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Sunday, October 13, 2019

Phil Ochs and Neil Young


Phil Ochs: 1940 - 1976

Phil Ochs and Neil Young have a somewhat tangential, but critical relationship.

If we look at the 1977 Decade box album, Neil's hand written note about the song "Cinnamon Girl" says:
"Wrote this for a city girl on peeling pavement coming at me thru Phil Ochs eyes playing finger cymbals.

It was hard to explain to my wife."
We still have no idea what "Phil Ochs eyes" means but it indicates that Neil and Phil connected back in the 1960's. (For more, see, So Who Was The "Cinnamon Girl"? The Story Behind The Song.)

In a 1969 interview on KSAN radio with Neil Young, he is asked about Dylan's music and admits that he didn't even own a Bob Dylan album for fear of being influenced by it. Young then goes on to site Phil Ochs as a major influence. Young adds that he considered Ochs and Dylan on the same level.

living with war cover art

Upon the release of Neil Young's 2006 Living With War, Neil described the album as "metal folk protest like Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan."

Which leads us to today's times of turmoil and change and the new film Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune (preview clip above). The film is rather timely and relevant tribute to an unlikely hero. Over the course of a meteoric music career that spanned two turbulent decades, Phil Ochs sought the bright lights of fame and social justice in equal measure - a contradiction that eventually tore him apart. From youthful idealism to rage to pessimism, the arch of Ochs' life paralleled that of the times, and the anger, satire and righteous indignation that drove his music also drove him to dark despair.

From AlterNet | Phil Ochs, a Musical American Hero by Julianne Escobedo Shepherd:
During the idealistic youth movement of the 1960s, the political folk singer Phil Ochs was a kind of pied piper. Reflecting the era’s idealism, he set out very earnestly to change the world with his music, viewing himself less as a songwriter and more of a reporter, his incisive, sardonic lyrics mining the tumult of the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, the Nixon era, and the Chilean coup.

Beginning his career in New York’s Greenwich Village as a compatriot to Bob Dylan, over the course of 15 years he became a hero-troubador to the peace movement, and quite possibly the most important American activist/musician of all time.
Ochs loved Elvis Presley and John Wayne as American archetypes writ large, and eventually he became an archetype himself. But stricken by bipolar disorder and alcoholism, coupled with the disillusionment of the era, Ochs died by his own hand in 1976. And while his story hasn’t been entirely lost, like much of leftist history his achievements have been buried.

Until now. Director/producer Kenneth Bowser has been working on Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune for the better part of 20 years.
Speaking of answers blowin' in the wind, also see more on metal folk protest music.

Above, "Changes" written by Phil Ochs, performed by Neil Young at Farm Aid 2013.

Listen carefully to the song's introduction. One of Neil's more stunning stage chats -- ever.

Kurt Cobain
Kurt Cobain

(Neil Young's Influence on Kurt Cobain)

Before playing a cover of "Changes" by Phil Ochs at Farm Aid 2013, Neil Young commented that just earlier Pete Seeger talked of regret about Phil Ochs suicide and not doing more to help. Neil then remembers reaching out to Kurt Cobain (unmentioned) but being unable to make contact. Neil has only made mention of this tragedy once before on the record.

Neil Young played a four-show run at Carnegie Hall in New York City in 2014 and played Phil Ochs' song "Changes" each of the four nights in concert.

From Album Cover of Phil Ochs - Greatest Hits

In another one of those eerie Neil synchronicities, Phil Ochs infamously once decided to commission a gold lamé suit because he needed to be "part Elvis Presley and part Che Guevara"["There But for Fortune: The Life of Phil Ochs" by Michael Schumacher ]. Phil Ochs performed at Carnegie Hall wearing gold lamé suit, much to dismay of his audience. Neil Young -- of course -- played "Heart of Gold" each of the four nights in concert of the four-show run at Carnegie Hall in New York City in 2014. (See "Must a performer be that obligated to fulfilling the image his fans have of him?" -

Neil Young Recording "Changes" for A Letter Home Album in Soundbooth @ 3rd Man Records, Nashville, TN
(note Jack White in background)
via video Neil Young Archives

Neil Young's 2014 album A Letter Home opening track #1 is a cover of Phil Ochs song "Changes".

PHIL OCHS: THERE BUT FOR FORTUNE (2010) - Official Trailer
As our country continues to embroil itself in foreign wars and pins its hopes on a new leader's promise for change, Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune is a timely and relevant tribute to an unlikely American hero. Over the course of a meteoric music career that spanned two turbulent decades, Phil Ochs sought the bright lights of fame and social justice in equal measure - a contradiction that eventually tore him apart. From youthful idealism to rage to pessimism, the arch of Ochs' life paralleled that of the times, and the anger, satire and righteous indignation that drove his music also drove him to dark despair. In this brilliantly constructed film, interview and performance footage of Ochs is illuminated by the ruminations of Joan Baez, Tom Hayden, Pete Seeger, Sean Penn, Peter Yarrow, Christopher Hitchens, Ed Sanders, and others.

More on Rebels With Causes. Or, When Neil Young Speaks Truth To Power, The World Listens. As in, Sing Truth to Power!

Also, see Neil Young's Musical Influences.

Bob Dylan, Neil Young & Eric Clapton,
Madison Square Garden, New York City - 1992

Influences and Musical Collaborations of Neil Young

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At 2/08/2011 01:56:00 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

"like much of leftist history his achievements have been buried."


Uhhhh - yea leftists are indeed quite skilled at burying things to be sure. Mao, Stalin, Che Guevara all buried millions of their fellow human beings in the name of "social justice".

I love Phil Ochs (no where close to Neil though) but that is a ridiculous comment in an otherwise good piece.

At 2/08/2011 02:40:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

Jonathan - thanks as always for the provocation. Although you do tend to hit & run a bit.

Hard to say exactly who Julianne Escobedo Shepherd may have beed referring to.

But I would say in the context of Phil Ochs she may have referred to other musicians like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger - not overt political figures. While we may know who they are and what they stood for, many if not most of today's generation I have no idea of what their music was about.

And the same for Ochs. This guy is obscure today relative to his consequence.

As for Mao, Stalin, Che Guevara? What's your point?

ps - “I Ain't Marching Anymore”

At 2/08/2011 03:57:00 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

Hi Thrasher - if I 'hit and run' sometimes it's only because real life gets in the way of fan site postings!! :)

I thought my point spoke for itself in the context of how I interpreted Shepherd's comment that I referenced. And that is that the truth of the historical legacy left by the three infamous leftists that I named who sought "social justice" is buried in millions upon millions of graves throughout Europe, Asia, and South America.

But I agree with your point about Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie in terms of their songwriting being linked with the political themes and current economic times that they were singing about.

But I don't think that's what she was trying to convey. Perhaps once again I'm reading too much into a comment, but to me, she was making the old argument that goes something like "at least Hitler made the trains run on time and he built the Audobon".

I'd stick to the music, but with Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger, and yes, Neil - politics does at times completely intersect with songwriting. And as a libertarian/conservative, I can totally disagree with a musician's politics while still respecting and enjoying their music.

(I'd have to as right wing songwriters tend to be...oh never mind)

At 2/08/2011 04:47:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

Thanks Jonathan for clarification.

Not to veer back towards the political figures, but where are the millions of bodies in S. America caused by Che Guevara ???

Also, I'm not tracking on Shepard claiming "at least Hitler made the trains run on time and he built the Audobon"?

So let's agree on Ochs, Dylayn, Guthrie, Seeger, and Neil songwriting being iconic for their times. And respecting and enjoying their music.

Now, the more important question is who is out their today (under 30) who is really pushing "social justice" protest music?

The Black Eyed Peas?! Lady Gaga?!

At 2/09/2011 08:19:00 AM, Blogger Jonathan said...

Did around a little Thrasher and discover the real truth about Che Guevara - he was indeed a murderous thug just like Castro.

As far as today's artists pushing "social justice" - that's a good question for sure. Pearl Jam continue to do good work in various causes, but even they've mellowed out as they've aged - families, etc.

How about a tour announcement soon?

At 1/29/2012 12:34:00 PM, Blogger Fred said...

Pete Seeger not overtly political? Huh? Where were you?

At 1/29/2012 04:43:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@Fred - not what we said.


check context again >>> "But I would say in the context of Phil Ochs she may have referred to other musicians like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger - not overt political figures. "

At 1/30/2012 07:37:00 AM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

I think what Julianne is saying she that no one likes to talk about that history of social injustices & bloodshed in our country because it is painful.

We have not reconciled with our past history. We still glaze over it's meaning. People like Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger, and Woody saw the hypocracy, inhumanity, and social injustice in their own country. Sorry, but the Republic back in the 20s and 30s wasn't anything to write home about. That's what their songs are all about.

Jonathan, there are lots of bodies burned & buried in our own country in the name of "social justice." Genocide of indigenous cultures to name one. Slaves who drove the success of an early market economy. The millions of children, Chinese and other immigrants who perished from unsafe housing & work conditions. How about the murder & torture of black men, Mormons, Jews, and disabled? That history is "buried in the ground" because leftist views and information they shared through their rallys, songs, and political movement are whitewashed as anti-American.

Studying political ideologies and studying the "personalities" who used ideologies to advance their inhumanity are two different studies entirely.

At 1/30/2012 08:34:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

Thanks MNOTR!

"Studying political ideologies and studying the "personalities" who used ideologies to advance their inhumanity are two different studies entirely."


Also, history is written by the victors.

I.e., the history from the losers perspective is wiped from history books. Case in point -- Native Americans.

At 11/22/2012 06:01:00 PM, Blogger b.f. said...

If you check out the lyrics to Phil Ochs' "Knock On The Door" song, it expresses solidarity with victims of the 1930s political repression in the Soviet Union. But regarding South America, Phil accurately realized that the U.S. government-backed right-wing Pinochet coup regime in Chile (that killed folksinger Victor Jara)and the right-wing coup regime in Argentina of the 1970s were responsible for many more deaths of political dissidents than Che Guevara or Fidel Castro.

At 10/13/2019 12:30:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

As folks may have noticed, this was originally posted in 2011.

That was back in the day of rather robust, spirited, rather polite discussions.

We did some time travel here on TW on a journey through the past and have stumbled upon yet another blog approach.

We couldn't quite figure out he best approach to updating old posts aside from pulling content fwd with new time/date stamp but losing comments.

What wee did here is updated the original post but put new time/date stamp while preserving old comments. so win/win.


At 10/13/2019 03:12:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

Regarding the millions murdered by Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Pinochet:

Lefties & Democratic Socialists need not answer for the crimes of Dictators. We support social justice, Freedom, and an end to Endless War. And a real effort to halt the planetary threat to human life on Earth, Global Warming.

We think that the Government’s role is to protect the people from greedy Capitalist Corporations. They are wrecking the Earth with fossil fuel extraction. They wish to pay no taxes and that is how they have got it successfully arranged. The people pay all the taxes, in a parasitic Oligarchy rigged for the 1%.

But we have our Protest Music. We hope the DNC has courage enough to nominate a popular candidate like Bernie who can actually win. Trump is a planet wrecking moron.

Social Security. Fire Departments. Snowplows. Food banks. Unions. Good stuff. Alan in Seattle

Sent from my iPhone

At 10/13/2019 05:09:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

"Changes" by Phil Ochs

Sit by my side, come as close as the air
And share in a memory of gray
And wander in my word
Dream about the pictures that I play of changes

Green leaves of summer turn red in the fall
To brown and to yellow, they fade
And then they have to die
Trapped within the circle time parade of changes

Scenes of my young years were warm in my mind
Visions of shadows that shine
'Til one day I returned and found they were
The victims of the vines of changes

The world's spinning madly, it drifts in the dark
Swings through a hollow of haze
A race around the stars
Journey through the universe ablaze with changes

Moments of magic will glow in the night
All fears of the forest are gone
But when the morning breaks
They're swept away by golden drops of dawn of changes

Passions will part to a strange melody
As fires will sometimes burn cold
Like petals in the wind
We're puppets to the silver strings of souls of changes

Your tears will be trembling, now we're somewhere else
One last cup of wine we will pour
And I'll kiss you one more time
And leave you on the rolling river shore of changes

So sit by my side, come as close as the air
And share in a memory of gray
And wander in my word
Dream about the pictures that I play of changes

At 10/14/2019 12:21:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

Speaking of CHANGE:

In June 2019, David Gilmour raised $21.5m from the Christie's sale of more than 120 of his instruments and artefacts. He gave the proceeds to ClientEarth, a charity which uses the power of the law to protect the planet and its people.

"The global climate crisis is the greatest challenge that humanity will ever face," said David. "I hope that the sale of these guitars will help ClientEarth in their actions to use the law to bring about real change. We need a civilised world that goes on for all our grandchildren and beyond, in which these guitars can be played and songs can be sung."

For more information on ClientEarth, their work and how you can help, please visit


At 10/15/2019 12:49:00 AM, Blogger changes2012 said...

Awesome! Thanks for sharing. Great to hear about David Gilmour too!


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