Lessons learned from Phil Ochs
I really never knew that much about Phil Ochs. I knew his voice that’s for sure. It is so distinct which makes watching his story even harder. Harder but compelling. I watched this documentary and could not stop thinking about it and all the important lessons we could learn from him I decided to watch it again a few weeks later.
There But For the Fortune
Also available on netflix
I try to watch as least one doc a week. I start off telling myself that I’m working on craft and production style but its when I get sucked up into the story is when I knows its good. When I forget about angles, the footage and just want more.
It’s all about the story. It’s always about the story. It’s all about THIS story.
Phil never even knew what folk music was until he went to college and his roommate introduced him to “left wing music.” He was brought up with movies. John Wayne. He strove to be the “hero” and Sean Pean said “perhaps even the hero in his own movie.
1. Lesson number one. Be the hero in your own movie.
This is not so easy. We tell people to do this and then when they do it we say “Who do you think you are being the hero in your own movie?”
Phil quits college and goes to NY and says “I’m going to be the best songwriter in the country. He goes to the village. He met his girlfriend/ wife and Dylan would come over for dinner.
The backdrop of Phil’s life was the 60’s. For a folksinger there was plenty of material. He went to the south to work on civil rights. He would turn down commercial jobs for a benefit because it would reach more people. He would never turn down a cause he believed in.
He sincerely believed that people should be treated equally.
He worked hard and got a contract with Electra Records.
In 1963 he was Newport Folk Festival performer of the year.
Phil’s father came back from the war and was so manic he had to be hospitalized. The family was not close.
Phil played the clarinet and escaped by going to the movies.
“I aint marching anymore.” became the anthem of the antiwar movement
He got involved in the theater of the absurd and a protests called “the war is over!”
lesson number 2
intention is everything
“you can create your own reality when you become children of the media”
Probably one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard.
Lesson number 3
always have a plan b
Phil’s life was parallel to 60’s movement and he took personally the killing of JFK, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King.
But how he could not? How could you not write these incredibly intricate songs and not feel what was going on personally?
Phil was one of the people that started the Yippie Party so there could be an united front against the war. Phil liked the spirit and the theater.
During the democratic convention Mayor Daily issued shoot to kill orders and there were no permits issued.
Non of the rock and roll stars would go but Phil went to commit himself to the first amendment.
Phil was inside singing at an event that was permitted.
But it was at the main unpermitted event that that someone spontaneously lit their draft card. Then everyone lit up their draft cards. Then police and dogs were unleashed with a green light from the justice department.
It just happened. It was random. No one planned it ahead of time. One of the most organic meaningful symbols of the time. It just happened.
Lesson number 4: Sometimes we need to let things happen organically.
You can’t plan these things. The best things come out of well intentioned people with pure hearts that allow their movement to be organic. That’s where the magic happens. In some crazy space between the soul and spinning towards the moon.
Richard Nixon was elected.
Phil started drinking day and night. It was really hard for him to understand that he could not make the changes he thought he could. So he drank.
Then Kent State happen.
There was a lot of frustration. The movement became more militant. There were more bombings. The weather underground.
lesson number 5
There is never any reason to hurt another human being or commit a crime. When you feel this way what your feeling is frustration. Civil disobedience is founded in frustration. We have to learn how to deal with the frustration and move forward.
Phil shows up in a gold lame suit at Carnegie Hall.
Then he stopped writing “My subconscious wasn’t feeding me the material.” He said.
He was depressed and drinking. The highs would get higher and the lows would get lower.
Then he decided to see the world and “wash America out of his system.” He went off. He found hotels , a good meal and the best bordellos. According to his traveling partner he had no regard for his personal safety.
He went with Jerry Rubin to Chile. He got meet Victor Harra who was the “Pete Seager” of Chile and they became great friends.
Phil decides to go to Africa to record there so he can write the trip off. He recorded one of the first world music albums. He went for a walk and was jumped and when he woke up they bent his vocal cords and his voice was never the same after this.
He was devastated that he lost his voice and he thought it was done by the CIA. He came back to the US and had a bad accident while drinking heavily.
and then on on Sept 12 , 19 73 there was a military coup in Chile and the US was involved. The CIA was involved. It put Pinochet in power. The army put Victor Harra in a soccer stadium and they beat his hands up and walked over to the stands and told him “Lets sing a song for el commedante !” it was too much for the colonials and Victor Jara was murdered along with all the poets and the writers.
The poem was written on a piece of paper that was hidden inside the shoe of a friend. The poem was never named, but is commonly known as “Estadio Chile“.
“There are five thousand of us here
in this small part of the city.
We are five thousand.
I wonder how many we are in all
in the cities and in the whole country?
How hard it is to sing
when I must sing of horror.
Horror which I am living,
horror which I am dying.
To see myself among so much
and so many moments of infinity
in which silence and screams
are the end of my song.
Víctor Jara, “Estadio Chile”
(translated from Spanish)”
Phil lost his mind and he did a benefit for the Chilean refugees. Arlo Gurthie, Pete Seager supported him. He even talked Bob Dylan into doing this. It was sold out!
This event opened up peoples eyes to what was going on in South America.
It was a great event for everyone and for Phil because it brought him back into what he did best. organizing.
The war was over and Phil became really depressed
Lesson number 6 : Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
in 1975 he spiraled out of control. He was totally psychotic.
He kept on drinking. He felt worthless. He felt humiliated.
He went to his sisters and he wouldn’t leave the house.
His friend came and got him and took him out to montauk
Then he hung himself.
He was 35.
Today is Dec 19th 2016. Today the electors will be voting for Donald Trump. Today is Phil’s birthday. Happy Birthday Phil where ever you are. You live on through you music.