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February 20, 2009


Steve Wylder

I've been thinking about Phil Ochs a lot during the past months. The novel I'm working on involves the the "Festival of Life" during the 1968 Democratic Convention. Ochs sang at the LBJ Un-Birthday Party at the Chicago Coliseum, singing "I Ain't Marching Anymore," "The Power and Glory," and "The War is Over." As a patriotic song, "The Power and Glory" ought to be sung instead of such inanities as "God Bless the USA." But the prophetic lines,

Yet she's only as rich as the poorest of her poor
Only as free as the padlocked prison door
Only as strong as our love for this land
Only as tall as we stand

probably precludes its widespread use at civic events.

I was going to say that McLean wasn't an imitator of Ochs, but on second thought, I think you're right. Even McLean's best song, "Vincent," has images that might have shown up in an Ochs song. Ochs's imagery in "The War is Over" is a case in point:

One-legged veterans will greet the dawn
And they're whistling marches as they mow the lawn
And the gargoyles only sit and grieve
The gypsy fortune teller told me that we'd been deceived
You only are what you believe

My daughter told me that Ochs may have considered suing Paul Simon. She had read somewhere that Simon and Garfunkel lifted Ochs's arrangement of "Scarborough Fair," and that incident deepened his depression. I couldn't find anything about it on the Web, but it's possible.

Thanks for reminding us of Phil Ochs and prodding me to do a post his performance at the Coliseum.

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