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'WOMEN'S MARCH ON WASHINGTON' AND PHIL OCHS IN MEMORIAM (1940-1976) AND HAPPY VALENTINE'S MONTH

February 1, 2017

The weekend of January 20-22 was an astounding show of force and protest against the Trumpian Presidency.  It made me think of the power of organization and the ability of women's groups and coalitions to work with discipline and vitality to bond together.  The question now is how sustainable and effective the protests will be, and the continued  involvement of other groups, be them of gender, class or cultural pockets, massing together.  The example of this past weekend should be duly noted and heeded in its structure and power.  Both in image and in message, and certainly in numbers.                                 

As an aside, there is an intuitive sensibility women possess regarding the good of humanity.  Here I paraphrase the wise rhetoric of  American poet Carl Sandburg:  'If you ask your mother for one fried egg in the morning, and she cooks two, and you eat both – who is better at arithmetic – you or your mother?'  And quote the great Emily Dickinson  on the intrinsic nature of how courage develops from the pit of fear  - ' While I was fearing it, it came/But came with less of fear,/Because the fearing of it so long/Had almost made it dear.' In short women look out for us – often know what is better for us that we ourselves, and carry a force of disciplined and emotional intelligence not so easily found in male counterparts – and most distinctly not in this Trump guy and what is really shaping up as cronyism big time!

 

                                                               CARL SANDBURG                                             EMILY DICKINSON

 

Phil Ochs.  If my memory serves me well, it was the spring of either 1973 or 1974 as I was taking a Journalism class at Ottawa's Carleton University.  A folk music club in downtown Ottawa at the time named 'Le Hibou'/The Owl' had this wonderful tradition of booking blues and singer-songwriter musicians, and one night I attended an evening with Phil Ochs at the suggestion of my older brother who was a follower of his work.  Given my brother was five years older than I, I was being introduced to music that was a little before my real listening time as I grew in appreciation in the period of  the British Invasion.  But the folk music scene was already underway before all that.  And Phil Ochs, Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, Joan Baez, Richard Farina, Neil Young, Buffy Saint-Marie and many more were lighting up the stages with fascinating social and political commentary in their work.

 

PHIL OCHS

 

As I sat in the audience for the first set, I thought Ochs would be interesting to talk to but had no way of knowing how to get to him back stage.  At intermission, as I had to use the restroom, I found that the musicians' back room was adjacent and there was Ochs sitting on a chair, strumming and preparing for the next set.  'Hi.' – I introduced myself. 'What do you do?' he asked.  'I'm taking a course in Journalism.' And he went on to tell me that he had studied Journalism at Ohio State and written for the university paper.  To me it made total sense given the songs he was singing.  It was like news in song. Until I heard Phil Ochs, folk music to me were distant folk ballads from centuries gone by re-interpreted, though I did come to an appreciation of those with time. But Ochs was different.  Intense, smart, passionate, contemporary, and terribly concerned that those who he spoke with or knew his work, understood the dilemma of abusive political systems within his very own America.

 

As the years passed, I went on to learn many of his songs.  Further, I came to a greater understanding through his work of the political power of song and poetry.  The pen being mightier than the sword etc.  For me, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie were a bit out of range.. Bob Dylan, you couldn't miss as he went electric, and years later to hear the works of Bruce Springsteen on Vietnam and the political and social positions of  songwriters like Steve Earle and Billy Bragg – I understood how ahead of the curve Phil Ochs really was. Though the choices were his to write the activist material he did,  through periods of manic-depressive bouts, Ochs had more and more trouble hanging on to his dream of changing the world around him. And in spite of his incredibly sharp wit, along with his inability to break through onto commercial music markets, his constellation was not enough to keep the triggers of disillusionment and fear of worthlessness at bay.

 

Phil Ochs died by his own hand, April 9th, 1976.  It was the year I returned from my first trip to my ancestral home of Calabria and Sicily in Southern Italy.  I remember as I write this, how the glow of discovering the land my folks came from, gave me a perspective and sense of wonder about hard work, migration, alienation, the joys and travails of re-located families and all.  It was February when I returned from Italy.  The first album I played was 'Phil Ochs in Concert – 1966' from my brother's collection.  It was the song 'Bracero' about Mexican migrant workers that I needed to hear.  The song about migration and being from a different culture and trying to ensure the company owners did not take advantage of your sinew and sweat.  That is where my folks came from. Not Mexico, yet not dislike it in their agrarian toil and hours of labour to dream and reach for a better life for their families.

 

And as Ochs sang of the hatred and racism in the American South in songs like 'Here's to the State of Mississippi' in the early sixties, then later changed the title to read as 'Here's to the State of Richard Nixon' – he wouldn't have missed a beat substituting Reagan, Bush, Cheney and Trump! 

 

Ochs did not live to see the likes of this past weekend's 'Women's March on Washington'.  He may have been elated and renewed with hope and joy, for he had written in the liner notes to his album 'Pleasures of the Harbor' so many years before – 'You must protest, you must protest – it is your diamond duty.  Oh but in such an ugly time, the true protest is beauty.'

 

Thank you Phil!  Thank you Women of the World! Let's all move forward into the light!

 

 

IMAGE OF CUPID MAKING A BOW FROM THE RIB OF HERCULES BY EDME BOURCHARDON 1746

 

NEXT POST APRIL 1, 2017!