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Philip David "Phil" Ochs (1940-1976) was an American Singer Songwriter, famous for his protest songs, or "topical songs", as he liked to call them. He was the most active during The Sixties, when he wrote hundreds of songs, covering many topics, such as the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement and labor rights. After the events of 1968 (the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the police riot in Chicago, and the election of Richard Nixon) he became increasingly disillusioned and depressed. By the mid-'70s, he had serious mental problems, and the eventually hanged himself in 1976.
Tropes present in his life and work:
- Apathetic Citizens: "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends".
Oh, look outside the window, there's a woman being grabbed
They've dragged her to the bushes and now she's being stabbed
Maybe we should call the cops and try to stop the pain
But Monopoly is so much fun, I'd hate to blow the game.
- Corrupt Church: In "Here's to the State of Mississippi":
And here's to the churches of Mississippi
Where the cross, once made of silver, now is caked with rust
And the Sunday morning sermons pander to their lust
The fallen face of Jesus is choking in the dust
Heaven only knows in which God they can trust
- Creator Breakdown: The cover of his 1969 album Rehearsals for Retirement depicts Ochs' own tombstone, which stated that he died in "Chicago, Illinois, 1968".
- Courtroom Antic: During the Trial of the Chicago Seven, Ochs was called to testify for the defense, and recited the lyrics to his song "I Ain't Marching Anymore".
- Deep South: "Here's to the State of Mississippi"
- Dirty Cop: In "Here's to the State of Mississippi", he depicts the police in Mississipi that way:
They're chewing their tobacco as they lock the prison door
Their bellies bounce inside them as they knock you to the floor
No they don't like taking prisoners in their private little war
Behind their broken badges there are murderers and more.
- Draft Dodging: In "Draft Dodger Rag", the narrator lists several ridiculous excuses to avoid serving in the military.
- Drowning My Sorrows: In the '70s, Ochs increasingly turned to alcohol and drugs to ease his depression.
- Folk Music: He was an important figure in the '60s folk revival.
- Hurricane of Excuses: "Draft Dodger Rag"
- Hypocrite: "Draft Dodger Rag" is about a red-blooded conservative who's all for that war in Vietnam, so long as he doesn't have to go himself, while "Love Me, I'm a Liberal," is about someone who pays lip service to every left-wing cause until it becomes dangerous, distasteful or personally uncomfortable. ("The people of old Mississippi/ should all hang their heads in shame,/I can't understand how their minds work./ What's the matter, don't they watch Les Crane?/But if you ask me to bus my children/ I hope the cops take down your name ....")
- Lyrical Dissonance: "Outside a Small Circle of Friends" is a song about people's apathy towards murder and poverty, with a cheerful folk tune.
- Messianic Archetype: As the title suggests, "Crucifixion" is about one of these, or possibly a cycle of Messianic Archetypes including Christ and JFK. I say "possibly" because the song as a whole is a bit of a...
- Mind Screw: His eight-and-a-half minute long allegoric song, "Crucifixion".
- No-Hit Wonder
- Ripped from the Headlines: Ochs (who studied journalism) called himself a "singing journalist" and titled his first album All the News That's Fit to Sing (after the New York Times slogan "All the News That's Fit to Print").
- Signature Song: His anti-war song "I Ain't Marching Anymore".
- "The Villain Sucks" Song: In 1972, during Nixon's re-election campaign, Ochs rewrote "Here's to the State of Mississippi" to "Here's to the State of Richard Nixon".
Oh here's to the land you've torn out the heart of.
Richard Nixon, find yourself another country to be part of.