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Sean William Scott


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Monday, November 01, 2004

A Folk Song is Something You Don't Hear on the Radio 

So, I've been thinking about Phil Ochs quite a bit lately. This shouldn't be any particular surprise, as he's probably my favorite singer/songwriter. He had a gift for both biting satire and metaphor that I find strongly appeals to my own sensibilities. And although he could often be highly political and topical, he lacked the narrow focus of vision that gives so much music of that nature a limited shelf-life. And he was hardly one to play the political dogma card. If you were on "his side" but you were still doing what he felt was wrong, he'd call you out on it. But there's something about the last couple of months that has been bringing me back to some of Phil's more overtly political songs. I think it's the cylcical nature of politics. Although the songs were mostly written about forty years ago, they still seem frighteningly topical and current.

I mean, let's look briefly at Draft Dodger Rag's closing verse:

... One thing you gotta see
That someone's gotta go over there
and that someone isn't me
So I wish you well, Sarge, give 'em Hell
Yeah, Kill me a thousand or so
And if you ever get a war without blood and gore
Well I'll be the first to go


I mean, not only does that aptly summarize what so many of today's chicken-hawks were doing back then, it also nicely applies to a lot of the arm-chair generals of today.

And did I mention that he wasn't content to let his side bask in the glow of their supposed moral superiority? He once famously defined a liberal as someone who is "ten degrees to the left of center in good times, ten degree to the right if it affects them personally." Which, again, in Love Me, I'm a Liberal worked then, and still works for those members of the Democratic party who have abandoned the progressive cause, or like Nader only ape the speech of progressive causes to feed their own egos.

Once I was young and impulsive
I wore every conceivable pin
Even went to the socialist meetings
Learned all the old union hymns
But I've grown older and wiser
And that's why I'm turning you in
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal


Outside of a Small Circle of Friends still stands as one of the most stinging indictments of the casual cruelty Americans are capable of inflicting upon one another.

Oh look outside the window, there's a woman being grabbed
They've dragged her to the bushes and now she's being stabbed
Maybe we should call the cops and try to stop the pain
But Monopoly is so much fun, I'd hate to blow the game
And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody
Outside of a small circle of friends


Which isn't to say that he was always critical. He wrote what is probably one of the most patriotic songs I've ever heard, Power and Glory, which, ironically enough, was once co-opted by Anita Bryant's anti-gay crusades in Florida.

Here is a land full of power and glory
Beauty that words cannot recall
Oh her power shall rest on the strength of her freedom
Her glory shall rest on us all

Yet she's only as rich as the poorest of her poor
Only as free as the padlocked prison door
Only as strong as our love for this land
Only as tall as we stand


But the song I keep coming back to the most, the song that I haven't been able to get out of my head for weeks, is the song that most describes how I feel about my country right now, and the people leading it. And it's the song I'm going to be humming to myself when I go into the voting booth tomorrow. So here it is, in it's entirety.

The War is Over by Phil Ochs

Silent Soldiers on a silver screen
Framed in fantasies and dragged in dream
Unpaid actors of the mystery
The mad director knows that freedom will not make you free
And what's this got to do with me

I declare the war is over
It's over, it's over

Drums are drizzling on a grain of sand
Fading rhythms of a fading land
Prove your courage in the proud parade
Trust your leaders where mistakes are almost never made
And they're afraid that I'm afraid

I'm afraid the war is over
It's over, it's over

Angry artists painting angry signs
Use their vision just to blind the blind
Poisoned players of a grizzly game
One is guilty and the other gets the point to blame
Pardon me if I refrain

I declare the war is over
It's over, it's over

So do your duty, boys, and join with pride
Serve your country in her suicide
Find the flags so you can wave goodbye
But just before the end even treason might be worth a try
This country is too young to die

I declare the war is over
It's over, it's over

One-legged veterans will greet the dawn
And they're whistling marches as they mow the lawn
And the gargoyles only sit and grieve
The gypsy fortune teller told me that we'd been deceived
You only are what you believe

I believe the war is over
It's over, it's over





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© 2007 Dorian Wright. Some images are © their respective copyright holders. They appear here for the purposes of review or satire only.