Move over, Reggie Jackson; meet the new Mr. October!
What a great honor!
I am the “member of the month” for the Musicians Association of Seattle (local 76-493, AFM) for 10/13.
As a young folkie back in “the day,” union and labor rights seemed a settled issue. Social activism at the time was largely centered on civil rights and the Vietnam War which pretty much merged into the overall march toward social justice…which seemed to be progressing quite nicely, thank you!
Now, here in the future things don’t look so good. The wheels have come off and the engine is sputtering. Civil rights are being curtailed by massive waves of voter suppression. We have developed a full scale war economy and the Empire soldiers on. The labor movement has been assaulted with malice unseen since the 1930′s. Union membership is low…with, by no coincidence here, dramatic reductions in standards of living throughout the country.
I took up the union banner by organizing two Seattle-based benefit concerts to raise funds and awareness for the Wisconsin recall elections. One of our guest speakers was then Rep. Jay Inslee, our current governor. Another speaker was Mark Lowry, president of the Northwest Washington Central Labor Council, who had earlier recruited me perform at the group’s first annual Labor Day picnic. My friends and I have been there each year since. Mark is transit driver in the northwest corner of our state, president of his ATU and my labor mentor.
Since that time I have worn the union label, joining AFM in 2011. performing at various labor and social justice events. Most recently I organized two concerts for the berry pickers up in Skagit County who are waging a courageous fight for dignity and fair pay with Sakuma Bros. Farms…who refuse to negotiate in good faith, employing various and sundry intimidation techniques to stall the process.
Motter Snell, president of my local (76-493, AFM), concerned that the right-to-work forces were concentrating there efforts to undo our tradition of labor progress, going back to the famous Wobbly Spokane actions of 100 years ago, asked me to create a song as a response. , “Right To Work Is Wrong” was recorded at Audio Logic, a union studio in Seattle, and is currently posted on the website at
Brain Trust: Mark Lowry, pres., NWCLC, Michele Stelovich, Sec’y-Treas.
For the third year in a row, Greg Deer, Mike Dumovich, and Greg Deer celebrated our new tradition by performing at the Northwest Central Labor Council’s annual Labor Day picnic. Coincidentally, it was the 3rd annual such event…so we were proud to have become part of the tradition.
Mark Lowry, president of NWCLC is one of my personal heroes and mentor in the fight for workers’ rights. It was Mark, who originally extended the invitation to perform two years ago, when I was just learning the state of the labor movement and the overwhelming obstacles facing it. After that phone conversation…I was all in. So were the boys…Mike, Greg, and JW.
Angelic Guillen, Chicana poet y mi hermana
U.S. Reps. Del Benes and Larsen shared thoughts and spoke about working issues and, of course, the deepening crisis of Syria.
This year was particularly sweet as there was representation and presentations by the Sakuma Bros. farm workers along with their friends and supporters from Community to Community Development.
Ramon, democratically elected president of farmworkers’ negotiating council (left) along with C2C’s Rosalinda and Edgar,
Several were from the worker-elected negotiating committee who shared information on working conditions, wages, the status of negotiations, and localized boycotts. Their fellow guests at the picnic, representing most union locals dug into their pockets and contributed generously to the fund.
Once again, I was proud to be a union man in solidarity with my brothers and my sisters.
Viva La Picnic!
On August 23, musicians, poets, and actors gathered at Boundary Bay Brewery and Bistro in Bellingham from as far south as Auburn to raise much needed money for the Sakuma Bros. Farms berry pickers and Community to Community Development. They included my regular buds, Greg Deer, JW McClure, and Mike Dumovich along with the Prozac Mountain Boys, Chicana poet, Angelica Guillen, actors Maristela Diaz and Fernando Calavo, and the wonderful Patricia Mazuela and Abel Rocha of Sin Fronteras. The event was emceed by Bellingham’s KBAI Progressive Radio host, Joe Teehan.
Emcee Joe Teehan
C2C Executive Director, Rosalinda Guillen introduced and translated for several of the workers who told their stories of wage -theft, abuse, unsanitary conditions, and other mistreatment at the hands of the growers. For most of the audience, it was their first inkling of the conditions the workers were facing and the courage it took to stand up to fight it.
Sin Frontera’s Patricia Mazuela and Abel Rocha
When the tally was finalized, nearly $1600 dollars had been collected.
Gracias a todos!
Additional benefits will be held throughout the Puget Sound region. Check out C2C’s website for further details. You may also donate directly through the website, http://www.foodjustice.org
My friend, José Carrillo and I drove up Bellingham last Thursday morning where I was to be a guest on Joe Teehan’s “Joe Show” on KBAI AM 930. José, just a few days removed from his 81st birthday, is an actor, poet, musician, and newly-ordained Universal Church of Life minister who recently performed his first nuptials. I met José via the cultural world of The Couth Buzzard in Seattle and we have been friends ever since. It is through him that I became involved with the Latino community in both the art and social justice worlds.
Joe Teehan broadcasts an hour of sanity per day from the same building that spews the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck (Skagit Valley boy who made bad). His local show is sandwiched neatly between the syndicated Ed Schultz and Thom Hartmann programs. Joe is, as the saying goes, a good head. And a great audience. He laughed in all the right places. We chatted about the creative process, social issues, and the efficacy of the liquid bandage I had used to enclose a deep cut I had made to my right index finger that only hurt when I picked.
Meanwhile, other pickers are on strike.
The berry pickers at Sakuma Farms in Skagit County are embroiled in a bitter huelga.
They are striking over wages that when factored into the number of hours they work per week…around 50…average out to about $7.00 per hour, well below the state’s minimum wage.
They are striking because they are crammed into living quarters designed to house a fraction of their numbers, causing both adults and children to alternate sleeping on floors, when floor space is available. They are striking for dignity…for respect.
Strikers listening to update from negotiators
José and I then headed back south, to meet our friend Angelica Guillen at El Campo, the site of the strike negotiations near Bow, WA…which neither of us ever heard of. We arrived amid the latest update on the progress of the talks. Apparently, as Angelica translated, sufficient community support had been provided the workers, in the manner of proposed boycotts, that the owners had agreed to negotiate in good faith and the workers were ready to return to work the followingday
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the third member of our company…my dog, Murphy, Actually, Murphy is technically my wife’s dog as he is too small, cute, and fluffy to suffer a macho guy like me. As soon as some of the children of the workers got a glimpse of Murphy, my dance card was filled for the day. From then on, I spent not a single moment with an adult the remainder of our visit.
The kids wanted to know everything about Murphy; was he friendly? Did he like to fetch? What does he like to eat? They asked if the could walk him…I handed over the end of the leash to one…then another…and another.
It mattered not who was actually driving, passengers began boarding the Murphy bus and soon all were scooting around the grounds, a flurry of brown-skinned boys and girls seemingly being pulled along by a white ball of lint attached by a blue leash. They were tireless. Murphy was tireless. I wasn’t…and pretty soon it was time to go. But not until the kids and Murphy assembled for a group portrait.
As I write this, the workers are still on strike. Their representatives are negotiating wages, accommodations, sanitation…all the things that only collective action can achieve. Action not only by the workers and their representatives but, as we have learned, the community as a whole through direct financial support and donations of food and water, but through boycotts and threats of boycotts. We, as a community must decide that poverty wages and cramming workers and their families into insufficient housing is not acceptable. These workers are not looking to decrease their workload…they work hard and will continue to work hard…all they ask for is a liveable wage and equitable living conditions. They deserve no less. Neither do their kids.
I got a birthday wish!
At Rosalie Sorrels 80th birthday bash, I got to meet Rosalie.
My wife, Mary, our dog Murphy, and I made the 500 mile from Seattle to Boise in 9 hours…taking a well-deserved long weekend from selling our house and looking for a new one. We checked into the Motel 6 near the airport. I asked the clerk if any discounts were available and she said, “I would offer you the senior rate, if you were over 60.” And I heard Boise was supposed to be a tough town.
What’s more, as guests of the establishment, we were entitled to a 15% discount at the nearby Denny’s. Yes, we were finally living the dream. Yes, we had dinner and breakfast at Denny’s. There were actually a few items we could eat between our combined vegetarian, lactose-intolerant, gluten-free, high protein, low-carb diets…each with 15% off…the senior menu!
So, fully-sated, we headed up the 30 miles to Grimes Creek and Rosalie’s wilderness world, a log home built by her grandfather, off a dirt road roughly between Boise and nowhere. Being the first day of the three-day weekend, we were among the first to arrive…being greeted by a committee of people and dogs. Murphy, the self-appointed emperor of Marymoor Dog Park, was immediately initiated into the pack and from that point on was only sporadically visible, checking in occasionally to assure himself we were still around.
We were escorted into the cabin where we were introduced to Rosalie, looking older and frailer than I had imagined but also alert, charming and beautiful. We chatted briefly and returned to the great outdoors so she could talk to other visitor. Most of the guests were staying on the land either in RV’s or in tents. Considering the weather was well below normal…downright chilly, actually, the Motel 6 was a warm and welcome homestead we were looking forward to returning to.
Naturally, the guitars came out and we formed a song circle. Rosalie came out on the arm of her daughter and joined the circle, as an observer. As the dogs continued to scramble helter-skelter here there and everywhere, conversation turned canine. Naturally, when my next turn came around I did “Life Goes Better With a Dog!” Rosalie seemed visibly pleased which visibly pleased me. Other original and “cover” songs followed but all I could think of was…what other song can I do that will impress Rosalie Sorrels? When eyes turned back to me I was still undecided…hobo stuff? Road-weary stuff? Rage against the machine? Somehow, when I opened my mouth, “I’m Gonna Marry GE!” tumbled out. The one song I have the most difficulty in remembering…so many lines…and rhymes…and I was doing it for Rosalie Sorrels! I guess Saint Woody, the patron saint of folksingers was working that day because I made it through without missing a beat…and when I looked up, saw Rosalie laughing in all the right places.
Okay, so Rosalie returned to the house and we were invited to visit the natural hot springs near Idaho City, some 20 minutes north. We shared a great bath with some wonderful folks and went out to dinner in the vintage western Idaho City where I had the tallest hunk of banana cream pie I had ever seen. Even after I had passed it around for the table to sample it was mountainous and intimidating but I conquered…rather a dubious achievement considering my commitment to avoid sugar and carbs…but it was Rosalie’s birthday weekend when calories didn’t count.
We returned to the party. Rosalie had already retired so, we sat around in dueling song circles until late when Mary had to gather up a reluctant dog and husband and lead us back to Boise and the Motel 6. It was difficult to leave knowing that there would be two additional days of music and people and dogs…while we faced a nine hour trip back to Seattle the next day followed by a full day of house hunting after that.
So, was it worth the 1100 miles and all that quality time in the car, two empty-nesters and their dog?
I can answer that in two words: Rosalie Sorrels.
See you next year, Rosalie!
Kelly died today.
She was, near as we could tell, around 13.
The official diagnosis was a splenetic tumor.
Toward the end she could barely stand up…and even lay down. I had to help her down the stairs and carry her back up…and she wasn’t a little dog.
Kelly was with me at my most recent performance…a Songwriters in Seattle showcase at the Couth Buzzard. When I took my place to sing, she struggled to her feet from the table where we had been sitting and joined me. She lay down at my feet and heard, once again, how she had, shortly after we selected her from the pound, inspired me to write and perform songs again. My first new song was, appropriately, “Life Goes Better With a Dog!”
She sat patiently through the entire set, waiting for the finale…the second song I wrote for her, “She’s a Good Ol’ Dog.” It chronicled her aging and deteriorating condition.
“I see her getting older
There’s things she just can’t do
She takes the stairs now one-by-one
Instead of two by two…”
She was an adult dog when we got her. My daughter found her sharing a cell in the back of the pound with a fellow inmate. We took her to the play area and put her through her paces. She aced the audition…fetching…coming…sitting…etc…most of which she conveniently forgot how to do after we took her home.
She had a variety of health issues including chronic yeast growths in her ears and privates. I regularly had to flush the ears and apply ointment to all infected areas. Her baths required medicated shampoo, which had to remain on her at least 10 minutes before rinsing. It was the time she would invariably exact her revenge for the indignity by shaking off the soap and water all in my direction. Her favorite part came after the rinsing and another vigorous shaking…when I would swaddle her in the towels and vainly attempt to dry her. That took the better half of the day and lots of sunshine…in Seattle!
In addition to the family, Kelly had Murphy, my wife’s little fluffy white fellow-pound refugee. Murphy was much younger and, being a little fluffy thing, more energetic. He compelled Kelly to play…he kept her young…until she was suddenly old. This morning, as the time for the vet appointment was passing, Murphy did not eat. Not even a piece of apple. He can hear an apple being sliced in the next county and be underfoot begging quicker’n you can say “Yo, Rinny!” Not today.
So, today, we took Kelly to a new vet, for a second opinion. After his examination he basically confirmed the original diagnosis. The splenetic tumor, with internal bleeding. Our choice was to take her home…and watch her get progressively worse…with painful complications, or let her go. We were with her until the end. The vet sedated her before administering the final injection. So, she really did just go to sleep. She was at peace.
The tears are flowing even as I write this.
I miss my dog
“She’s a good ol’ dog
She’s a good ol’ dog
When she’s with me I never feel alone
She’s a good ol’ dog
She’s a good ol’ dog
Best damn friend I think I’ve ever known.
She’s a good ol’ dog…”
I met fellow-traveler, Mike Dumovich at the Arlington Denny’s for our third trip up north in the month. The two previous trips were for out joint appearance on KSVR-FM’s labor show, “We Do the Work!” This time we were bound for Bellingham and the Farmworkers Dignity March. I had been asked to perform by Rosalinda Guillen, Executive Director of Community to Community.
The 8-mile march began 1:30 pm from an outlying community…and ended at Maritime Heritage Park in Bellingham’s downtown district. After twice getting lost, thanks in no part to my new phone’s GPS, and its inept operator, we made it in time to see the marchers arrive. They were all ages, shapes, and sizes. One old man was pushed in a wheelchair the entire route. I later learned he had lost his feet in the fields to frostbite. An array of speakers spoke to the group as an endless Mexican buffet awaited marchers and spectators alike.
One child of about 12 cried as he described how much he missed his dad who was kept out of the country due to his immigrant status. When the parent was erroneously identified as Mexican, the boy came back and stated he was, in fact, Canadian. It was a poignant moment made more poignant by the realization by many that immigration was not just a south of the border issue.
Other speakers shared stories of being courted by politicians prior to the Nov. election only to be inevitable disappointed one more time after the returns were in. Yet this time, they vowed, they weren’t going to just disappear. There was a thread of purpose…and anger…as each speaker vowed ongoing and escalated pressure…between elections.
On the performance side, there was a Mexican-American entertainer named Tomas who led the crowd in traditional Spanish songs accompanying himself on a small guitar. Some high school kids in what I believe was authentic Indian attire, performed dance and chanting.
My set was the only one in English. I felt part of something important. Something growing. This was a fight for not only dignity but life itself! The lives of families and individuals who only want what we all want. Opportunity…justice…love…
Gracias a todos!
On February 22, I was honored to be asked to perform at a remarkable gathering of leaders representing the most vulnerable amongst us. Sponsoring groups included The Church Council of Greater Seattle, The Faith Action Network, American Friends Service Committee, Western Washington Fellowship of Reconciliation, GI Voice, Green Party of Washington State, Rainier Valley Neighbors for Peace and Justice, Veterans for Peace, Chapter 92, WA State Progressive Caucus, and West Seattle Neighbors for Peace and Justice.
The session came in response to a request by Sen. Patty Murray to provide stories of real people who not only need additional resources merely to survive, but who will be further and dramatically put at additional risk by the looming legislative fiasco known as the sequester!
Oddly enough, neither Sens. Murray and Cantwell as well as the majority of our congressional delegation saw fit to send as much as an intern to witness the proceedings. Only Reps. McDermott and Smith dispatched staff members. As such, we were underrepresented by our representatives.
Never fear, the entire event was videoed for submission to each of their offices.
The meeting ended with a beginning; a call to immediate action: contacting our reps directly, writing letters to newspapers, and getting others to do so! And that was just the beginning of the beginning!
(Part of my contribution) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lwnM5FJrvQA
“A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury.” John Stuart Mill
“We Do the Work” is a weekly program hosted by Rich Austin, retired ILWU member, and covering issues of concern, interest, and importance to labor. Rich invited me to chat and perform some songs…which I did. Thanks, Rich!
With another Seattle tribute pending to honor Phil’s legacy, this is a two-part article I wrote prior to the release of “There But For Fortune,” the remarkable film about his life. Part 2 is an interview with his equally remarkable sister, Sonny, who, at age 75, is still keeping the flame burning.
“With So Many Reasons Why…”
Recollections of a Phil Ochs Fan
I attended my first folk music concert in the mid-sixties at Queens College in New York, where I would enroll the following year. My musical tastes at the time included a growing interest in the Beatles, a man-crush on Bob Dylan…but was still clinging to the comfortable but fading echoes of Bobby Rydell, Del Shannon, and Dion and the Belmonts.
There were four performers onstage that night. Doc Watson, Michael Cooney, Patrick Sky…and Phil Ochs. Doc Watson, now in his 80’s continues to be a mythical presence in the world of finger picking and roots Americana music. Patrick Sky and Michael Cooney remain two iconic and original figures in the world of folk music.
It was Phil Ochs, however, who changed forever how I saw, heard, and felt about music. His wit, sardonic humor, empathy, stunning images, and storytelling ability washed over me like a cultural tsunami.
I had dabbled in guitar and had pretty much mastered the same three chords I use today. I could scratch out “Blowin’ In the Wind”, “The Times They Are A Changin’”, and some of the other new instant Dylan classics. For a guy with a guitar, these tunes were obligatory…chicks dug ‘em! Oh yeah…they had a message too.
Phil also had a message…and it resonated!
The first Phil Ochs song I learned and actually sang was “Too Many Martyrs!” which tells of the murder of Mississippi civil rights leader, Medgar Evers, while referring to the earlier beating-death of 14-year-old Emmett Till. It was the first time I’d heard of either.
His name was Medgar Evers and he walked his road alone,
with Emmett Till and countless more, names we’ll never know.
“Lou Marsh” chronicled the beating-death of another young black man, not in the South but in my own city of New York. Marsh, a former Yale divinity student working as a social worker, was killed trying to head off a war between two rival street gangs in East Harlem.
Now the streets are empty, now the streets are dark
So keep an eye on shadows and never pass the park
For the city is a jungle when the law is out of sight
Death lurks in El Barrio with the orphans of the night.
These weren’t the universal anthems of the spreading civil rights/student/anti-war movement…these were headlines…about real people. These were the faces of the victims. Phil was recording moments in history…painting landscapes with stark images and colors.
Kitty Genovese was even closer to home. She was a young white woman who was attacked, raped, stabbed, and robbed outside of her home in the respectable Queens community of Kew Gardens…in the shadow of my future alma mater, Queens College. The popular version of the story is that 38 of her neighbors witnessed the event and did nothing to help her, not even calling the police. Though that number is in dispute, what isn’t is the portrait of social apathy Phil painted in “Small Circle of Friends,” citing the Genovese incident and others…with humor. Humor!
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.
Chorus: And I’m sure it wouldn’t interest anybody
outside of a small circle of friends.
Phil looked into the face of American foreign policy and saw it for what it was, one self-enriching military adventure after another. From our nation’s founding to the then-present (and beyond!) it was a trail of land-grabs, blood, and genocide, inevitably hidden within the empty platitudes of moral camouflage. And he was not going to participate. “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” became an anthem of a generation who questioned this rush to battle and made the conscious decision to not participate with him. People like me.
It’s always the old to lead us to the wars
Always the young to fall
Now look at all we’ve won with a saber and a gun
Tell me is it worth it all?
Those familiar with Phil’s story know that it was the 1968 Democratic Convention that brought on his disillusionment and subsequent journey into despair. The counter-culture with all its media events and truth-outs and pot and free love…etc. had really changed little in the country. Yes, the war had finally ended…as did Nixon’s presidency, but, in the grand scheme of things, the system that had created a Vietnam and a Nixon was still in place, largely intact.
Phil Ochs was not a martyr. Like the rest of us, no more or less, he was a human being, which meant he was flawed. He was a young man with a remarkable gift that brought him notoriety but not commercial success. He had no top 10 songs. Even after he had pretty much abandoned the in-your-face protest content for the lovely melodies, musicality, and images of “Flower Lady” and “Pleasures of the Harbor”, mainstream success was not to be. The audience for folk music was changing, opting for the folk/rock/country blends of bands such as the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Poco, The Grateful Dead, and The Band. There was also that little quartet from Liverpool and their countless progeny.
The war was over; Nixon, Agnew, and the draft were gone. Good Ol’ Jerry Ford was president. The country was exhausted from the rigors of the previous decade. It was time to kick back and party.
Phil Ochs wasn’t doing as well. He too was exhausted. Heavy drinking had exacerbated a burgeoning bipolar condition. Isolated from most of his friends, he went to stay with his sister, Sonny, in the Rockaway section of Queens.
On April 9, 1976, he hanged himself in her bathroom.
End Part One
Originally published Victory Review Magazine, 3/11 (http://www.victorymusic.us/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1119:with-so-many-reasons-why&catid=140:2011-march-review&Itemid=43)
With So Many Reasons Why…
An Interview with Sonny Ochs
On April 9, 1976, folksinger and political activist Phil Ochs ended his long bout with bipolar disorder (manic depression) by hanging himself. At the time, he was staying at the home of his sister, Sonia “Sonny” Ochs, in the Far Rockaway section of Queens, NY. Phil was 35 years old.
In the more than three decades that have since elapsed, Sonny has worked hard to keep Phil’s legacy alive through coordinating Phil Ochs Song Nights and other events throughout the US and Canada. She is very forthcoming about her brother. She spoke with me on the phone for about an hour from her home in Middleburgh, NY.
VR: What was Phil like as a child?
SO: He was rather shy and introverted. He had trouble making friends. Our father was a doctor, but due to his own manic depression he could not keep a job, so we moved a lot.  Phil was born in El Paso. We then moved to New York and finally to Ohio where our father got a job at a TB clinic. This made it harder on Phil; as soon as he would make a friend, we would move again.
He loved movies and would spend a lot of his time escaping into action films. He idolized John Wayne and Audie Murphy.
VR: Was your family politically active?
SO: No, we were apolitical.
VR: When did he become interested in music?
SO: He took up the clarinet in junior high school. He was so good that he was actually the first chair in the high school orchestra while still in junior high. When we again were going to move, the high school music teacher asked our parents if Phil could stay behind and live with his family.
VR: Outside of school did he have any music interests? Influences?
SO: At the time, Phil was also developing an interest in rock ‘n roll and country music. His favorites were Faron Young, Webb Pierce and Hank Williams.
VR: Did he show any interest in writing?
SO: He didn’t write songs. He wrote fiction in high school.
VR: Hard as it is to believe, Phil attended military school. Whose idea was it?
SO: It was his idea. He saw an ad for the Staunton Military Academy in Virginia on the back of a New York Times Magazine. I think he wanted to play clarinet in the band there. By the way, John Dean from Watergate fame and Barry Goldwater’s son, Michael, were also there at the time.
VR: He left after a couple of years and enrolled in Ohio State University. How did things change for him there?
SO: By an incredible coincidence, or act of fate, his college roommate was a young man named Jim Glover. Jim’s father, a Socialist, taught Phil politics. Jim introduced Phil to folk music: Pete Seeger, the Weavers, Woody Guthrie. Jim also taught Phil his first guitar chords. They formed a folk duo, The Singing Socialists, which they later changed to The Sundowners, but it didn’t last too long.
Phil was a journalism major. His left-leaning articles were too controversial for the school paper. In those days all male students were required to enroll in Reserve Officers Training Corps or ROTC (or Rot-C in many students’ lexicon of the day—author). So he started his own paper, which printed articles in favor of Fidel Castro among other things.
Jim Glover dropped out of OSU and headed for Greenwich Village to join the folk scene. There he met Jean Ray and they formed the duo, Jim & Jean. They also moved in together and were subsequently married.
It wasn’t long before Phil also dropped out of OSU and joined them. He lived in their apartment, writing endlessly. He also started gaining a reputation as a promising new talent. He hung around with folks like Bob Dylan, Eric Anderson, David Blue, and Dave Van Ronk. He also met and moved in with Alice Skinner, his future wife and mother of their daughter, Meeghan.
He was delighted when he got a regular paying gig. The owner of the Third Side Club guaranteed him a minimum of $20 per night to play there. That was pretty big money for a folksinger in those days.
VR: Which of Phil’s songs from that era were your personal favorites?
SO: “Talking Cuban (Missile) Crisis,” “Lou Marsh,” and”Power and the Glory.”
VR: Rumor has it that Phil was insulted when Dylan famously accused him of not being “a folksinger but a journalist.” True?
SO:I don’t think so. He was a journalist. He captured historical moments. Look at”Cuban Missile Crisis” and”Lou Marsh” …and “Too Many Martyrs,” which was about the murder of Medgar Evers.
VR: And your favorites among the later songs?
SO: “Pleasures of the Harbor” and “The Party.” The observations and descriptions of the “guests” were just so perfect: “The Wallflower is waiting, she hides behind composure…she’d love to dance but prays that no one asks her…”
VR: I used to do “The Party” during restaurant and bar gigs because it had so many verses and was a great time killer.
VR: Phil’s role as a leader and spokesperson for the activism of the ’60s is well-documented by those who were there. Yet he isn’t as well-known by the general public. Do you think the new documentary, “Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune” will help change that?
SO: I hope so. He has largely been written out of history, though he really was the voice of the anti-war movement.
VR: The film is also very honest about his mental issues…as well as your father’s similar battle with manic depression (now called bipolar disorder). What were the major events that triggered Phil’s “lows?”
SO:The death of President Kennedy hit him very hard. So did those of Bobby [Kennedy] and Martin Luther King.
VR: But from all accounts, it seems like the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago was a real turning point for him?
SO: It was the end, really. But it got worse. He was attacked and choked into unconsciousness in Africa. His vocal cords were damaged and he lost some of his voice range.
VR: And Chile?
SO: Yes. He was a great admirer of Salvador Allende. When he visited Chile he met and became friends with Victor Jara, Chile’s hugely popular folksinger. Well, after the coup, when Phil learned that Allende had been killed and that Jara had been tortured and killed, it was awful.
He did organize a public concert, “An Evening With Salvadore Allende,” to raise funds for the Chilean people and awareness as to the CIA’s role in fomenting the coup. It wasn’t selling many tickets until Dylan agreed to attend and it sold out immediately. It was the first public statement that linked the U.S. to the coup.
VR: He was drinking pretty heavily by then. Apparently even the end of Nixon’s presidency and the war were not enough to bring him out of it.
SO: He was sleeping on the street. People didn’t recognize him.
VR: Didn’t recognize him?
SO: He had gained a lot of weight. He was sloppy, disheveled. He finally called me and asked if he could stay with me and the kids at my house in Rockaway. So, he moved in.
VR: Was he drinking?
SO: Not when he was with me. I don’t drink and he never went out.
VR: Who among his friends, if any, were there for him?
SO: Jerry Rubin was the kindest and most concerned. He knew of a doctor in California and offered to personally take Phil out to see him. But Phil refused. Then it was over.
VR: What do you think of the resurgence of interest in your brother? Do you feel he’s at long last getting the recognition he deserved…and seemed to want so much?
SO: Yes, I am glad people are discovering him and appreciating his work.
VR: What is your advice to young folksingers who are discovering Phil and would like to emulate his work?
SO: Read the newspaper!
End Part 2
I had the privilege of being part of a group of performers who were invited to share some of Phil’s songs following the first evening’s showing of “Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune” at the Northwest Film Forum in Seattle. The movie brought back a lot of the emotion, disappointment and heartbreak of the era. Phil’s life (and death!) was a microcosm of the time. The two songs I selected were “Lou Marsh” and “The Party,” two of the songs Sonny had cited as being among her favorites of her brother’s early works.
I emailed her the following day to share the experience and the emotion of the evening. I mentioned that as a native New Yorker, I was familiar with many of the locations that were depicted in the film. One in particular was Rockaway Beach, where the family lived when they were young and where Sonny was living at the time of Phil’s suicide. I told her that my family used to go to that beach when we were young and scarf down delicacies from a boardwalk eatery called “Jerry’s Knishes.” She immediately wrote back that she too remembered Jerry’s Knishes and the recollection had made her smile. That made me smile, too. (GK)
 Joseph Ochs was drafted into the US Army toward the end of WWII where he treated soldiers wounded in the bloody Battle of the Bulge. Shortly after his discharge, he was institutionalized.
Originally posted in Victory Review Magazine 4/12 (http://www.victorymusic.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1145:with-so-many-reasons-why-part-2&catid=141&Itemid=43)