Posted by: Gregoryno6 | April 8, 2010

Paint his memory on the monument.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Bob Hudson. Sometime in the late 1980s I happened upon a second hand copy of his album The Newcastle Song; it was a collection of mostly light-hearted witty tunes, but the final track was a slow sorrowful dirge sung over a haunting organ. About ten years later Bob was doing a Saturday night radio show, and one week he devoted the entire program to the author of that track. It had been the closing track too on his final album – and was also, so it’s said, the last song he ever wrote.

His name was Phil Ochs, and the tune was No More Songs.


(Lyrics here)

I would be an exile now, but everywhere’s the same – One Way Ticket Home.

Phil Ochs was tagged a protest singer but over the course of the Sixties he moved far beyond the limitations implied in that description. He wrote songs that criticised Richard Nixon, and disagreed with America’s military operations in Vietnam. But he was awake to hypocrisy on his own side of the divide too. In ‘Love me, I’m a liberal’ Ochs skewered with deadly accuracy the posturing of the ‘socially aware’ – spiritual parents to the live-as-I-say-not-as-I-live celebrity crusaders that plague us yet. The fun Phil might have had in Hollywood today… or even in Canberra…

Phil was a contemporary of Bob Dylan but never achieved anything like Dylan’s success. He made some unwise decisions and some unwise decisions were made for him. After several years of physical and mental decline, and sheer rotten luck, Phil Ochs took himself out of this world. On 9 April 1976 he committed suicide by hanging himself in the bathroom.

I have a few Phil Ochs albums in my CD collection now – this is the one I play most often. It contains the songs that capture for me the essence of the man. In Chords Of Fame, One Way Ticket Home, and Rehearsals For Retirement Ochs hints at the question David Byrne would later put directly: How did I get here? Even a man who believes that

It is wrong to expect a reward for your struggles. The reward is the act of struggle itself, not what you win. Even though you can’t expect to defeat the absurdity of the world, you must make that attempt. That’s morality, that’s religion. That’s art. That’s life

can wonder at the course of his existence, and Ochs had more reason than many to wonder which god he had offended. Thirty years after his death his music has a steadily growing audience, but in life Phil never caught the big wave that should have been his.

No More Songs remains, for me, the saddest song in the world.


Responses

  1. I’ve never heard this song before. It is a sad song indeed.

    • In the years between recording this and his suicide Ochs had a very hard time. While traveling in Africa he was beaten up and strangled, which affected his singing voice. Later he began to experience delusions – he told friends that his name was John Butler Train, and he had killed Phil Ochs to take over his identity.
      It’s almost as if Phil knew what lay ahead for him, and threw everything he had into that song.

  2. Found this link on Bolt’s Blog – thanks for posting. It was great!

    As a boy I grew up near Newcastle and now living in Melbourne the Newcastle Song brings back funny but great memories.

    I had never heard of Phil Ochs, but now I have I am so glad. Thanks Again

    • Phil Ochs is a worthy addition to any thinking person’s music library. A lot of the videos attributed to him at youtube are just cover versions, but this is the man himself singing Chords of Fame – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8qZQORjmzQ.

    • Thanks also Daremo for leaving a comment. I’ve had a lot of visitors from Bolt’s blog for this item and the piece about Gina – about 70 in all. But they’re not so talkative here for some reason!

  3. Wow, what a sad tale. I’ll have to listen to more of his music. I’ll make a few enquiries and pick up a cd


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