- Album name: I Ain’t Marching Any More
- Artist name: Phil Ochs
- Year: 1965
- Number of discs: one
- Label: Elektra Records
- Collection: Brenner / Gessner
- Who owned it: my mother
- Buy it on Amazon: $29.98
Level of familiarity before listening
I think I’ve heard of Phil Ochs before, but none of the songs rings a bell (though my mother expects that I’ll recognize some of them).
What I expected
What it was actually like
More protest than folk? It kind of reminded me of “Christian rock” style music, and having a difficult time determining in some cases whether it’s rock music with Christian themes (ie, that’s motivated to be written and recorded for reasons of artistic expression, and the subject of that expression just happens to be Christianity), or whether it’s Christian music in a rock format (ie, more like some professional missionaries have picked up guitars as a tool to do evangelism). Is being a missionary necessarily bad or wrong? Of course not, but when the motivation to create a song is extrinsic and done primarily in service of some cause that’s otherwise suspect or incongruous, rather than being driven to artistic creation and letting one’s passions express themselves through the music, the listener naturally must discount the value of the music.
Last week in passing I mentioned the Symbionese Liberation Army, and it’s an easy group to mock, but I think the complete idiocy of these people belies a much more serious matter, which is the convergence of mental illness, criminality and left wing politics, and the ways that these superficially different things all mutually reinforce one another, and are impossible to address without taking the others into account.
Reading the very sad story now of Phil Ochs’ life and early death on Wikipedia, I can’t help but think that he was a deeply fragile guy who never met a left wing cause that he didn’t embrace immediately and wholeheartedly, who clearly internalized these causes far more than was warranted (or healthy), whose entire identity was as an activist for left wing causes, and who seems consequently to have had a rather shallow sense of self and no rich inner life or genuine identity of his own. And maybe, just maybe if he had chilled out a little bit, if he had managed to be a little less obsessive about whatever cause the zeitgeist demanded he care about, to find some value in aspects of life beyond the war in Vietnam, segregation in Mississippi, and Nixon in the White House, he might have developed the psycho-emotional skills to defeat his internal demons and unfortunate addictions. And he might still be alive today.
Anyway, back to the record. My mother was right: I did recognize the title track, I Ain’t Marching Any More, and it was all right. The quality of all of the songs was pretty predictably middling, and any fan of mid 1960s protest folk will easily digest the entirety of “I Ain’t Marching Any More” as representative of the genre.
Obviously it’s impossible to listen to this record without thinking of Bob Dylan, but Ochs and Dylan do not seem to have been much alike: Ochs deployed his sense of irony in service to the cause (whatever the cause seems to have been at that particular moment), while Dylan’s sense of irony was a hundred times more potent and a hundred times more subtle, and always reflected like a spotlight directly on Dylan himself.
Many of the songs on this record were deeply self righteous, obnoxious, troubling and even offensive, and I felt that way before I read anything about Phil Ochs himself. He seems to have been around 23 when he recorded most of this music and 24 when the record was released, so of course I give him a pass, but people like that need to be made to learn at as young an age as possible that there are many wrong ways to be right about an issue (and I do think he was right about many of the causes he endorsed, and about many of the criticisms he leveled). Part of the reason, in my view, that we as a society are still dealing with some of the issues that Phil Ochs fought for and against in the 1960s and 70s is precisely the shallow mean-spiritedness that the winning side took in the culture wars back then.
2/5: weak, but I was able to listen to the whole thing
|↑1||United Federated Forces of the Symbionese Liberation Army! General Field Marshal Cinque! “… a body of dissimilar bodies and organisms living in deep and loving harmony and partnership in the best interest of all within the body!” Tania! Mizmoon!|