PHIL OCHS & FOLK MUSIC AT SEVENTEEN

[Phil Ochs There But for Fortune Biographical Documentary 2011: Phil Ochs in his first publicity shot (1963, New York City). "Phil Ochs: There but for Fortune", a film by Kenneth Bowser. A First Run Features release.] *** []

[Phil Ochs There But for Fortune Biographical Documentary 2011: Phil Ochs in his first publicity shot (1963, New York City). “Phil Ochs: There but for Fortune”, a film by Kenneth Bowser. A First Run Features release.] *** []

i.

What a find, black vinyl pants for 88 cents!

Knee-high black boots and a sexy cropped shirt

Dare I wear my pea coat over it all?

Finally here at the Philly Folk Festival

Carrying my old childhood blanket

Following the crowds to the campsite

Despite the light of the sun

Campfires already lit

We find a place to sit

Joining friends from the Cage

Playing their guitars and banjos

Blowing on our kazoos

Singing in seventeen year old high soprano

Before cigarettes toughened the pure vocal sound

ii.

Finally dark, show starts, already met a hunk

Who hovers over me, leads me to the hill

Beside the stage, holding my shivering body

Next to his. This boy-man

Who quit college because he cannot afford it

Yet he waits, knowing the draft letter

Will summon him to Vietnam

A place where we don’t belong

I am halfway in love with him

And his destiny

The one I escape because of a collection of chromosomes

Because I am XX and he is XY

I will never have to face

The decision to go up the country and cross the border

Or do what my male cousins, friends and family are doing

The “right thing”

Defending our country

I am exempt

Because I will one day carry

The next crop of soldiers in my womb

iii.

What a weekend

All for ten dollars

Bob Dylan, Joan Baez

Tom Paxton, Buffy Ste. Marie

Flatt and Scruggs, Patrick Skye

Eric Andersen and, most of all

Phil Ochs

Also in a pea coat that matches mine

That opening riff

The one that raises the long hair lying on my neck

The guitar riff for

I Ain’t Marching Anymore

What a voice, a call to action

Perfection

I am in love for real

Song after song

He sings his hard-hitting words

No one escapes:

Mississippi, Santo Domingo

And what a mind

Not only does he protest

He shows us his humor

Draft Dodger Rag

Sarge, I’m only eighteen, I got a ruptured spleen

And I always carry a purse…

And as a poet, as one who intends to be a best-selling poet,

I appreciate his rendition of Poe’s The Bells

Of Alfred Noyes’s The Highway Man

What a man Ochs is

iv.

Eileen and I

Tear ourselves away

From the boys soon to be men

And stand in line at the portables

We get a bit lost

And come face-to-face

With the man and his guitar

Phil Ochs

Heading for a distant tent

Alone

We don’t gush

That is too unhip

Instead, we tell him how much we love his work

He is completely serious

As we are

Thanks us

Stands politely, waiting for us to continue

I am hopeless in social situations

I am depending on Eileen to carry the conversation

But for once she is speechless

I finally put us out of our collective misery

Thank him for all he does

And we step aside to let him pass

The legend

The voice

The music

The words

v.

Phil, I cried when you died

Phil, if only you knew

Phil, I tried to continue

Caring about the world

Working for peace in my own way

Phil, I fell under the spell of negativity

Phil, I used your song to do that

As I aged, I refused to work for peace

Or human rights

Let the young do it now, I thought

I ain’t marching anymore

Phil, you would be happy to know

That my apathy didn’t last

Phil, you came into my life

At a critical time

And Phil, I will always care

About the world

Because of you…

© 2015 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)

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6 comments

  1. Phil Ochs also was a major influence for me. I met him in 1962 at a socialist summer camp outside of Toronto where my grandmother was the cook that year. I was 13. His music rocked my world and has lived in my heart and head for all these years.

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    1. What a magical way for all of us to move into our teen years. I have never regretted being “socialized”! Thanks for sharing your memory and I look forward to reading your blog.

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      1. A very short story….When I was just 12 I had the good fortune of spending the summer of 1961 at a leftist camp called Kinderland (Naivelt) outside of Toronto and close to Brampton. It was remarkable in a number of ways, and for a boy from Brooklyn it was a wonderful first meeting with nature and self discovery. It remains the summer of my life.
        The next summer I also went to this camp, but just to visit my grandmother at summer’s end. She was the primary cook that summer and was busy wrapping up the season. Since she lived in Canada I did not get to see her often, and so it was a wonderful opportunity for a brief visit.
        During this short stay it was announced that some guy named Phil Ochs would be stopping by the dining hall to play some music. At 13 I had no idea who he was and really didn’t yet have a sense of what kind of music I enjoyed.
        Thirty or so of us assembled and waited for Phil and I managed to be sitting about 10 feet from him when he spoke a few words and then started playing his guitar and singing with enormous passion. There I sat absolutely slack-jawed and stunned. His fingers flew all around that guitar and his voice was clear and his music strong and meaningful. I had never experienced anything like this. Really, to say it turned me inside out would be an understatement. I can’t remember what he sang, only how it made me feel….alive and blown away. He would have been just 22 at the time, but I had no concept how young that really is. His dark hair was long and it flew around too, just like his fingers. He was brilliant, he was awe-inspiring, he sang for me and to me. All these years later it is one of those memories that is among the best of my life. It will be among the selected few that flash like an old time movie as I leave this life. Thank you Phil.
        My grandmother did not live to see the trees change color that year. She worked so hard that summer that she had a massive stroke and died within days. She was 74. I will tell you that my last visit with her was joyous and loving.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This is such a magical story, Mike! I had tears in my eyes from your description of first seeing and hearing Phil because I, too, felt blown away by him. As a grandmother myself, I feel that although your grandmother died, I’m sure having you to herself for that short time was the peak of her life and she was happy!

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