One More Parade – (Ochs/Gibson)
“He went totally pale.
‘A parade? A par-ade?’
He stared at the details offered by imagination.
‘Why you cheap, flag-rubbing bastard'”
– Richard Condon, ‘The Manchurian Candidate’
In amongst the 25 albums released by Elektra in 1964 you may have noticed Bob Gibson’s Where I’m Bound, the last of the four records Gibson would release through Elektra. Elektra released two albums featuring Bob Gibson albums in 1961 – Bob’s own Yes I See and Gibson and Camp at the Gate of Horn, featuring Bob with Bob Camp, later known as Hamilton Camp, the same year that Gibson performed at Faragher’s with a 20 year old Phil Ochs in support.
In his autobiography Gibson wrote;
“I was a real mentor to Phil Ochs, musically. His very first gigs as a performer were in Cleveland. I was the headliner and he was the opening act. I heard some of his stuff like The Battle of Billy Sol Estes and it was nice stuff. We began to talk and got to know each other”.
Born in New York City, by the time he performed with Phil, Gibson was based in Chicago. However it was in Cleveland that he got his folk music education, collecting local songs that he would record as Folksongs of Ohio. He was far from a folk purist and had to contend with the barbed comments of those that were. Gibson, who collected songs, but changed them as he saw fit, said that he was “looking to introduce people to folk music as an entertainment medium”.
Gibson’s chief inspiration to pick up a banjo (and then guitar) was Pete Seeger, from whom he learned the rudiments of banjo playing (though as he wrote in his book; “I didn’t have to master a lot of technique – I just wanted to make music”). Gibson’s influence on Phil would be every bit as profound. As Dave Van Ronk said; “It was a marvellous that he and Bob collaborated on songs. It was like Bob collaborating with his political self, or Phil collaborating with his non-political self. It was perfect”.
What Phil learned from Bob was the need for folk songs (or topical songs) to have a sense of melody, to make the listeners enjoy it as a song before the message kick in. Not that they agreed totally on the purpose of song;
“I wrote a few songs with Phil Ochs. Some were protest songs, songs of youth; preachy songs telling people where it’s at…music will not change a damn thing. It will not affect anyone’s thinking about anything. I’m sorry. I wish it did. Phil Ochs and I used to write songs together and think that, “wow, this will change everybody’s mind”. The only people who want to hear that kind of stuff are those of that attitude or persuasion. But they’re good for that reason, that kind of reinforcement of the group ideas”.
It seems that regardless of what Gibson may have thought, “reinforcement of group ideas” became Phil’s stock in trade for quite some time. One More Parade (which Gibson annoyingly keeps referring to as “Start The Parade” in his book) as track one, side one of Phil’s debut LP, was just the start.
Written in the summer of 1961, One More Parade may well be the very the first topical song to deal with Vietnam, albeit indirectly. What it deals with somewhat more directly are the very first protests that Phil became a part of.
The newly politicised Phil, at the instigation of Jim Glover, began organising protests at the R.O.T.C (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) training that was compulsory for all male students at Ohio State, as well as at numerous other colleges and Universities around the United States. While such practises were expected at Staunton, the militarisation of American culture was something that was a hot-topic even before the growth of the anti-Vietnam war movement.
As with many of the major protests of the era, it was Berkeley in California that took the lead. Their campaign began in 1956, with freedom of choice at the heart of their argument. Indeed, their argument was such that even the then Assistant Secretary of Defence, Charles C. Finucane supported freedom of choice with regards R.O.T.C.
The notion that American campuses should force their male students to undertake R.O.T.C training derives from the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 which gave land to individual states in order to provide funds to build and maintain state colleges. However, the Act stipulated that these colleges must provide courses in mechanics and agriculture, and in a later amendment, courses in military tactics.
In the summer of 1960 a meeting was held, excitingly enough for Phil, at Ohio State University, where representatives of over forty Universities met with officials from the Department of Defense to discuss the issue of the R.O.T.C. By the end of the meeting everyone present (including the Navy and the Air Force) supported the notion of voluntary R.O.T.C training, except the Army.
The following summer R.O.T.C training became voluntary at Ohio State, after the Army finally agreed with the Department of Defence. Phil’s very first protest had ended in a victory, perhaps giving him the impetus that such youth-led campaigning can be a success. In Berkeley they would have to wait another year or so before R.O.T.C training became voluntary, five and a half years after their protest began. In September 1962, a few months after it had been made voluntary, R.O.T.C enrolment at Berkeley had dropped by 90%.
Anyone stumbling across this song expecting a thumping protest tune may be somewhat surprised. It’s actually rather restrained, with Gibson’s melody to the fore, carefully played, with the fade-in intro a rather nice touch.
Lyrically it isn’t much cop – pretty descriptive with little real insight (the “a few years ago their guns were only toys” bit brings to mind Rolf Harris’s ‘Two Little Boys’) and the theme is dealt with far effectively in Is There Anybody Here? from 1966’s ‘Phil Ochs In Concert’. Compare for example One More Parade‘s “All march together, everybody looks the same, so there is no one you can blame“, (which is only half an idea at best) with the latter song’s more direct, more immediately arresting “Is there anybody here who thinks that following orders takes away the blame?“. Both songs (and The Men Behind The Guns as well) are almost sarcastic, hiding their barbed criticism’s amongst bland praise (“So young, so strong, so ready for the war”, “I wanna shake his hand…pin a medal on the man”, “Off with your hats…“) an idea that would reach its peak with Outside Of A Small Circle Of Friends, but is least successful here.
If Phil’s career as a songwriter starts here, then knowing the heights he would later reach, this is an inauspicious start, but a start none the less!