Monday, February 28, 2011

PHIL OCHS: THERE BUT FOR FORTUNE - Staff review by Dave Paiz

By now it's safe to say that there are probably tribes in the Amazon who know who Bob Dylan is, but you'd be hard-pressed to find many people here in the states who've even heard of Phil Ochs. I thought I'd seen just about everything there was to see about the music and sociopolitical upheavals of the '60's, but Kenneth Bowser's new documentary Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune revealed that I was woefully oblivious to a fairly substantial chunk of what went down at the time.

The world can often be a bitterly cruel and maddening place for idealists.  And like many of his generation, Phil Ochs was an idealist who believed that music had the power to change the world. After emerging from the turbulence of the 1960's as one of America's most passionate voices for social change, Ochs spent his all-too-brief life writing and performing music that challenged the injustices and foundational myths of the day.

Maligned by Dylan as more of a reporter than a folk singer, Ochs wrote songs about segregation, racism and war in stark, unflinchingly confrontational terms that differed sharply from Dylan's metaphorical ramblings about watchtowers and answers blowing in the wind. From the anti-war anthem "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore" to his cynical ode to Left-wing hypocrisy "Love Me, I'm A Liberal" - Ochs was fearless in confronting absurdity, regardless of which end of the political spectrum it came from.

Through interviews with family, friends and contemporaries ranging from Tom Hayden, Joan Baez, Christopher Hitchens and Jello Biafra, as well as interview and performance footage from Ochs himself, the tragic arc of Och's life is traced against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, the Kennedy and King assassinations, and the Chicago riots of 1968. The picture that emerges is that of a man torn between his desire for fame, and his desire to bring about social change.

Eschewing commercialism in favor of charity and benefit work, Ochs was a tireless advocate for unions, the working class and others who were confronting social injustice, and organized countless charity concerts in support of various causes. Along the way he continued to expand his musical horizons and inadvertently planted the seeds for what would eventually become the world music genre. Through protests, demonstrations, absurdist political theater, and the formation of a new political party, Ochs repeatedly threw himself headlong into the teeth of the establishment and was gradually ground down in the process. Over time, the horrors of a seemingly endless war, and the violent deaths of his generation's most inspiring leaders sent him into an emotional tailspin that he never fully recovered from.

An identity primarily defined in opposition to something eventually devours itself when there is nothing left to oppose. Once the Vietnam War was over, Och's focus turned inward, and he soon buckled under the combined weight of his steadily worsening manic depression, and the guilt and regret he carried regarding his wife and child. By the time he took his own life at the age of 35, Och's passionate idealism had tragically given way to bitterness, alcoholism and madness. A deeply moving and lovingly rendered portrait of a true rebel voice whose influence still resonates today, Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune is both a cautionary tale and an inspiring call to arms for those who continue to confront injustice wherever it rears its ugly head.

Review by Dave Paiz, Loft Cinema Facilities Manager and host of "Bat Country Radio" Saturdays from 2-4 a.m. on 91.3 FM KXCI.

PHIL OCHS: THERE BUT FOR FORTUNE plays Wednesday, March 2nd at 7:30PM at The Loft Cinema.

No comments:

Post a Comment