' I've lost the power I had to distinguish between what to ignite and what to extinguish' – Rowland S. Howard

Tag: Phil Ochs

‘A Life that I was living In some Cracked Rear View’: Songs of Experience

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
Dylan Thomas ‘Fern Hill’

‘Most people get a fair amount of fun out of their lives, but on balance life is suffering, and only the very young or the very foolish imagine otherwise.’
George Orwell

“And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”
William Blake

As the title suggests, this post is a sequel to the one I wrote recently on ‘Songs of Innocence.’ So here are ten songs which deal with one way or another with the often bitter and disillusioning experiences which accompany the passage of time and the path to maturity. For all of us, life generally grows in complexity as we age and the balance of light and shade in it tends to lean more towards the latter. It may be, however, that these sufferings which we all have to go through ultimately lead to some kind of maturity…

The first part of the title of today’s post comes from this song:

1. John Hiatt, ‘Learning How To Love You’:

2. Phil Ochs, ‘Rehearsals for Retirement’:

3. Smog, ‘Cold Blooded Old Times’

4. Jim White, ‘Chase the Dark Away’;

5. Rowland S. Howard, ‘Ave Maria’

6. Iris De Ment, ‘No Time to Cry”

7. Steve Earle, ‘Goodbye’

8. Bob Dylan, ‘Things Have Changed’:

9. Mary Gauthier, ‘I Drink’

10. Paul Clayton, ‘All The Good Times Are O’er’
Sample here – http://www.folkways.si.edu/paul-clayton/dulcimer-songs-and-solos/american-folk/music/album/smithsonian

‘Songs of Innocence’

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.
And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the Sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

Dylan Thomas ‘Fern Hill’

O after Christmas we’ll have no need to go searching
For the difference that sets an old phrase burning-
We’ll hear it in the whispered argument of a churning
Or in the streets where the village boys are lurching.
And we’ll hear it among decent men too
Who barrow dung in gardens under trees,
Wherever life pours ordinary plenty.
Won’t we be rich, my love and I, and
God we shall not ask for reason’s payment,
The why of heart-breaking strangeness in dreeping hedges
Nor analyse God’s breath in common statement.
We have thrown into the dust-bin the clay-minted wages
Of pleasure, knowledge and the conscious hour-
And Christ comes with a January flower.
Patrick Kavanagh ‘Advent”

Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
By the stream & o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice!
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee

William Blake, ‘The Lamb’

As the title suggests, this post includes a selection of ten songs which reflect an ‘innocent’ perspective on life. Generally speaking, they tend deal with childhood experiences or with the early teenage years. Of course, there will be a sequel:

1. Phil Ochs, ‘Boy in Ohio’ :

2. Neil Young, ‘Sugar Mountain’:

3. Lucy Kaplansky, ‘Manhattan Moon”:

4. Ricky Nelson, ‘Waitin In School’:

5. Chuck Berry, ‘School Days’:

6. Sam Cooke, “Wonderful World’:

7. Smog, ‘Teenage Spaceship’:

8. Guy Clark, ‘Texas 1947’:

9. The Go-Betweens, ‘Cattle and Cane’:

10. Mary Gauthier, ‘Sugar Cane”:

Surnames and Placenames: More Songs about Cities, Towns & People – 2

There are so many songs on these topics have decided to add a second post.

So here goes:
1. Randy Travis, ‘What have you got planned tonight, Diana’?

2. Merle Haggard & Willie Nelson, “My Mary”;

3. Wilbert Harrison, ‘Kansas City”:

4. Hoagy Carmichael, ‘Georgia on my Mind”;

5. Van Morrison, ‘Cyprus Avenue”:

6. Lyle Lovett, ‘One Eyed Fiona’:

7. Bing Crosby, ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’:

8. Paul Robeson, ‘Joe Hill”:

9. Phil Ochs, ‘Joe Hill”:

10. Al Green, ‘Belle”;

11. The Kinks, ‘David Watts’:

12. Lou Reed, ‘I Love you, Suzanne”:

Robbie Murphy, Bert Jansch, Phil Ochs

To follow on from my last post, here are two songs as a tribute to Robert.

The first is ‘High Days’ from Bert Jansch’s last album, ‘The Black Swan’:

The second is Phil Ochs’ great song, ‘When I’m Gone’

Phil Ochs’ Last Stand

A link to Phil Ochs singing ‘The Blue and the Grey’ at Gerde’s in 1975 –

This was his last public performance, I think. Bob was also there that night – and part of this gig is in Reynaldo & Clara (there is a short clip showing Ochs taking the stage & borrowing Bob’s hat here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOg5dK6EnuE).

The existence of this clip may also mean that Ochs’ performance of ‘Lay Down Your Weary Tune’ on the same night is out there somewhere…

Phil Ochs Topical Songs

Perhaps its the fact that my training is as a historian, but I have always liked the historical specificity of Phil Ochs’ song.

An example would be the reference to the United Fruit Company in one of his greatest songs, ‘I ain’t marching anymore”:

For critics of the idea of topical songs, this kind of reference dates the song and renders it instantly disposable. This view is stated, perhaps, most clearly in Suze Rotolo’s book ‘A Freewhelin’ Time’ where she makes a case that bears a striking similarity to the kind of arguments that Bob Dylan made after he had abandoned the writing of ‘protest’ songs.

But, for me, this argument misses the point of such songs by a long way. The fact that Ochs’ songs are grounded in a particular historical reality seems to me to make them more universal, not less..These topical references also seem to me to invite important questions: what was the United Fruit Company’s stance towards Cuba? Why is it that the kind of injustices/exploitation that Ochs wrote about so vividly in his best work still carry on today?

This, of course, should not be taken as implying that there was no ‘bad’ protest music or that the emphasis on writing particular types of songs was not restrictive.

But it does seem to me that Ochs tough-mindedness and emphasis on detail saved him from writing the kind of windy generalities that make up ‘Blowing in the Wind. (pun intended). Some of Dylan’s protest songs appear to imply that the evils of the world would be solved by the moral superiority of his generation.

And what a canard that turned out to be….

A Defence of Phil Ochs

There has long been a consensus among Dylan biographers that Bob’s shift away from ‘Protest’ songs was a natural one and one that was firmly based on artistic principles. In this view, the writing of such songs was stifling to Bob’s creativity and it was essential for his artistic growth that he moved away from the absurdly restrictive rules that applied to the genre. Allied with this goes the contention that so-called ‘topical’ songs were ephemeral and were quickly forgotten once the occasion that inspired them was forgotten…

My problem with this contention is, that while it contains a large grain of truth, it is, in many respects, almost as absurdly restrictive as is the view of those folk purists it was designed to combat. Saying that someone should NOT write about politics is as absurd as saying that they should write ONLY about it…

Here, I would also argue that historical specificity does not necessarily consign a song to oblivion once the moment which led to its composition is gone. Indeed, the best of Phil Ochs’ work, for example, is actually strengthened by the fact that it is anchored in a particular historical reality. This is particularly the case at the moment when so many of the issues that Ochs’ addressed remain unresolved. So listening to, say, Ochs’ live album from Carnegie Hall, I was struck by the continuing relevance of so many of the songs.

It also seems to that the later Phil Ochs albums like ‘Rehearsals for Retirement’ and ‘Tape From California’ have never really received the acclaim they deserved.
As a portayal of the fractures in American society at the time that they were released,  it also arguable that they are superior to anything that Dylan produced in the same period…