AM on October 29, 2002

posted by Vek at 6:43 AM on October 29, 2002

"I Ain't Marchin' Any More" is my favorite as well. It has a Woody Guthrie "Great Historical Bum" type of feel with Ochs' unique pointedness.

The box set has an electric version of it that I really like, even though some think that it makes me a Philistine.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:59 AM on October 29, 2002

One of Phil's most important legacies is his commentary on our culture of violence and revenge-driven politics. See "Pretty Smart on My Part" and "When In Rome." These lyrics are quite shocking but Phil's voice sang them with clarity and poignant satire. (Only he could get away with an uptempo song about the Kitty Genovese murder.)

He's crucially important to our understanding of his time and ours. Thanks for the post, troutfishing.
posted by PrinceValium at 7:16 AM on October 29, 2002

the following "quote" is attributed to Phil Ochs:

"Ah, but in such an ugly time,
the only true protest is beauty."

it's even found it's way in to the liner notes of a Refused album.
Anyone know if it's a lyric from a song?

posted by frisky biscuits at 8:51 AM on October 29, 2002

I didn't know there was a second biography out. I've read and enjoyed Marc Eliot's Death of a Rebel, but hadn't heard about Michael Schumacher's There but for Fortune. Is the new one worth reading?
posted by muckster at 9:11 AM on October 29, 2002

Very cool, troutfishing, I was googling Phil Ochs myself lately - he does seem to be just the voice for our times, no?

OK, Phil Ochs trivia time - many may remember the man for his music, but how many know that he was an important witness in the infamous Chicago 7 trial? In fact, he actually purchased Pigasus the Yippie's alternate presidential candidate.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:30 AM on October 29, 2002

transient - I heard that Dylan said of Ochs - "He his songs read like newspaper copy" (or somethng like that) and that Ochs thought Dylan's stuff was "vague". I ran across an unattributed Dylan quote in putting toether this post: Dylan said of Ochs "His songs just keep on getting better...I don't know how I can keep up"......Turns out, Dylan didn't need to.

Falameulfilho - I'll keep an eye out for that one. Jello B. is a bit like Ochs, too. Different era, same concerns, same caustic wit.

Slithy_Tove: I like best "Love me, I'm a liberal" and "Cops...."......Obviously. So, you said the AFL-CIO Board isn't communist?...... Hee hee hee.

Vek: ------------------------------ to you to! If I could have, I would have dropped little java animations of sexy, undulating women (and men) into the post to draw more eyeballs to the glory that was Ochs....

Prince Valium: you're welcome

Muckster: ....."Can't live proud enough to die when I'm gone
So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here"................
so what are we doing sitting in front of computers tapping away, yakking on Mefi? (This I ask myself)

Frisky Biscuits - that quote made me think of comparing/contrasting Phil Ochs and Nick Drake.

madamjujujive - That's one Hell of a piece of trivia! Yeah, Ochs be the man for our times -- I think Ochs's ghost is coming back to nip at the heels of the Pax Americanistas and to trouble their dreams.........
posted by troutfishing at 12:16 PM on October 29, 2002

"Sit by my side, come as close as the air,
Share in a memory of gray;
Wander in my words, dream about the pictures
That I play
Of changes."

Beyond the politics, Phil also wrote many songs that were musically beautiful and richly poetic. Check out "Flower Lady", "No More Songs", or "Jim Dean of Indiana."

Some of his finest work transcends the gap between poetry and politics. "The Scorpion Departs But Never Returns" uses the true story of a lost submarine as a metaphor for a nation gone off course. "Crucifixion" is Phil's rememberance of JFK and his commentary upon the human tendency to destroy our heroes. As the legend goes, Phil sang it for Robert Kennedy on a plane, who cried for his brother when he realized what it was about.

I reccomend the Farewells & Fantasies box set. And keep an eye out for Phil Ochs Song Nights in your area - his sister Sonny hosts them around the country. I just saw a terrific one in Albany, NY a few weeks ago.
posted by Fourmyle at 12:55 PM on October 29, 2002

Thanks troutfishing and everyone for some great links. Slithy ( if I may be so familiar ) is right: "I Ain't Marchin' Any More" is a great song.

Billy Bragg, the "big nosed bastard from Barking", might be considered a modern, albeit British, equivalent, and he did a song called "I Dreamed I Saw Phil Ochs Last Night" which turned me onto Mr Ochs. He's currently touring the US
posted by godidog at 2:49 PM on October 29, 2002

I have to go on a tangent and mention that I actually shook Billy Bragg's hand a week ago. He played the Boston area's Somerville Theatre a week ago Friday, and I was ignorant because I work too much. It was chance that I saw him the next day downtown, and he was friendly despite my being fresh out of the gym and planning to shower at home. I was sweaty, unshaven, smelly and crazy-looking. I gushed, and he gave me a sincere thanks for my appreciation. It made my day, and I don't regret buying his last album despite the fact that it's by far my least-favorite of his works.

If you don't know Billy Bragg's work, start with "Talking With The Taxman About Poetry," which is an amzing disc whether you agree with him politically or just enjoy great music and/or great poetry.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:56 PM on October 29, 2002

Troutfishing, I kiss your scaly feet! I had been thinking of doing an Ochs post for a while now--he's tied with Howlin' Wolf for my favorite musician ever, and I've been trying like hell to spread the word about him.
I'll add my favorites to the list:

Another tribute to JFK always makes me want to cry.
It's not only for the leader that the sorrow hits so hard
There are greater things I'll never understand
How a man so filled with life, even death was caught off guard.
That was the President and that was the man.

According to the liner notes of "Farewells and Fantasies," the chilling "One More Parade" was the first folk song about the Vietnam War. Phil said, "I was writing about it at a point where the media were really full of shit....It was clear to me and some others, but...all those other so-called progressive forces chose to look the other way for several years before they decided it had gone too far. But it had already gone too far back then."

Tracing his slump into disillusionment is both tragic and fascinating. His later works are bitter and sarcastic in a way that goes beyond the righteous anger of "I Ain't Marching Anymore" and "Love Me, I'm A Liberal," but like Fourmyle said, many of them have a transcendent and resigned beauty.
posted by hippugeek at 9:46 PM on October 29, 2002

I came upon Phil Ochs' songs via latterday protest-singer Eugene Chadbourne's versions of a few of them. Ochs had such a plaintive voice & a righteous way with words.
posted by misteraitch at 12:20 AM on October 30, 2002

"Ah, but in such an ugly time,
the only true protest is beauty."

it's from his final lp, gunfight at carnegie hall, and is part of his patter - something he obviously considered an art form. my copy was stolen long ago so i can't consult it - fortunately it's not what i'd call essential, fan of his that i am, because it's mostly medleys of elvis and buddy holly, though it is interesting to hear him do merle's okie from muskogee. anyway if i remember correctly, the patter was about his postmodern gold suit and a rather feisty chick in the audience yells, "strip!" to huge applause, and he can only lamely (ha) reply, "ah, but that would be cheap."

now that i think about it, and mindful of the hoopla around nirvana right now, gunfight is sort of phil's nirvana unplugged, a testament that seems unfitting and not really playing to his strengths, but somehow that attitude of defying the audience not in a punk, inyerface way, but simply through playing your favorite cover songs, feeling like your own songs are barely enough anymore, speaks volumes about the suicidal mindset.

nobody's mentioned there but for fortune - it was his greatest hit, as sung by baez. a staggering melody line on that one. the original 7" version of his that predates the live lp version was reissued on the compilation, Greatest Folksingers of the Sixties.

little remarked on, i would say, is that as far as i can tell, phil's collaboration with vandyke parks (pleasures of the harbor) was, in 1967, the first truly realized chamber pop album in the u.s., that is, singer plus orchestra arranged in an idiosyncratic, progressive way. you have to wonder whether phil and van were familiar with scott walker's first album. anyway pleasures and all the albums after it were slagged at the time for trying too hard; but they've aged so incredibly well.

my list in the genre of late 60s chamber pop:
1. scott 4
2. jorge ben [the 1969 lp]
3. pleasures of the harbor
4. brigitte fontaine est folle
5. nick drake - five leaves left
6. randy newman [first album]
7. elias regina - como e porque
8. francoise hardy - ma jeunesse fou le camp
9. fred neil - [everybody's talking]
10. gainsbourg & bardot - bonnie & clyde

folk music's ok but phil was also part of something else, something very special.
posted by mitchel at 2:51 AM on October 30, 2002

It's good to know Ochs isn't forgotten. Maybe I should send a link to this thread to his sister sonny? Strangely, this post attracted no partisan vitriol at all, only positive comments. Hmmmm....
posted by troutfishing at 5:50 AM on October 30, 2002

Mutual appreciation threads bother me a bit troutfishing so I'll, erm, help you out here:

I don't like the sentiments expressed in his ( most famous? ) song ”Love me, I’m a liberal” - it's the hard left attacking the centre left, as they far too often do. Persuasion will move us further your way - the people to get out and mock are those on the hard right, who are beyond persuasion. Another nice tune though...
posted by godidog at 9:34 AM on October 30, 2002

godidog - I think that Phil Ochs -- in "Love me, I'm a liberal".... wasn't much interested in persuasion. Sometimes, the veneer of the political "project" comes down and naked sentiment emerges. This is that song. We aren't all in proper uniform at all times and, furthermore, I find many things to love in the American right which are lacking in the left....and so "Love me, love me, love me....."

I would rather mock the center-left into a sense of shame, but extend a hand of friendship to the (estranged from the left) American right....
posted by troutfishing at 10:47 PM on November 2, 2002

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