FROM THE WEB
Manning & the Law
CROSSING THE LINE
Corruption in U.S.
Activism Not a Crime
War in Arizona
James Patrick Jordan
Hyatt v. UNITE-HERE
Medicare for All
Chamber & Capitalism
Savage Imperialism 4
"No Progressive Champion"
CULTURE & FILM
The Gay Oscars
Saviors and Survivors
Zaps - 03/11
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There But For Fortune
Directed by Ken Bowser
Documentarian Ken Bowser walked up the aisle to the front of the IFC Center in Greenwich Village for the premiere of Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune and explained that this film was some 20 years in the making. Citing that Ochs's brief life and briefer career fell far short of the popular acclaim he struggled for, Bowser reminded the audience that, "It's important that we who love Phil Ochs and understand his relevance let others know."
The protest singer's vibrancy in performance and his music's depth and urgency are visible for all to see. Leaning awkwardly over a microphone while cradling his Gibson six-string, Ochs erupts onto the screen, something of a celluloid hero. In the once legendary Waverly Theatre—a site frequented by Ochs in the 1960s—it was easy to feel transported.
At least partially erased from popular memory, Ochs is often recalled today in an awkward hush. The product of a challenging, to say the least, childhood (Ochs's sister Sonny and brother Michael both attest to their manic-depressive father and coldly disconnected mother), young Phil tended to be a loner who idolized film stars and fostered a burning, secret desire for fame. "The psychosis of the Eisenhower era," as record producer Van Dyke Parks described it, implanted in Ochs a conflict that was to mark the years of protest to come. Deeply patriotic, the teenage Ochs began to understand something of injustice and to see beyond the surface.
In college, while studying for a career as a journalist, Ochs befriended folksinger Jim Glover who introduced him to the music of Woody Guthrie and the Weavers. His writings took a notable turn to the left. After years of studying to play the clarinet, Ochs obtained his first guitar. The writing of topical songs came easily. Ochs noted that "every newspaper headline is a song" and before long his performances at Greenwich Village nightspots led to a record contract and a national tour.
The documentary also looks into the tumultuous relationship he shared with Bob Dylan. While they were friends as young men, Dylan's star shined brighter than Ochs's who always felt at least a step behind. The rivalry haunted him. Still, Ochs's impact was appreciated by the activists who soon felt forsaken by Dylan.
Eluded by wider popular acclaim, Ochs immersed himself in protest music. By his third studio album, Ochs's transition was not into the realm of folk-rock—as his peers had moved into—but to an expansive, concept-driven format that made full use of orchestration and a variety of genres. String quartets, honky-tonk piano, woodwinds, and electronic music provided a sweeping soundscape for Ochs's resounding tenor. Seemingly always aware of, yet in battle with, the tragic destiny of mental illness that would later claim him, Ochs fueled his passion with alcohol and work. But the brilliance of his music was never enough to satisfy his conflicted self-image.
Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune is a whirlwind tour through his music, politics, and personal demons, using skillfully edited performance and interview footage, news reels, and rare photographs. First person remembrances are provided by Ochs's family as well as Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Dave Van Ronk, Jim Glover, Judy Henske, and Peter Yarrow. Overall, the film is a fascinating view into the urgency of the times, the movement culture, and the folk community's response to Civil Rights, Vietnam, labor strife, and the murders of the Kennedys, Medgar Evars, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Ochs willingly thrust himself into the street heat—this is where he differed from the rest. Other important historic segments in the film are interviews with Yippie founders Paul Krassner, Ed Sanders (of the Fugs), and Abbie Hoffman. Hearing the personal recollections of the debacle at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention protest, along with footage of the police riot and ensuing despair, was riveting. Tom Hayden, never far from his radical roots, offered moving commentary. The assaults by the Chicago police, the loss of an anti-war presidential candidate, and the dissolution of the activists' base, post-1968, had a terrific impact on the already wavering Ochs. He began to state that he'd died in Chicago along with democracy—or at least the movement.
While Ochs's later years are painful to observe, the power of the songs stand. It is hard to believe that Ochs was only 35 at the time of his death. Yet Bowser's film illustrates some of the exciting highlights of Ochs's later period, including his organizing of large-scale events, such as his celebratory "The War Is Over" concert in Central Park and "An Evening With Salvador Allende" in honor of the Chilean people. Overall, the film does exactly what we wanted it to do. It offers a close-up view of this man often deemed the protest song's grandest voice. The image of Ochs's broken life is far surpassed by his promise of a new day and the inspiration of his music:"I Ain't Marchin' Anymore," "Changes," "The War is Over," "White Boots Marching in a Yellow Land," "Draft Dodger Rag," "My Kingdom for a Car," "Chords of Fame," "No More Songs," "Links in the Chain," "The Ballad of Medgar Evars," "Harlan Kentucky," "We Call for No Wider War," "When I'm Gone," and "There But for Fortune." Ochs's music rolls on and on, through the decades and the next senseless war.
John Pietaro is a writer, musician and labor organizer from Brooklyn, New York. This review was first posted on theculturalworker.blogspot.com.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.