Phil Ochs

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It is wrong to expect a reward for your struggles. The reward is the act of struggle itself, not what you win. Even though you can't expect to defeat the absurdity of the world, you must make that attempt. That's morality, that's religion. That's art. That's life.

Phil Ochs (December 19 1940April 9 1976) was a folksinger active in the civil rights movement and in opposition to the Vietnam War.

Quotes[edit]

One good song with a message can bring a point more deeply to more people than a thousand rallies.
  • One good song with a message can bring a point more deeply to more people than a thousand rallies.
    • Statement in Broadside magazine (1962), quoted in Songs of the Vietnam Conflict (2001) by James E. Perone, p. 19
  • I for one don't even believe that he's president. In order to have a president you need to have an election, in order to have an election you have to have a choice, and if you remember back to the primaries there were people running against the war, Kennedy and McCarthy. They often got 85 to 90% of the votes, but when it came time for the parties, that was totally ignored, so in point of fact, there really was no election. For a man who's always wanted to be president, and now that he's president, he's not even president.
    • Speech about Richard Nixon before playing "Ten Cents A Coup" on the Greatest Hits album (February 1970)
  • Before the days of television and mass media, the folksinger was often a traveling newspaper spreading tales through music. There is an urgent need for Americans to look deeply into themselves and their actions, and musical poetry is perhaps the most effective mirror available. Every newspaper headline is a potential song.
    • Introduction to "(The Marines Have Landed on the Shores of) Santo Domingo," Phil Ochs in Concert (1966)
  • In every political community there are varying shades of political opinion. One of the shadiest of these is the liberals. An outspoken group on many subjects. Ten degrees to the left of center in good times. Ten degrees to the right of center if it affects them personally. Here, then, is a lesson in safe logic.
    • Introduction to "Love Me, I'm a Liberal" on Phil Ochs in Concert (1966)
Leave the old and dying America and use your creative energies to help form a new America, which would be de-militarized, more humanistic
  • Does defending liberalism leave you friendless and perhaps wondering about your breath?
    • "Have you Heard? The War is Over!" The Village Voice (23 November 1967) [later published in Ochs' The War is Over (1968)]
  • I was over there, entertaining the troops. I won't say which troops.
    • Introduction to "The World Began In Eden And Ended in Los Angeles" from There and Now: Live in Vancouver (1968)
  • Leave the old and dying America and use your creative energies to help form a new America, which would be de-militarized, more humanistic, where the police are less hostile and closer to the community, where the wealthy are not given unleashed power for the exploitation of the people. And, mostly because it's now a matter of life and death, reassert an ecological balance with the environment, which means the people in the oil companies and the car companies and the space industry and all the other industries will have to be brought into account, so that there will be a new definition of government which has to be closer to the people and less close to special interests which are far more harmful than any revolutionaries.
    • Broadside magazine interview (1968; published 1976)
  • I write all my own songs and they are just simple melodies with a lot of lyrics. They usually have to do with current events and what is going on in the news. You can call them topical songs, songs about the news, and then developing into more philosophical songs later.
  • MR. KUNSTLER: Now, Mr. Ochs, have you ever been associated with what is called the Youth International Party, or, as we will say, the Yippies?
    THE WITNESS: Yes. I helped design the party, formulate the idea of what Yippie was going to be, in the early part of 1968.
    MR. KUNSTLER: Can you indicate to the Court and jury what Yippie was going to be, what its purpose was for its formation?
    THE WITNESS: The idea of Yippie was to be a form of theater politics, theatrically dealing with what seemed to be an increasingly absurd world and trying to deal with it in other than just on a straight moral level. They wanted to be able to act out fantasies in the street to communicate their feelings to the public.
    • Testimony at the Chicago Seven trial (11 December 1969)
Step outside the guidelines of the official umpires and make your own rules and your own reality.
  • I can spare a dime, brother, but in these morally inflationary times, a dime goes a lot farther if it's demanding work rather than adding to the indignity of relief.
    • Interview with Michael Ross (1969)
  • It is wrong to expect a reward for your struggles. The reward is the act of struggle itself, not what you win. Even though you can't expect to defeat the absurdity of the world, you must make that attempt. That's morality, that's religion. That's art. That's life.
    • As quoted in The Complete Phil Ochs : Chords of Fame (1978) by Almo publications
  • [The Yippie demonstrations] were merely an attack of mental disobedience on an obediently insane society ... and if you feel you have been living in an unreal world for the last couple of years, it is particularly because this power structure has refused to listen to reason ... Step outside the guidelines of the official umpires and make your own rules and your own reality.
    • As quoted in An American Ordeal: The Antiwar Movement of the Vietnam Period (1990) by Charles DeBenedetti, p. 223

Lyrics[edit]

There but for fortune, go you or I.
Now they sing out his praises on every distant shore
But so few remember what he was fightin' for...
Here is a land full of power and glory
Beauty that words cannot recall
Oh her power shall rest on the strength of her freedom
Her glory shall rest on us all.
Call it peace or call it treason,
Call it love or call it reason,
But I ain't marching anymore!
The evil is done in hopes that evil surrenders
but the deeds of the devil are burned too deep in the embers...
I won't be laughing at the lies when I'm gone
And I can't question how or when or why when I'm gone
Can't live proud enough to die when I'm gone
So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here.
I know you're set for fighting, but what are you fighting for?
  • Show me a prison, show me a jail
    Show me a pris'ner whose face has grown pale

    And I'll show you a young man
    With many reasons why
    There but for fortune, go you or I.
    • "There but for Fortune" (1963); Ochs here paraphrases a proverbial expression "There, but for the grace of God, go I", which was itself a paraphrase of John Bradford's expression on seeing other prisoners being led to their execution as heretics to be burned at the stake: There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford. (as quoted in Problems in the Relations of God and Man (1911) by Clement Charles Julian Webb, p. 107)
  • Show me an alley, show me a train
    Show me a hobo who sleeps out in the rain
    And I'll show you a young man
    With many reasons why
    There but for fortune, go you or I
    • "There but for Fortune" (1963)
  • Show me a country where the bombs had to fall
    Show me the ruins of buildings so tall

    And I'll show you a young land
    With many reasons why
    There but for fortune, go you or I
    You or I.
    • "There but for Fortune" (1963)
  • Now they sing out his praises on every distant shore
    But so few remember what he was fightin' for

    Oh why sing the songs and forget about the aim?
    He wrote them for a reason, why not sing them for the same?
  • Yet she's only as rich as the poorest of the poor
    Only as free as a padlocked prison door
    Only as strong as our love for this land
    Only as tall as we stand!
  • It's always the old to lead us to the war
    It's always the young to fall
    Now look at all we've won with the sabre and the gun
    Tell me is it worth it all.
  • Call it peace or call it treason,
    Call it love or call it reason,
    But I ain't marching anymore!
    • "I Ain't Marching Anymore"
  • Well I've seen travel in many ways
    I've traveled in cars and old subways
    But in Birmingham some people chose
    To fly down the street from a fire hose.
    Doin' some hard travelin'...from hydrants of plenty.
  • And the evil is done in hopes that evil surrenders
    but the deeds of the devil are burned too deep in the embers
    and a world of hunger in vengeance will always remember
    So please be reassured, we seek no wider war,
    we seek no wider war.
    • "We Seek No Wider War" (1965) from Farewells & Fantasies (1997)
    • Note: The song title alludes to a speech by Lyndon Johnson (17 Februaty 1965), in which he said, referring to the war in Vietnam: "We have no ambition there for ourselves, we seek no wider war."
  • Dump the reds in a pile, boys
    Dump the reds in a pile
    You'd better wipe off that smile, boys
    Better wipe off that smile
    We'll spit through the streets of the cities we wreck
    We'll find you a leader that you can't elect
    Those treaties we signed were a pain in the neck
    'Cause we're the cops of the world, boys
    We're the cops of the world.
  • And I won't be laughing at the lies when I'm gone
    And I can't question how or when or why when I'm gone
    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 do your duty, boys, and join with pride
    Serve your country in her suicide
    Find the flags so you can wave goodbye
    But just before the end even treason might be worth a try
    This country is too young to die
    I declare the war is over
    It's over, it's over.
  • Oh you tell me that there's danger to the land you call your own
    And you watch them build the war machine right beside your home
    And you tell me that you're ready to go marchin' to the war
    I know you're set for fighting, but what are you fighting for?
  • In the courtroom, watch the balance of the scales
    If the price is right, there's time for more appeals
    The strings are pulled, the switch is stayed
    The finest lawyers fees are paid
    And a rich man never died upon the chair

Pleasures of the Harbor (1967)[edit]

Full lyrics online
You must protest
It is your diamond duty
Ah but in such an ugly time the true protest is beauty
  • I watched my life fade-away in a flash
    A quarter of a century dash through closets full of candles with never a room
    For rapture through a kingdom had been captured.

    And so I turn away from my drizzling furniture and pass old ladies
    Sniffling by movie stars' tombs, yes I must be home again soon.
    To face the unspoken unguarded thoughts of habitual hearts
    A vanguard of electricians a village full of tarts
    Who say you must protest you must protest
    It is your diamond duty
    Ah but in such an ugly time the true protest is beauty

    And the bleeding seer crawled from the ruins of the empire
    And stood bleeding, bleeding on the border
    He said, passion has led to chaos and now chaos will lead to order.
    Oh I have been away for a while and I hope to be back again soon.
    • Liner notes; part of this statement is often paraphrased "In such ugly times, the only true protest is beauty."
  • The painter paints his brushes black
    Through the canvas runs a crack
    Portrait of the pain never answers back.
  • Look outside the window, there's a woman being grabbed
    They've dragged her to the bushes and now she's being stabbed

    Maybe we should call the cops and try to stop the pain
    But Monopoly is so much fun, I'd hate to blow the game
    And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody
    Outside of a small circle of friends.
  • Smoking marijuana is more fun than drinking beer,
    But a friend of ours was captured and they gave him thirty years
    Maybe we should raise our voices, ask somebody why
    But demonstrations are a drag, besides we're much too high.
Chosen for a challenge that is hopelessly hard
And the only single sound is the sighing of the stars
But to the silence and distance they are sworn.
  • In the green fields a turnin', a baby is born
    His cries crease the wind and mingle with the morn
    An assault upon the order, the changing of the guard
    Chosen for a challenge that is hopelessly hard
    And the only single sound is the sighing of the stars
    But to the silence and distance they are sworn.
Beneath the greatest love is a hurricane of hate and God help the critic of the dawn.
  • So dance dance dance
    Teach us to be true
    Come dance dance dance
    'Cause we love you
    • "Crucifixion"
  • Images of innocence charge him go on
    But the decadence of destiny is looking for a pawn

    To a nightmare of knowledge he opens up the gate
    And a blinding revelation is laid upon his plate
    That beneath the greatest love is a hurricane of hate
    And God help the critic of the dawn.
    • "Crucifixion"
Reality is ruined; it's the freeing from the fear
The drama is distorted, to what they want to hear
Swimming in their sorrow, in the twisting of a tear
As they wait for a new thrill parade.
  • They say they can't believe it, it's a sacrilegious shame
    Now, who would want to hurt such a hero of the game?
    But you know I predicted it; I knew he had to fall
    How did it happen? I hope his suffering was small.
    Tell me every detail, I've got to know it all,
    And do you have a picture of the pain?
    • "Crucifixion"
  • Time takes her toll and the memory fades
    but his glory is broken, in the magic that he made.
    Reality is ruined; it's the freeing from the fear
    The drama is distorted, to what they want to hear
    Swimming in their sorrow, in the twisting of a tear
    As they wait for a new thrill parade.
    • "Crucifixion"

The Broadside Tapes 1 (made in the 1960s; published c. 1980)[edit]

A protest song is a song that's so specific that you cannot mistake it for bullshit.
God isn't dead — he's just missing in action.
  • When they show the destruction of society on color TV, I want to be able to look out over Los Angeles and make sure they get it right.
    • Liner notes
  • The final story, the final chapter of Western man, I believe, lies in Los Angeles.
    • Liner notes
  • Leaving America is like losing twenty pounds and finding a new girlfriend.
    • Liner notes
  • A protest song is a song that's so specific that you cannot mistake it for bullshit.
    • Liner notes
  • America is two Mack trucks colliding on a superhighway because all the drivers are on amphetamines.
    • Liner notes

Quotes about Ochs[edit]

When you look back, his message was so humanistic, how could it possibly have seemed so radical? He was singing for equality and freedom and the end of war.
  • Unlike some other protesters, his attacks aren't safe and generalised. He chooses his targets well, and he hits them hard.
    • Karl Dallas, as quoted in Contemporary Literary Criticism Vol. 17 (1981) by Sharon R. Gunton, p. 330
  • I just can't keep up with Phil. And he's getting better and better and better.
    • Bob Dylan, as quoted in Contemporary Literary Criticism Vol. 17 (1981) by Sharon R. Gunton, p. 330
  • We got our heads bashed in Chicago; we saw students shot to death at Kent State; we had people stabbed to death at the Rolling Stones' Altamont concert — what do we have to believe in anymore? Unfortunately, for Phil Ochs, he couldn't give an answer. He lost his faith.
    • Michael Schumacher, There But For Fortune: The Life of Phil Ochs (1996)
  • That was really Phil's strong point. The big rally. He was a topical singer. He sang a lot of songs about the news of the day. When he performed in that kind of venue, he was at his absolute best.
    • Michael Schumacher, There But For Fortune: The Life of Phil Ochs (1996)
  • Phil believed strongly that one could change events, or change people's perception, through a well-crafted song.
    • Michael Schumacher, There But For Fortune: The Life of Phil Ochs (1996)
  • He was kind of forbidden fruit in a way. Everybody thinks of the '60s as being nothing but radicals and hippies and crazy people, but when you were going to school, people discouraged you from listening to people like Phil Ochs or Bob Dylan, or reading Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg... He was seen as this of radical which is really kind of funny. When you look back, his message was so humanistic, how could it possibly have seemed so radical? He was singing for equality and freedom and the end of war.
    • Michael Schumacher, There But For Fortune: The Life of Phil Ochs (1996)

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