Ochs, Philip David

views updated


OCHS, PHILIP DAVID (Phil ; 1940–1976), U.S. topical protest singer/songwriter of the 1960s, perhaps best known for his songs "Power and Glory," "There but for Fortune," "Changes," "Small Circle of Friends," "When I'm Gone," "Pleasures of the Harbor" and "Love Me, I'm a Liberal." Ochs was born in El Paso, Texas, the second of three children to Jacob, a doctor, and Gertrude, who came from Scotland. Ochs' father was driven mad by his World War ii experiences in Europe, and beginning when Ochs was five, spent two years away from the family in a mental institution diagnosed as manic-depressive. Ochs grew up in New York and Ohio, attended the Staunton Military Academy in Virginia, from where he graduated in 1958, and then Ohio State University, where he studied journalism, became involved in protesting campus rotc training, and started writing for The Lantern, the student newspaper. In 1962, Ochs dropped out of college one semester shy of graduation and headed for New York, where he became an integral part of the Greenwich Village folk music scene. In the tradition of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, Ochs was one of the premier "protest singers" of the era: He played at voter-registration drives in the Deep South during the early days of the civil rights movement, campaigned for striking coal miners in the hills of West Virginia and Kentucky, and was a leading figure in demonstrations against the Vietnam War. A self-styled "singing journalist," Ochs' first album was All the News That's Fit to Sing (1964), followed by I Ain't Marching Anymore (1965), which gave the anti-war movement two anthems with the title track and "Draft Dodger Rag," and a moving civil-rights piece, "Here's to the State of Mississippi," which he later re-recorded as "Here's to the State of Richard Nixon" to protest Nixonera politics. In 1966, Ochs sold out Carnegie Hall for a solo concert. On January 16, 1968, Ochs along with seven others including Abbie Hoffman, founded the Youth International Party (Yippies), a theatrical political party that used guerrilla street theater to attract media attention to their causes. They were most successful at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, where they promoted the Yippie candidate for president – a pig named Pigasus, which Ochs selected and purchased, as he testified at the Chicago 7 trial. Ochs recorded eight albums in 12 years (1964–75), but disappointment over his lack of commercial success coupled with alcoholism, writer's block and depression led Ochs to hang himself in his sister's home at age 35. He is the subject of Death of a Rebel by Marc Elliot (1977) and There but for FortuneThe Life of Phil Ochs by Michael Schumacher (1996).

[Elli Wohlgelernter (2nd ed.)]