Lunchtime Music – Phil Ochs – Flower Lady from Pleasures of the Harbor

Pleasures of the Harbor

So for whatever reason, maybe it was that I read yesterday that the 1968 Democratic National Convention started on August 26th, or maybe it’s just that lately I’ve been thinking about folksingers from the Sixties, but last night I listened to The War is Over: The Best of Phil Ochs. Phil’s music made a big impact on my world and political views in the Sixties and into the 70s, as he did on many of us long-haired types! Probably the first song of Phil’s that caught my attention was “Outside of a Small Circle of Friends”, but I quickly learned to love them all from “Here’s to the State of Mississippi” to  ”Rehearsals for Retirement”. Phil’s music always seemed to be with me. The album includes several tracks from his albums on A&M records like Pleasures of the Harbor and Tape From California. Here’s some background from Wikipedia about the album Pleasures of the Harbor:

Pleasures of the Harbor is Phil Ochs’ fourth full-length album and his first for A&M Records, released in 1967. It is one of Ochs’s most somber albums. In stark contrast to his three albums for Elektra Records which had all been basically folk music, Pleasures of the Harbor featured traces of classical, rock and roll, Dixieland jazz and experimental synthesized music crossing with folk, in hopes of producing a “folk-pop” crossover.Continue Reading

At Allmusic the album is an album pick and reviewer William Ruhlmann writes:

Going into the studio after Dylan’s move into rock accompaniment and Sgt. Pepper’s vast expansion of pop music, Ochs wanted to make a record that reflected all these trends, and he hired producer Larry Marks, arranger Ian Freebairn-Smith, and pianist Lincoln Mayorga — all of whom had classical backgrounds — to help him realize his vision. The result was Pleasures of the Harbor, his most musically varied and ambitious album, one routinely cited as his greatest accomplishment. Though the lyrics were usually not directly political, they continued to reflect his established points of view. His social criticisms here were complex, and they went largely unnoticed on a long album full of long songs, many of which did not support the literal interpretations they nevertheless received. Read More

So here’s some lunchtime music from Phil, one of my all time favorites, “Flower Lady” Phil on a live recording said this during the intro to the song “Unlike politics and TV you have to listen to the words”. I say yes, because create the images!! From Wikipedia:

“Flower Lady” was a six-minute narrative about contrasting characters in the city, with each anecdote having one thing in common; everyone ignores the poor woman trying to sell her flowers.


Today in Music – Happy Birthday Phil Ochs

So on this date in 1940 a folk singer, a protest singer was born who would have a profound effect on my musical library and political leanings – Phil Ochs. Phil radicalize my music library with his topical songs that touched on a variety of topics, none more important to me in the late 60′s than opposition to the war. But there were songs about just about everything, from civil rights, the Kennedy assassination to the sinking of nuclear submarines, Phil sang about them all! Here’s some background information from Wikipedia if you don’t know how Phil is!

Philip David Ochs ( /ˈoʊks/; December 19, 1940 – April 9, 1976) was an American protest singer (or, as he preferred, a topical singer) and songwriter who was known for his sharp wit, sardonic humor, earnest humanism, political activism, insightful and alliterative lyrics, and distinctive voice. He wrote hundreds of songs in the 1960s and released eight albums in his lifetime.

Ochs performed at many political events, including anti-Vietnam War and civil rights rallies, student events, and organized labor events over the course of his career, in addition to many concert appearances at such venues as New York City’s Town Hall and Carnegie Hall. Politically, Ochs described himself as a “left social democrat” who became an “early revolutionary” after the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago led to a police riot, which had a profound effect on his state of mind.[1]

After years of prolific writing in the 1960s, Ochs’s mental stability declined in the 1970s. He eventually succumbed to a number of problems including bipolar disorder and alcoholism, and took his own life in 1976.

Some of Ochs’s major influences were Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Bob Gibson, Faron Young, Merle Haggard, John Wayne, and John F. Kennedy. His best-known songs include “I Ain’t Marching Anymore”, “Changes”, “Crucifixion”, “Draft Dodger Rag”, “Love Me, I’m a Liberal”, “Outside of a Small Circle of Friends”, “Power and the Glory”, “There but for Fortune”, and “The War Is Over”.Full Bio.

I often think about how Phil would react to the world around us today. What would his songs be like and the closest I can come and I’m sure there are others is the music of David Rovics. After the massacre in Newtown, my thoughts did turn to Phil, especially after listening to the President speak and say that we can not do anything because the politics are too tough. The first Phil Ochs song that came to mind was “Outside of a Small Circle of Friends” a song that Phil wrote after the stabbing of Kitty Genovese again from Wikipedia:

Ochs was inspired to write “Outside of a Small Circle of Friends” by the case of Kitty Genovese, who was stabbed to death outside her home in Queens, New York, while dozens of her neighbors reportedly ignored her cries for help.[2] The song’s refrain, and its title, came from a conversation Ochs had with an acquaintance:

[It] came out of a chance remark, late at night at a coffeehouse. I was talking to a Canadian guy, and he said, “Oh, I’m sure it wouldn’t interest anybody outside of a small circle of friends.” I said, “What’d you say?” and I picked up a guitar and ZOOM, the chords came right away.[1]

The lyrics of “Outside of a Small Circle of Friends” condemn social apathy by relating different situations that should demand action on the part of the narrator, but in each case the narrator evades responsibility by giving a mundane excuse, and invariably concludes that “I’m sure it wouldn’t interest anybody outside of a small circle of friends

So here is some morning music to honor Phil on his birthday – read the lyrics take heart and hope that the killings all around our country matter to more than a small circle of friends – we need to make them matter to all!! Happy Birthday Phil, wish you were here!


Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune

So last I finally sat down and watched the documentary “Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune” that my wife gave me for my birthday. The Kenneth Bowser film lives up to all  the acclaim it has recieved. Here’s some of the press:

“Excellent! A strong and forceful documentary, beautiful and melodic as well as pointedly political.” – Kenneth Turan Los Angeles Times

“Terrifc! Ochs was an uncomprimising artist who believed in the power of music as a tool for social and political change. His songs provide a stirring soundtrack throughout the film  David Rooney The Holywod Reporter

And Phil Ochs music has been a part of the soundtrack of my life for the last 40 plus years! This is a wodnerful telling of the Phil Ochs story from the early days at Ohio State to his last tragic days. His story is told by friends like Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Tom Hayden, business associates like Jerry Moss of A&M records and Jen Holtzman of Eektra Records and family members  including brother Michael, sister Sonny, wife Alice and daughter Meeghan. As I said the movie chronicals Phil’s life from his early days at Oho State and being turned onto Folk Music byhis roomamate Jim  Glover who would later become part of the Folk Duo Jim & Jean and often performed with Phil to his last days when he becane “John Train” And in between it touches on the two issues the formed the basis of his fight for social justice through music the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War.

One of the aspects of Phil’s life that I wasn’t familiar with was his relationship with Chilean folksinger Víctor Jara, an Allende supporter. Pete Seeger tells the story in the film of Jara’s torture and ultimate death during the Chilean coup that drove Allende from office.

So it was an evening well spent. Thanks Kathy for the present. If you don’t know Phils music (which in many ways is sadly in many ways still relevant today!) check out the film and even if you do it;s great for any fans colleciton!

Here’s Sonia & Disappear Fear performing Phil’s song “Is There Anybody Here?”


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Folk Favorite – Phil Ochs

One of the artist who had a big impact on my early music listening and my overall political beliefs was Phil Ochs. Phil’s songs made you think, made you feel, whether it was about war in songs like “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” or how maybe ones liberal beliefs may change the closer things hit to home in “Love Me, Love Me, I’m a Liberal”, or apathy in “Outside of a Small Circle of Friends”. There are just too many great Ochs’ songs to list, but here are two of my favorites, “The Flower Lady” and “There But for Fortune” From Tom Paxton’s song Phil about Phil’s suicide in 1976:

Oh, I remember “There But For Fortune”.
There but for fortune you and I would go.
Fortune turned its back on you,
Or so it must have seemed to you,
Christ alone knows what was the final blow.

You can read the complete lyrics hereor listen to it here


Friday’s Run Mix – Al and Shuggie!

Friday’s playlist from my four plus mile run!

“Coming Back (Across the Water)” – Bernard Allison – Good track from Luther’s son. Not my favorite album but maybe I should listen again!

“Guantanamo Bay” - David Rovics - my favorite current protest singer. Check out some of his songs like “Who would Jesus Bomb”

Here’s David’s song “New Orleans”:

“Expose” – Guy Clark – good song from the great Guy Clark. First introduced to Clark’s music by Jerry Jeff’s covers of “LA Freeway” and “Desperados Waiting for a Train” also covered by Tom Rush. His latest album “Somedays the Song Writes You” was on the player this spring for a long time!

“Remember I Feel Lonesome Too” – Chris Brashear and Peter McLaughlin
A nice folk acoustic album that probably not listened to enough! Peter McLaughlin is a National Flatpicking champion!

“Silent Night” – Eric Brace and Peter Cooper – the Jon Byrd song from Master Sessions a great song!

“Charleston Western Carolina Railroad” – Jim Smoak and the Louisiana Honeydrippers -another album that hasn’t been listened to for a while – Smoak’s voice is pleasant and the picking sounded pretty good!

“Louise” – Jerry Jeff Walker’s cover of the great Paul Seibel song. This one is from the early Vanguard years. Jerry Jeff rerecorded this song on the album Gypsy Songman and that version is much preferred!

“Hard Times” – From Australian folksinger Spike Flynn – need to listen to this album some more this is a fine track

“After All” – David Buskin from his debut album a good track that is not remembered but sounded good!

“Shuggie’s Shuffle” – Al Kooper and Shuggie Otis – occupied two-thirds of the fourth mile. Some good organ from Kooper and great guitar from Shuggie! And there are two new Al Kooper albums to check out Black Coffee and the new album White Chocolate

“Such a Good Night” – Eric Hisaw – another artist that doesn’t get played too often but sounded pretty good!

“As Long as the Sun” – Bill Morrissey – love this song from one of my favorite artists!

A good run and some good tunes favorite was the Al Kooper-Shuggie Otis track have to go back and listen to that album

Here’s Al and the Rekooperators with a Kooper classic!


Forgotten Albums – Phil Ochs and John Prine

Damn computer kept losing the Internet connection last night, but I may have fixed it with a new splitter! Anyway last night I listened to two albums that I haven’t heard in a long time. The first one was Phil Ochs Rehearsals for Retirement and the second one was John Prine’s Ainless Love .

Phil Ochs came to mind because someone posted the other day on No Depression that we were approaching the 34th anniversary of Phil’s suicide  which as actually last night April 9th. The post the other day asked the question, what kind of songs do you think Phil would be writing today? You know it’s not hard to imagine that the songs would be timely, complex  and would have been critical of the Bush administration and maybe still too, the Obama administration and the  Afghanistan war! Phil’s music is still relevant and there  is a teacher here in Riverside, Dan Stellwag, who plays Phil’s music for his students particularly “Love Me, I’m a Liberal” and they love it!  Whenever, I see Dan we always talk about Phil’s music.  The  album Rehearsals for Retirement released in 1969 was Phil’s 6th album,  his third on A&M and the first Och’s album I bought. When I bought the album,  I was already familiar with Phil’s music, how could any left leaning person in 1969 not be aware of Phil’s music from “White Boots Marching in a Yellow Land” , “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” to  “Draft Dodger Rag” Phil was the voice of protest in America! Then throw in great songs like “Outside of a Small Circle of Friends”, “Flower Lady” and “There But for Fortune: and you knew Phil was special! As I was thinking about writing about Phil I thought that Phil wrote about and protested like I would have wanted to, and then I thought, hey, weren’t you tear gassed and didn’t you have the fire hose’s turned on you as you joined a protest after the mining of the Haiphong Harbor in 1972, and didn’t you march for increased black enrollment at University of Florida. Yes, I did, Phil thanks for the inspiration!

Ok so back to Rehearsals for Retirement. A lot of the the songs I remember  ”Pretty Smart on My Part” and “I Kill Therefore I Am”  and “Rehearsals for Retirement” are all songs I’ve heard or listened to on the Chords of Fame compilation album through the years. But other songs on the album like “The Doll House” with Phil’s Dylan impersonation in the middle and “Doesn’t Lenny Live Here Anymore”  were forgotten and it was good to hear then again! Two of the songs I didn’t really remember that well were “My Life” and “Another Age”. The first one “My Life” which is obviously about Phil’s life. Here is the last verse:

My life is now a myth to me
Like the drifter, with his laughter in the dawn.
My life is now a death to me
So I’ll mold it and I’ll hold it till I’m born
So I turned to the land
Where I’m so out of place
Throw a curse on the plan
In return for the grace
To know where I stand
Take everything I own
Take your tap from my phone
And leave my life alone
My life alone.

Wow,  a few years ago I heard Sonny Ochs, Phil’s sister talk about the extensive file the FBI  had on Phil. Obviously, their surveillance included wiretaps!

“Another Age” was another song I had forgotten until I heard the lyrics:

Thomas Paine and Jesse James are old friends
And Robin Hood is riding on the road again
We were born in a revolution and we died in a wasted war
It’s gone that way before
The dogs are chasing chicken bones across the lawn
If that was an election, I’m a Viet Cong
So I pledge allegiance against the flag
And the fall  for which it stands
I’ll raze it if I can (pledge allegiance to the land)
Soldier have their sorrow
The wretched have their rage
Pray for the aged
It’s the dawn of another age

Again, pretty heavy stuff for a liberal 18 year old to be listening to and loving! Thanks again, Phil!

Looking at the album cover, is always depressing , since it is a tombstone with the inscription saying Born: El Paso, Texas, 1940 Died: Chicago, Illinois 1968. Who then that Phil would be gone in another 8 years!  Reading the writing on the back of the album cover is also upsetting as I read these lines:

While I stumble through this paradise

considering several suicides

Here’s Phil singing an updated version of “Here’s to the State of Mississippi” and when I thought about what Phil would have done over the last ten years I do think he would have updated this song and made it about George Bush and Dick Cheney and it’s a shame that we never got to see or hear it!

Since this post is Sooo Looong and it’s late I’ll write about Aimless Love in the AM!