phil ochs

SACRED SIXTIES SONG: Phil Ochs’ “I Ain’t Marching Anymore”

(Another poem in celebration of Phil Ochs’ 75th birthday)

phil ochs i aint marching anymore

Phil’s voice echoing in my mind

As I learn to play

My new ukulele

Here are the chords

No riff, but couldn’t do justice

To the memorable, musical phrase

That always gave me chills when a teen

Listening to him on late-night weekend FM

No commercials in the sixties

Bought the album

Saw him countless times at folk festivals

And Philly coffee houses

Spoke to him twice

Well, in my ultra-shy way

Went through a period of

Perverting his song

As I tired from marching

Although it was to prevent the type of marching

Phil Ochs meant

Anti-war but also voting rights, Women’s Lib

War just kept coming

Voters got rights but stopped voting

Women didn’t want equality if it meant

Sharing a bathroom with men

In frustration I invoked the words of

Phil Ochs

Silently shouting:

“I Ain’t Marching Anymore”!

But got through that phase

An activist works for the common good

Not for the individuals who may pervert the act

So here I am

Almost a quarter of the way into

The twenty-first century

Voice scratchy

The pressing of frets slow

Giggling attitude toward my ineptitude

But playing and singing

Phil Ochs’ call to war

Against war

So here I am

Daring to replicate the sacred chords

Of I Ain’t Marching Anymore

What a high…

© Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)

Here’s a Youtube link to the song:


[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.] *** []


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


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


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


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


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


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


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)