Monthly Archives: September 2012

I Ain’t Marching Anymore (Part 1)

I Ain’t Marching Anymore

“The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe” – JFK

 

“Now, for a change of pace, here’s a protest song…A protest song is a song so specific that you cannot mistake it for bullshit…Good word, bullshit…Ought to be used more often…Especially in Washington…Speaking of bullshit…I’d like to dedicate this song to McGeorge Bundy”.

–          Phil Ochs, New York Folk Festival, Carnegie Hall, June 1965.

 It’s not like me to not believe Phil but I almost didn’t believe him that there really was bloke called McGeorge Bundy. It sounds so much like a fake name that I figured it must have been true. I’ve already written about Lyndon Johnson’s successes with regards domestic policy. What I neglected to write about the total pigs ear he made of foreign policy. And the heart of that shambles was McGeorge Bundy. Silly name he may have had but he was one of the main players in what became known (somewhat ironically in hindsight) as Kennedy’s “wise men”, a role that he maintained under Kennedy’s successor. Bundy was one of those who convinced Johnson, despite Robert McNamara’s protestations, that government policy on Vietnam should continue on the course set in motion under Kennedy – more troops, more bombing, allowing the war to go on and on.

McGeorge Bundy

Bundy was also a key factor in the bungled Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Later in life Bundy said that; “I had a part in a great failure. I made mistakes of perception, recommendation and execution” Mistakes that led to the deaths of a great many soldiers, Vietnamese and American. I Ain’t Marching Anymore told of Phil’s determination that he should not become one of them.

Phil later called it his “turning away song”. As a graduate of Staunton Military Academy Phil was possibly closer than most to the madness of the war that he was hell-bent on denouncing and marching away from. Indeed soldiers appear time and time again in Phil’s songs, and rarely, in his early songs at least, does he regard them with anything other than sympathetically. In One More Parade they are “so young, so strong”. In the unreleased Sailors And Soldiers they are “herded like cattle, ready for the battle”, while in Remember Me they are victims “of a world that went insane”.

The use of the first person in I Ain’t Marching Anymore is perhaps symptomatic of this empathy with the American soldier, portraying them as men not unlike himself ; “I ain’t marching anymore”, “It’s always the old who lead us to the war”, “Now they want me back again”. For all the historical references that litter the song, Phil puts himself at the very heart of it. The escalation of the war in Vietnam meant that ever increasing numbers of Phil’s peers were being drafted, a threat that hung over Phil’s entire generation. The divide between civilian and soldier was small, not just in Vietnam itself were American forces struggled to tell kin from Cong, but also in the U.S. where something as minor as poor eyesight was all that could keep a young American away from the Vietnamese jungle. As Phil would later sing in Tape From California;“the draft board is debating if they’d like to take my life”. There was an awful lot at stake.

Of course it wasn’t all empathy. For whatever reason or reasons Phil turned away from a career in the military (as did a surprising number of his songwriting peers such as Tom Paxton and Tim Hardin) and wasn’t shy in confronting those whose who made a different decision. In What Are You Fighting For? and especially Is There Anybody Here? Phil wasn’t exactly shy in questioning the motives of servicemen and women;

“Is there anybody here who thinks that following orders takes away the blame?

Is there anybody here who wouldn’t mind a murder by another name?”

 Phil would play out a genuine confrontation with the military in Chicago in 1968 when he pleaded with national Guardsmen to put down their guns and join him in opposing the war iin Vietnam. He was reportedly heartbroken when they refused. Perhaps they weren’t as much like him as he may have thought.

Phil’s later songs would take a more critical view of soldiers – starting in 1966 with Is There Anybody Here? and it’s reference to “the honour of the brave and the courage of the blind”. Soldiers would go on to be portrayed as mendacious, “the soldiers’ make a bid giving candy to the kids” (Santo Domingo), “when we’ve butchered your son, here’s a stick of our gum” (Cops Of The World) perhaps reflecting his turning his back not just of American warmongering, but also on America itself. The stupidity of the war in Vietnam was becoming reflected in America itself, a war where “even courage is confused” (Tape From California), where patriotic soldiers are commanded to “serve your country in her suicide” (The War Is Over).

By 1969, with Nixon in the White House, the scars of Chicago still raw and the war in Vietnam still raging, the jocularity of Talking Vietnam and Draft Dodger Rag and the sense of hope in I Ain’t Marching Anymore was long gone.

In 1962 Phil sang;

 “If you want to stop the fighting over there, over there,

Then you’d batter stir up action over here” (Viet Nam)

By the end of the decade all Phil could sing about was failure, both personal and national;

“Where are the armies who killed a country,

And turned a young man into a baby”

(Rehearsals For Retirement)

 

And defeat;

“A white flag in my hand,

A white bone in the sand”

(No More Songs).

Phil would continue to sing I Ain’t Marching Anymore when the spirit in which it was written was as dated as many of the ancient battles which he was singing of. Ironically it is the use of historical events to try and explain a contemporary issue that enabled the song to stay current, or at least not seem to date as some of his other songs were perceived to have done.

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I Ain’t Marching Anymore

I Ain’t Marching Anymore

– Elektra, February 1965 in Mono and Stereo.

Original sleeve notes by Bruce Jackson (University of Texas) and Phil Ochs.

  • Production supervisor – Jac Holzman
  • Recording director – Paul A. Rothchild
  • Engineering – Mastertone Studios, New York City
  • Cover photo and design – William S. Harvey

“What happened to all the promise of the beautiful, exciting aesthetic of 1965?”

– Phil Ochs, 1968

“Folkster Ochs writes and sings a bitter song, but his accusations ring too true to ignore. He seems to respond to the violence of the everyday world and implies that anyone who doesn’t concern themselves deeply is apathetic and pointless”

– Record World

It’s slightly odd reading about Lyndon Johnson’s Presidency now that he is so readily  portrayed as the bad guy.

Kennedy had initially offered Johnson the role of Vice-President expecting him to refuse.  During Kennedy’s all too short Presidency Johnson became more and more marginalised. So it perhaps surprising that the key tenets of Johnson’s years as President would be a continuation of events set into motion by Kennedy. Indeed in foreign policy was left almost entirely to those like McGeorge Bundy and Robert McNamara, already put into power by Kennedy. It would be difficult to imagine events in Vietnam turning out any differently under Kennedy.

However, in Stephen Graubard’s words – “only in domestic policy did Johnson show his extraordinary talent”.

In July 1964, after 75 days of debate in the Senate, the Civil Rights Act was signed into Law. With a General Election called for November that year, and having fought the first wave of reactionary force from within his own party in the Primaries (Governor of Alabama George Wallace, who would play such a prominent part in the 1968 General Election won over 10% of the popular vote in 1964, was quoted as saying “”I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say, segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”) Johnson came up against another reactionary titan in the Election proper. Reading about Johnson’s unpopularity in the ensuing years it is perhaps worth bearing in mind who he was up against in the 1964 election.

According to Rice and Krout “on the domestic level, Arizona Senator Barry M. Goldwater recommended a rapid decrease in federal economic and social programs and a relaxation of government activity in the civil rights area. As for foreign affairs, he called for an extreme ‘get tough’ policy toward the communist bloc.”

In his acceptance speech as Republican candidate he said that “We must, and we shall, return to proven ways– not because they are old, but because they are true.”

Goldwater had voted against the Civil Rights Act, calling it unconstitutional. He became a figurehead of the more conservative wing of the Republican party, a conservatism that would come to characterise the party, culminating in the Presidency of Ronald Reagan. Goldwater himself later stated that he wouldn’t have voted for himself had he have believed the bad press he was getting in the run-up to the 1964 election, writing in his memoirs that “I had been branded as a fascist, a racist, a trigger-happy warmonger, a nuclear madman and the candidate who couldn’t win”.

Those press reports were correct in at least one instance – Johnson won by a landslide, receiving the largest popular vote in history. Johnson won on his Great Society ticket, with Civil Rights and his War on Poverty at its heart. And this is the bad guy?! Goldwater’s campaign slogan – “In your heart you know he’s right” – was beautifully lampooned by Johnson’s team as “in your guts you know he’s nuts”. Brilliant.

Though Goldwater never made it into one of Phil’s songs (his supporters were the subject of The Chad Mitchell Trio’s ‘Barry’s Boys’) he did get a mention in the notes of Phil’s The Broadside Tapes 1, in with regards his song Time Was; “I sort of consider this the only conservative song I’ve written; conservative not in the sense of the clowns like Barry Goldwater but the true conservative concern for the individual”.

According to John Berendt, upon graduating from Staunton, is was Goldwater, who graduated from Staunton Military Academy in 1928, thirty years before Phil, who handed Phil his diploma. Goldwater’s son, also called Barry M. Goldwater, graduated Staunton the year before Phil, and would also go into politics, serving as California’s representative in Congress from 1969 to 1982.

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The cover of I Ain’t Marching Anymore finds Phil slumped amidst the detritus of mid-sixties politicking. Hands in pockets, protecting himself against the cold of New York winter. A poster for Goldwater’s ill-fated Presidential campaign has been torn off the wall behind him, replaced with a spray painted  Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) symbol. In May 1964 Goldwater gave an interview in which he suggested the use of nuclear weapons in Vietnam to defoliate forests and destroy bridges, roads, and railroad lines. Johnson’s team were quick to pounce on Goldwater’s comments, leading to this TV ad – broadcast only once – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IkWAhuXtalw

“Keating, New York’s Own” is a poster advertising Kenneth Keating’s ill-fated campaign to remain as Republican New York Senator. In 1964 he came up against “carpet-bagger” (in Keating’s own words) Robert Kennedy, who brought his good looks and the might of the Kennedy aura. Up against the 64 year old Keating, Kennedy didn’t exactly walk it, but it was the first major step towards the White House. At least, that was the plan. After serving as Senator from 1959-1965, Keating went on to become U.S. Ambassador to India (1969-1972) and Ambassador to Israel from 1973 until his death in 1975.)

Elsewhere we find references to Edith Willkie, or Mrs Wendell L Willkie, the wife of the pro-cilil rights Republican Presidential nominee in the 1940 election, losing to Roosevelt, and The John Birch Society, perennial figures of hate and fun for the early sixties protest kids. The final verse of Phil’s as yet unreleased spoof far-right singalong I Like Hitler, filled with references to fascist heroes like Mussolini, Franco and Trujillo, ends with a verse dedicated to The John Birch Society;

“Loyally we Birch along

Birch along, Birch along

Loyaly we Birch along

Back to the good old days”

With the help of William F. Buckley, the John Birch Society campaigned to get Goldwater chosen as the Republican presidential candidate. That Goldwater should be the choice of the staunchly conservative, anti-civil rights Birchers says much about Goldwater’s politics. It was a member of the John Birch Society who wrote of the possible link between Lyndon Johnson and Billy Sol Estes (he of Phil’s Billy Sol fame) which also saw Johnson linked with the assassination of JFK. Such conspiracy theories doesn’t exactly help the Birchers seen any less wacko, but they are still going and were recently endorsed by Ron Paul. A glimpse into the Birchers and their ilk gives a nasty little taste of the kind of people Phil was up against.

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William S. Harvey, who took this rather wonderful LP cover photo (and shot and designed so many of Elektra’s releases) was the subject of this delightful little song by Felt – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1F6Dj_jCLs

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