Category Archives: All The News That’s Fit To Sing

Celia

Celia

“…I shout to her above the continued sound of gunfire…

we exchange a look of love, pity and terror.

But I have to leave you! She cries. There is no more time to talk”

– William. J. Pomeroy, The Forest, 1963.

Broadside #35 takes up the story;

“William J. Pomeroy, an American writer, and beautiful Celia Mariano, a teacher, were married in Celia’s native Philippines in 1948. Involved with the Huks, they were captured in 1952 by government troops and sentenced to life imprisonment. They served two long years before world-wide protests brought a pardon. Pomeroy was deported at once back to the U.S. but Celia was forbidden to leave the Philippines. Again there were world-wide protests and finally President Mecapagel gave Celia a passport. But the Walter-McCarron Act forbade her entry into the U.S. so they arranged to meet in London…Phil Ochs had been thinking of this song when he learned Celia had at last been freed. But he finished the song anyway, that same night.”

During the Second World War the Huklahap (known as the Huk, the military arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines, or the PKP) had fought against the Japanese, and had continued fighting against the U.S. backed Philippino government after the end of the war. As a G.I. during the war, William Pomeroy, a member of the Communist Party of the U.S.A, had been posted in the Philippines to fight against the Japanese. Though they had shared a common enemy, the U.S army declared war on the Huk, themselves fighting a guerilla war against the Japanese, a move that led William to openly protest.

After the war, supported by the Communist party, William stayed in the Philippines, where he had met Celia. They became active in the Huk, with William being responsible for the publication of the Huk newspaper ‘Titi’ (meaning flame) and magazine ‘Kalayan’ (meaning freedom) and though William warned them against continued armed struggle, they continued to resist the government forces until 1954, when they were finally defeated. By which time of course, William and Celia were in prison, arrested in the Sierra Madre mountains.

Upon William’s arrest the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines and former wartime Admiral Raymond Spruance  is quoted as saying “Anything the Philippine government does to him, including hanging, is alright with us.”

Celia’s arrest was graphically chronicled in Time magazine in April 1952;

“In Luzon’s jagged Sierra Madre mountains one day last week, a Philippine army patrol scattered a small party of Huk guerrillas. Over the barking rifles a woman’s voice cried: “I surrender! I am Celia Mariano, wife of William Pomeroy.” Out of the bushes came a frightened, tired woman, long, raven-black hair falling over her bruised face, her bare feet bleeding. When the Philippine army captured her husband, U.S.-born Huk Leader William Pomeroy, she had leaped out of a window and fled into the mountains with two Huk women and two male Huk bodyguards…After her capture last week, she was allowed a few minutes with her husband: locked in his arms, Celia Pomeroy wept. Then she was taken to jail to await trial, like her husband. The woman who a few hours before had cried “I surrender,” now fiercely declared: ‘The Huks and their leaders will never surrender!’”

Whilst in prison William composed several poems for Celia, released as the book ‘Beyond Barriers, Sonnets for Celia’ in 1963.

William was well remembered by the people he left behind in the Philippines. Upon his death, aged 92 in 2009, Pedro G. Baguisa, general secretary of the PKP issued a statement saying;

“Comrade William J. Pomeroy, a great Filipino patriot, and a great communist will be mourned by comrades and friends on several continents. His works will always be a source of inspiration for our Party and his memory will live on in the hearts of all our Party members.”

Upon hearing Phil’s song, undoubtedly one of his most beautiful and delicate, Celia Pomeroy wrote to Phil, as published in Marc Eliot’s biography of Phil,

“Dear Phil Ochs,

I can hardly find the words to tell you how much I appreciate that song you composed and sang for the sake of my husband’s reunion with me. As I listened to your song when played on a tape recorder, I could not hold back my tears. The melody was hauntingly sad and plaintive and the words conveyed so eloquently our plight of separation then. Bill and I had the song played and replayed several times, and I think I’ll never get tired of it. It is so beautiful and splendidly sung by you.

It is heartening to find in this world people like you who go out of their way to contribute their share in the cause of humanity and the correction of injustices. There is no doubt you have great talent, and I am so glad that you are using it for good purposes. I wish you success and good luck along the line you have chosen to devote your energies.

With every hope I would someday have the privilege to meet you in person, I thank you with all my heart.

Sincerely yours,

Celia M. Pomeroy”.

Celia died a few months after her husband, in August 2009.

Perhaps one of Phil’s most underrated songs, Celia brings to the fore the personal in the midst of the political. It is a song of romantic love (unusual for Phil, there are few others) but also of sacrifice and while Phil shows some restraint (only the line “If hate must be my prison cell, then love must be the key” leans towards sentimentality) it nevertheless manages to conjure some of the personal loss suffered by those who commit themselves to political causes. This latter theme would be returned to later in Phil’s career but, unfortunately for Phil, he wouldn’t be singing about other peoples pain.

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Power and The Glory

Power and The Glory

“While there is a lower class I am in it,

While there is a criminal element I am of it,

While there is a soul in prison I am not free”

 – Eugene Debs (Five-time Socialist Party Presidential Candidate)

Ed Sanders (of The Fugs and other things) takes up the story;

“[Phil’s] sister Sonny recalls visiting him at his apartment on Thompson Street in [Greenwich] Village. ‘He was sitting on his couch,’ she wrote, ‘playing a chord progression over and over on his guitar. I said, ‘what is that supposed to be?’, ‘the greatest song I’ll ever write,’ Phil replied. He told her he had not yet written the words. ‘So how do you know it’s the greatest song?’ she wanted to know. Phil looked up: ‘Because I know.’”

The title is taken from the 1940 Graham Greene novel (released as ‘The Labyrynthine Ways’ in the United States incidentally), whose title is itself taken from a hymn (“For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, now and forever, amen”) and the lyrics are a little bit Woody and a little bit Johnny Horton (maybe?), but only Phil Ochs could have written it. It is patriotic (“Phil’s most patriotic song” according to Ed Sanders) but with a point to make and a huge “but” at the end. It is an attempt to reclaim national pride from the reactionary Right, to set at the heart of the American ideal an inclusive progessiveness where others find only reactionary conservatism. Typical of Phil, it’s a pretty bold move.

The song carries on from ‘This Land Is Your Land’, taking us on a tour of his “green and growing land”, through “the sun and the rain”, finding “beauty that words cannot recall”, with a glory that “shall rest on us all”. Subtle it aint!

He then leads us through Colorado, Kansas and Carolina (North and South), Virginia and Alaska too before reaching places that, at one time or another, Phil would call home; “Texas and Ohio and the California shore”. He then asks “who could ask for more?”. The final verse gives us the answer.

It is this third verse that takes us beyond mere bland jingoism, beyond the billion other empty patriotic ditties and stamps Phil’s dirty great footprint all over it. The final verse reminds us that natural beauty is nothing without the freedom to enjoy it and that this beauty is tempered by poverty and segregation and that, finally, patriotism without protest, without an urge to improve one’s country, is empty;

“Yet she’s only as free as the poorest of the poor,

Only as free as the padlocked prison door,

Only as strong as our love for this land,

Only as tall as we stand”.

Phil often spoke of wanting to write songs that had mass appeal, songs that had lasting significance. The only difference between a topical song and a folk song after all, is time. He wanted to emulate Ewan MaColl, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and later Victor Jara. This is probably as close as he ever got. The fact that rampant homophobe Anita Bryant recorded a version is perhaps evidence of this. One can only assume that she may have blanched at the final verse, but she went along with it all the same, adding her own brand of brassiness to her brass band heavy arrangement.

Phil’s later re-recording of Power And The Glory  is perhaps something of a cover version of Bryant’s version, going the whole hog on the J.P. Sousa, fife and drum and brass treatment (Phil claimed to have listened to Bryant’s version fifty times and “still wasn’t sick of it!”). Released as the B-side to Here’s To The State Of Richard Nixon in 1974, it was certainly an improvement on the version on All the News That’s Fit To Sing, which is nearly ruined by over fussy guitar from Danny Kalb, who elsewhere on the album adds a lightness of touch which Phil’s playing certainly lacked.

Curtis Mayfield introduces Phil on ‘Midnight Special’

The live version Phil performed with Jim Glover on ‘Midnight Special’ (recorded in April 1974, complete with a groovy introduction from guest host Curtis Mayfield; “he’s still keeping on…my man, Phil Ochs!”) adds another element, with Phil’s battered, (post-mugging) voice coming out as a Johnny Cash growl. Fittingly as it happens, as if Cash should have covered any of Phil’s songs, it should have been this one.

Phil finally gets his name in lights. On national T.V. no less.

The version of The Power And The Glory published in Broadside #27 in June 1963 contains a fourth verse, one with a message that even one as reactionary as Anita Bryant couldn’t have ignored;

“But our land is still troubled by men who have to hate,

They twist away our freedoms and they twist away our fate,

Fear is their weapon and treason is their cry,

We can stop them if we try!”

 

Of the songs included on All The News That’s Fit To Sing only this and The Bells would be sung regularly by Phil later in his career, which is symbolic of something or other. Possibly that Phil didn’t dig much of the rest of the album very much. Of Power and The Glory Phil said that it was his “sort of theme song”. Which seems about right actually.

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Lou Marsh

Lou Marsh

Writing in Broadside #22 in late March 1963, Phil wrote that “after the first draft is completed, the [topical song] writer must be his severest critic, constantly searching for a better way to express every line in his song”. Lou Marsh is very much a case in point.

Between its appearance in Broadside #21 in late February 1963 as The Ballad of Lou Marsh and as track four, side one of All The News That’s Fit To Sing in April 1964, Lou Marsh had changed almost completely;

The Ballad Of Lou Marsh (Broadside  #21, late February 1963)

(1)My story is a sad one,

It’s ugly and it’s harsh,

About a social worker,

His name was Lou Marsh,

He walked our slums and alleys,

And he died there in his tracks,

For one man is no army,

When a city turns its back

(chorus)

For now the streets are empty,

Now the streets are dark,

So keep an eye on shadows,

And never pass the park,

For the city is a jungle,

When the law is out of sight,

And death lurks in El Barrio,

With the orphans of the night

(2)

There were two gangs approaching

In Spanish Harlem town,

The smell of blood was in the air,

The challenge was laid down,

With patience and with reason,

He tried to save their lives,

But they broke his peaceful body,

With their fists and feet and knives.

(chorus)

(3)

In this city of corruption,

Other gang wars will be fought,

And as you listen to my song,

Your officials can be bought,

So don’t hide behind policemen,

Or politicians lies,

But fight till every dirty slum,

Is torn down before your eyes.

(chorus)

 

Lou  Marsh (All The News That’s Fit To Sing, April 1964)

(1)On the streets of New York City,

When the hour was getting late,

There were young men armed with knives and guns,

Young men armed with hate,

And Lou Marsh stepped between them,

And died there in his tracks,

For one man is no army,

When the city turns its back

(chorus)

For now the streets are empty,

Now the streets are dark,

So keep an eye on shadows,

And never pass the park,

For the city is a jungle,

When the law is out of sight,

And death lurks in El Barrio,

With the orphans of the night

(2)

He left behind a chamber,

Of a church he served so long,

For he learned the prayers of distant men,

Will never right the wrongs,

His church became an alley,

And his pulpit was the street,

He made his congregation,

From the boys he used to meet.

(chorus)

(3)

There were two gangs approaching,

In Spanish Harlem town,

The smell of blood was in the air,

The challenge was laid down,

He felt their blinding hatred,

And he tried to save their lives,

And the answer that they gave him,

Was their fists and feet and knives.

(chorus)

(4)

Will Lou Marsh lie forgotten,

In his cold and silent grave?

Will his memory still linger on,

In those he tried to save?

All of us who knew him will,

Now and then recall,

And shed a tear on poverty,

Tombstone of us all.

(chorus)

These changes were – in part at least – at the insistence of Pete Seeger, who recorded the song for ‘Broadside Ballads Vol. 2.’ (the altered lyrics to which appeared in Broadside #27). A version by Phil, recorded on April 5th 1963 by Roy Connors, (released in 2010 as part of On My Way, 1963 Demo Session) contains almost identical lyrics to the latter version, albeit without the second verse. It seems it wasn’t long between the appearance of The Ballad Of Lou Marsh in Broadside and Phil’s desire to alter it considerably.

Compare for example “With patience and with reason/ He tried to save their lives” with “He felt their blinding hatred/ And he tried to save their lives” and it’s obvious that topicality, that writing songs so soon after the event, is not perhaps always such a good idea. The earlier Broadside version tells us the story of Marsh’s death, perhaps based solely on the facts as they presented themselves so soon after his murder. The later version tells us the story of Lou Marsh, the man and not merely the news item, perhaps inspired by Gertrude Samuels’ article on Lou Marsh, ‘Death Of A Youth Worker’, which appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in April 1963.

Unlike others who inspired Phil’s other tribute songs (Joe Hill, Medgar Evers, Jimmy Meredith or James Dean for example) Lou Marsh appears to be perhaps the only lasting tribute to the song’s protagonist. The final verse asks “will Lou Marsh lie forgotten, in his cold and silent grave?” It seems that but for Phil’s song, the answer would be yes. As with William Worthy the fact that Lou Marsh’s story is largely forgotten justifies Phil’s writing of it.

*

Louis Marsh was born and brought up in a tough neighbourhood of North Philadelphia. Unlike so many others however, Lou and his brothers were able to escape the ghetto and went to University before taking up careers perhaps atypical of those from such a background. Until being diagnosed with epilepsy Lou trained to be a doctor. Instead he began studying Sociology at Yale before training to join the Ministry. Unhappy with the rigidity of formal religion Lou took up full-time the youth work that was among his ministerial duties.

In 1958 he took part in an exchange programme with the U.S.S.R, learning how differences between nationalities and races could be overcome. Upon returning to the U.S. Lou began working for the Youth Board in New York City, assigned to work with the Young Untouchables, a Puerto Rican street gang from East Harlem. Lou said that; “I feel such kids have a lot of potential. I have confidence I can have some influence on their lives”.

Progress was frustratingly slow however. Lou took it upon himself to make visits to the kids homes and organise trips for them. Unused to adults treating them with anything other than disdain, the kids continued to treat Lou with suspicion; “I don’t seem to be able to get through to them” he admitted.

Lou’s next step was to find them a home from home, a safe environment away from their family home and off the streets. Community Centre 102 became a thriving base, where the kids could play pool and basketball, initially only with fellow gang members before beginning to mix with other boys. For a while at least, the community centre, and not the streets, became their playground. The streets however, were being left to other gangs. Older boys, former Untouchables who still held sway over the younger boys, believed that the streets, previously controlled by the Young Untouchables, were being overrun by other gangs, notably the Playboys of East 11th Street.

Samuels takes up the story;

“Monday, January 7 [1963], was a cool, clear evening in East Harlem. Louis Marsh, a street-club worker with the New York City Youth Board, walked along East 113th Street near Jefferson Houses, a city housing project. This clean, dead-end street, fringed by the red-brick high-rise buildings of the project, stood in sharp contrast to nearby streets, dirty and lined with tenements…”.

Lou went out to talk with some old Untouchables who had come to the centre to confront the younger gang members who they felt had betrayed their gang leaving their streets to the Playboys. As Phil sang; “The answer that they gave him was with their fists and feet and knives”.

Lou Marsh died two days later.

*

Lou Marsh was killed, not because a bunch of young ruffians from the tough streets couldn’t be saved, but because they could. As Samuels wrote; “He died because he was doing his job so well”.

Phil’s song asks; “Will his memory still linger on in those he tried to save?”

Samuels’ article gives some kind of an answer;

“The boys remember Lou. They remember his as a person who was close to them, who believed in them. Against the fears and threats of their parents, they went, in their clean clothes, to the service for Lou at Judson Memorial Church…they flinched when they were asked how they felt. ‘Don’t ask us that’, one answered bitterly. ‘Lou was our friend’”.

*

One of the things that makes Lou Marsh such an effective song is Phil’s genuine attempt to engage with its subject and not just offer stark facts surrounding the story as reported in the press. Phil sings “All of us who knew him…” suggesting that Phil at least tried to get to know him whilst also inviting the listener to meet with Lou too.

Of course there is also an obvious attempt to draw attention to the wider implications of what happened to Lou, most starkly expressed in the final, somewhat overly dramatic line, “and shed a tear on poverty, tombstone of us all”. While such a statement may be somewhat unecessary, it doesn’t feel anything like as shoe-horned in as The Ballad of Lou Marsh’s bit about how “your officials can be bought” and “politicians lies“.

This then is Phil showing restraint, telling a shocking story simply and without too much preaching, letting the story largely speak for itself, helped by a few cinematic touches (“So keep an eye on shadows…“) that we would soon be well acquanited with.

**

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Talking Vietnam

The Family Diem

Talking Vietnam

The Oxford Dictionary Online describes the talking blues as “a style of blues in which the lyrics are more or less spoken rather than sung”. While that is undoubtedly true, there is much more to it. There is a tradition to respect and as such rules which to adhere.

The “folk” element of the “folk boom” derives largely from what its practitioners borrowed from folk music styles rather than simply creating folk music itself, for example borrowing tunes. The talking blues is perhaps the most obvious example of this. In taking up the talking blues style Dylan, Paxton and Ochs were tapping directly into the Woody Guthrie tradition – satiric, humorous, audience pleasing. The point is to make a point, and not allow anything so trite as a melody get in the way.

Chris Bouchillon

The popularity of the talking blues can be traced back to The Greenville Trio, whose 1926 recording ‘Talking Blues’ sold over 100,000 copies in the years after its release. One of the Trio, Chris Bouchillon became known as the “talking comedian of the South” thanks to his use of the talking blues style. The style continued to be used in popular music (Tex Williams is particularly fun, his ‘Smoke, Smoke The Cigarette’ is proto-rap) but it was Woody who added the element of social satire that informed not just the style of Phil’s talking blues, but also their content.

When Phil made his first appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in July 1963 it was his performance of Talking Birmingham Jam that won the crowd over. Here’s this rather urbane young man (in a suit!), never worked a hard day in his life (probably), university educated (nearly) but playing a song strictly in the Woody tradition, playing it straight, at once paying respect to Woody, the talking blues form and, ultimately, his audience.

Returning to Newport in 1964 he told the audience;

“I’ll do a talking blues. This is Talking Vietnam. I wrote this with the aid of young liberal songwriter named Bob…[pause for effect] McNamara. Vietnam is an island only ninety miles off our shores. This song is dedicated to Johnson and all the liberals”.

There is real energy in his performance, excitement even. So excited that he cannot help but follow “Them commies never fight fair” with “dirty yellow bastards” and “make damn sure they’re free” with “like me! YEE!” There is a beautiful simplicity to Phil’s songs of this period that doesn’t translate half as well to record as they did to a live setting, where Phil was able to build a rapport with an audience, enabling them to share in his enthusiasm. That energy seems lost on record, stymied by a precision and a carefulness of performance that seems, for the most part, somewhat at odds with Phil’s natural style.

Sometimes then, listening to these first few Phil Ochs albums, it may be necessary to use one’s imagination a little, and imagine hearing these songs being sung at you, hearing names and places and ideas that otherwise seemed dull and depressing suddenly come alive and seem suddenly fun and important. Listening nearly fifty years later of course it takes some effort to find a pulse in these previously ‘topical’ songs, but there is no little satisfaction in that.

*

“Sailing over to Vietnam, Southeast Asian Birmingham”

The two great, overwhelming even, topics that filled the pages of Broadside in the first half of the 1960’s were peace (of the general kind) and civil rights. U.S. involvement in Vietnam however, was nowhere near the big deal that it would later become. It is perhaps notable that the connection that Phil makes here between the civil rights abuses in The U.S. (for which Birmingham, Alabama was virtually synonymous) and the U.S. abuses of power in Vietnam would become a galvanising force in the later growth of the Anti-Vietnam war movement, a point made clear by Eldridge Cleaver who wrote that “the link between Americans undercover support of colonialisation abroad and the bondage of the Negro at home becomes increasingly clear”.

*

“Well I walked through the jungle and around the bend, Who should I meet but the ghost of President Diem”

Early versions of the song would see Phil meet Diem, while later versions (for example at Newport in 1964) would have Phil meet “the ghost of President Diem”. The reason for this is simple. On the first of November 1963 a coup d’état deposed the government of Ngo Dinh-Diem, and his brother Ngo Dinh-Nhu, and the next day they were assassinated.

Diem, the “puppet who danced for the power” in Phil’s epic We Seek No Wider, became the first President of South Vietnam after France’s withdrawal in 1955.  Though Diem seized power initially by legal means, he consolidated power through, according to John Prados in his essay ‘Kennedy and the Diem Coup’; “a series of military coups, quasi-coups, a government reorganisation, a referendum on his leadership, and finally, a couple of staged presidential elections”, elections that became easier to win after Diem banned all political parties except his own. According to Richard West, Diem was considered “a Catholic bigot, a recluse who would not listen to counsel except from his brother, the still more tyrannical chief of police, and Madame Nhu”.

While the Kennedy administration tried to pressure Diem into making his leadership more democratic, at the same time they continued to increase military aid to his forces, embroiled in a civil war against the Communist National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, led by Ho Chi Minh.

When news reached Washington of a plot to topple Diem’s regime, the US decided to support it. Reporting to Kennedy just prior to Diem’s assassination General Maxwell Taylor found that the Diem regime was in Stephen Graubard’s words “a cauldron of intrigue, nepotism and corruption”. There remains some debate regarding the extent of the Kennedy administration’s involvement in the Diem brothers’ assassinations, with some arguing that Kennedy himself ordered it. What is beyond debate however is that their murder paved the way for greater U.S. involvement in the civil war in Vietnam leading directly to the beginning of a ground war in 1965.

*

He said you’re fighting to keep Vietnam free, for good old Diem-ocracy

So tickled was Phil with his “Diem-ocracy” pun, that he used it twice, here and in his earlier Vietnam, written around October 1962; “Well, I don’t really care to die for the new frontier, and make Vietnam safe for Diem-ocracy”. In Broadside #14 Phil defines Diem-ocracy as “rule by 1-family dictatorship backed by 10,000 US troops”.

*

 “I’m the power elite, me and the Seventh Fleet

The 7th Fleet is the U.S. Navy’s Permanent Force based in Yokohama, Japan, in existence since March 1943.

*

Chiang Kai-Sheck.

It sure beats hell out of Chiang Kai-Sheck

In Phil’s later song I’m Gonna Say It Now, he sings “You’re supporting Chiang Kai-Sheck while I’m supporting Mao”, somewhat worryingly aligning himself with Mao, whilst using Chiang as a metaphor for stodgy, old anti-communists. Christ almighty, things were simpler back then…

Chiang was leader of the Chinese Nationalist Party (the KMT) from 1925 up until 1949 when the civil war that had begun three years earlier saw the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, led by Phil’s mate Mao Tse-Tung. Chiang and the rulers of the KMT fled to Taiwan (then known as Formosa) where he led a government in exile for the next 25 years, a government recognised by many as the rightful rulers of China, while much of the liberal west held Chiang in contempt.

The U.S. had sent 50,000 troops to Northern China to help Chiang in his war with Mao’s communist army in 1945. That they were unsuccessful didn’t exactly bode well for the war they would later wage against Ho Chi Minh’s Communist forces in Vietnam.

*

He said ‘Meet my sister Madam Nhu…”

Actually, Madame Nhu was Diem’s sister-in-law. At the time of Diem’s assassination, Madame Nhu was in Los Angeles and is reported to have commented; “whoever has the Americans as allies does not need enemies”.

Madam Nhu became something of a media-darling in the United States, before hre media image became at odds with her extreme viewpoints and level of power within her brother in-law’s regime. Richard West refers to her as Nhu’s “lovely but frightening sister-in-law”. Given power thanks to Diem’s nepotistic regime, she is quoted as saying “Power is wonderful. Total power is totally wonderful.” She used this power to promote her rampant Catholicism in the Buddhist majority Vietnam, outlawing divorce, abortion, contraception and, as is the won’t of the power crazed, the twist (and this was before The Fat Boys even existed!).

Of the Buddhist monks who set themselves alight in protest at their persecution by Diem’s government, she told the New York Times; “I would clap hands at seeing another monk barbeque show, for one cannot be responsible for the madness of others”.

*

…the sweetheart of the Dien Pien Phu

Dien Pien Phu is a city in North-Western Vietnam and is the site of what historian David L. Anderson called “the decisive military engagement of the Franco-Vietminh War”. It was defeat here, in May 1954, in what was described by Douglas Welsh as “one of the greatest battles of the post World War Two era” that hastened France’s exit from Vietnam and led to North Vietnamese sovereignty. In something of a foreshadowing of the American experience, at the heart of the French defeat was a catastrophic underestimation of the Vietminh guerrilla forces.

*

Families that slay together, stay together

Father Peyton’s Family Theatre sponsored numerous Catholic approved T.V shows in the 1950’s and 1960’s and made the phrase “Families that pray together, stay together” famous, using it for the first time in a broadcast on 6th March 1947. The phrase is said to have been coined by Al Scalpone, a professional commercial writer. Phil liked the joke (used here as a comment on the violent Diem government’s suppression of opponents, primarily Buddhists) so much that he also used it in Talking Pay T.V where “Families that pay together, stay together”.

The ‘Cassell Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins’ gives two further examples of cheeky corruptions of Father Peyton’s phrase; “the family that shoots together, loots together” and somewhat more worryingly “the family that flays together, stays together”.

*

Gen. Douglas Macarthur and Syngman Rhee.

Me and Syngman Rhee…”

Syngman Rhee was President of South Korea from 1948 until his toppling by a student uprising in 1960. In fact he was South Korea’s first President.

Educated in The U.S he initially became President in exile, after his part in protests against the Yi Dynasty. After the Second World War he returned to Korea and became the most prominent right-wing, U.S. backed politician before becoming President. Typical of his ilk (right-wing, U.S backed) his ruling style was authoritarian, dealing with critics and opponents without  impunity.

The U.S. withdrew from South Korea in 1949, apparently believing it to be of little consequence, only for North Korea to attack and capture Seoul in 1950. Thanks to U.N intervention, with fifteen countries sending troops to defend the South under General MacArthur, Rhee remained in control after the Korean War. As before though, his regime remained authoritarian, corrupt and inefficient.

In 1960 he was spirited away to Hawaii by the CIA after the voting in of an opposition Vice-President led to violent protests against Rhee’s Government. He lived the next few years in comfortable exile before dying of a stroke in 1965.

*

Like I said on ‘Meet The Press’…”

In the October before the assassination of the Diem brothers, Madame Nhu, appeared on NBC’s ‘Meet The Press’, the longest running show on American network T.V, to defend the Diem government and announced;

“I don’t know why you Americans dislike us. Is it because the world is under a spell called liberalism? Your own public, here in America, is not as anti-communistic as ours in Vietnam”.

She didn’t seem like a terribly nice lady.

Madame Nhu.

*

…I regret that I have but one country to give for my life

Nathan Hale was a Lieutenant in the Continental Army when in September 1776 he volunteered to go into British territory to rather intelligence. Hale was captured and interrogated and, on September 22nd, executed. His final words were said to be; “I regret that I have but one life to lose for my country”.

*

It is only in retrospect that it becomes easy to slate Phil for stating the obvious in his songs, at least as far as Vietnam was concerned. As Phil himself stated; “I was writing about Vietnam way before the first anti-war marches. I was writing about it at a point where the media were really full of shit…all those so-called progressive forces chose to look the other way for several years”.  To the general public, Vietnam was virtually a non-topic in 1962, and even as late as 1967 something like 70% of the American public were either happy with Johnson’s handling of the war in Vietnam or wanted further escalation. It was only in 1968 that the tide of popular opinion would begin to turn, six years after Phil first began to sing about it – evidence that Phil was both ahead of his time and perhaps slightly mistaken in his belief that his songs could effect genuine change. After all in Vietnam he sings, with bittersweet naivety;

“Well, if you want to stop the fighting over there, over there,

Then you better stir up action over here,

Drop your congressman a line, let him know what’s on your mind,

And the crisis will be over, over there”.

Thirteen years after writing these lines, it was all over.

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The Thresher

The Thresher

“In the long course of history, having people who understand your

 thought is much greater security than another submarine.”

– J. William Fulbright

Phil recorded a version of The Thresher for inclusion in Broadside, but it didn’t make the cut. Broadside #25, in late April 1963 instead printed ‘The Submarine Called The Thresher’ by Gene Kadish (which, as with Phil’s Lou Marsh, was also covered by Pete Seeger on ‘Broadside Ballds Vol. 2’). The next issue wrote of their being six more Thresher songs which they simply didn’t have room for. Proof if needed, that the sinking of the Thresher was, at the time, a big deal.

The story behind the song is simple, but devastating;

“On the morning of April 10th, 1963, the USS Thresher (SSN 593) proceeded to conduct sea trials about 200 miles off the cost of Cape Cod. At 9.13 a.m., the USS skylark received a signal…indicating that the submarine was experiencing minor difficulties…”.

No transcript of this message exists, but it is thought that the message ran something like “Experiencing  minor difficulties. Have positive up angle. Am attempting to blow. Will keep you informed”

The next message came through at 9.18 a.m., as Robert Gannon reported in Popular Science in 1964;

“The [Skylark’s] loudspeaker rattled with sound, accompanying a voice garbled and indecipherable”.

The $45 million nuclear submarine sank. Experts reckoned that due to the subs weight she would have plummeted towards the oceans depth at 100mph..

Later that day Admiral George W. Anderson gave a press conference in Washington, D.C. that began;

“To those of us who have been brought up in the traditions of the sea, one of the saddest occasions is when we lose a ship”.

All hands were lost – 112 military and 17 civilian.

*

However chilling the facts, The Thresher will always be thought of as Phil’s other submarine song. While it offers a neat rundown of the events, and some possible insight into the complacency that enabled such a tragedy (“And the builders shook their hands, And the builders shared their wine”) it pales in comparison with Phil’s later The Scorpion Departs But Never Returns, which uses the sinking of a submarine as merely the starting point of a more far-reaching song. This song is very much an early Phil song, ripe with emotion, somewhat leaden with unnecessary facts (“Then they put her on the land, for nine months to stand, And they worked  on her stem to stem”) but is effective none the less.

In terms of trying to understand the cause of the disaster, Phil gets himself into something of a pickle, starting off with suggesting that it was the vanity of the shipbuilders and the Navy that is at the heart of the matter, before finally trying to suggest something more mysterious. The New York Mirror lead story of April 12th opens in such a fashion – “Was it the machine? Or was it man?” This air of mystery pervades the song, with Phil offering no insight beyond sharing in that mystery and pointing out the grim irony that; “She was a death ship all along, died before she had the chance to kill”)

The Thresher introduces a theme that would run through many of Phil’s songs – the sea. Indeed the sea almost becomes alive in Phil’s songwriting, able to comment upon or reflect emotions (consider That Was the President or Santo Domingo). While it is overegged somewhat here (“for the ocean has no pity, and the waves they never weep”) there is a definite striving for something beyond mere reportage, something that Phil’s harshest critics seem to overlook.

Beyond the tragedy lies another story here, that of trust, or rather the lack of trust, in military leaders. Later Phil would sing, wearily, “trust our leaders where mistakes are almost never made” (The War Is Over), but here such a stance is less obvious. The New York Mirror article quotes Vice Admiral Hyman G. Rickover’s optimistic declaration that “I can assure you there is no radioactive hazard as a result of this unfortunate accident”. Like the submarine itself, The Thresher promises more than it delivers, never quite able to deliver a telling blow.

Typically Phil was somewhat out of step with the mainstream view of the message behind the loss of The Thresher, perhaps best summed up by pop-psychologist Dr Joyce Brothers ‘Profile of a Submariner’ which spoke of a “special kind of sadness, mixed with universal admiration for the men who choose this type of work”. She goes on to write of the “challenge of masculinity” that attracts men to become Submariners, a job that “certainly is a test of man’s prowess and power”. What Brothers ignores, and Phil is all too keen to point out, that as much one may like to blame these same men’s loss on the “power of the sea”, it is as much a case of hubris as tragedy; “they thought that they had mastered the sea“.

Billy M. Klier (and Billy Junior, EN1(SS)-P2. Thresher crewman.

*

In July 1964 reporters were allowed onto the USS Dace (SSN 607), the Thresher’s replacement. As a sign of confidence the Dace’s skipper, Cmdr. John A. Walsh, brought along his two young sons for the test cruise. “The Dace would go about her career with little fanfare, save for her lone ‘kill’ in March 1975 – a fishing boat that the submarine collided with in the Narraganset Bay off the coast of Rhode Island”.  (www.mesotheliomaweb.org/mesotheilomia/veterens/submarines/ussdace)

The USS Dace was decommissioned in December 1988.

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One More Parade

Ohio State ROTC is all its glory

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!

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All The News That’s Fit To Sing

Irwin: Yes. That’s good.

Hector: No, it’s not good. It’s…flip…it’s glib. It’s JOURNALISM.

– From “The History Boys” by Alan Bennett.

All The News That’s Fit To Sing

Elektra, April 1964, in Mono and Stereo.

Original sleevenotes by Gordon Friesen and Agnes ‘Sis’ Cunningham.

2001 Re-issue sleevenotes by Peter Doggett

  • Production Supervisor – Jac Holzman
  • Recording Director – Paul A. Rothchild
  • Engineering – Mastertone Studios, New York City
  • Second Guitar – Danny Kalb
  • Cover Design – William S. Harvey
  • Cover Photo – Jim Frawley

“The L.P gives a fine example of the use of modern folk music for the purpose it was originally styled, the making of social comment”

– Variety.

 “As important in 1964 as Bob Dylan’s ‘Freewheelin’’ album was in 1963”

 – Josh Dunson, High Fidelity.

 “Mr Ochs is certainly no genius although he might be a hero, and he isn’t much of an artist. His songs are lacking in imagination and taste and tend to be overemotional”

 – Los Angeles Free Press.

*

Gavan Daws, in the introduction to the book he co-authored with Jac Holzman (‘Follow The Music’, 2000), wrote that “in the creative social turmoil of the times, Jac Holzman was a significant agent of change”. Just to be clear, Jac Holzman released records.

Holzman started up Elektra records (named after Electra, the Greek demi-goddess who was said to preside over artistic muses, but given a ‘K’ as Holzman stated “Electra with a ‘c’ struck me as too soft”, [funnily enough the same spelling used by Marvel Comics for their super-hero]) in 1950, as a nineteen year old with a $300 loan. Elektra was part of a burgeoning scene of new labels established in the early part of the 1950s as new technologies, and new trends in listening habits, saw the birth of labels such as Atlantic, Vanguard and Folkways.

Elektra’s first release – ‘New Songs’ by John Gruen, poems by Rainer Maria Rilke and E.E. Cummings set to music,  was recorded in the studio run by Peter Bartok, the son of Bela – sold less than 100 copies. It’s sleevenotes stated that “‘New Songs’ marks the first release of Elektra records which shall continue to offer disks of unusual and worthy musical fare”. Holzman’s record store, The Record Loft, which he opened in 1951, became a hub of the New York folk-scene, a meeting place and purveyor of folk LPs and a link between Holzman and the wider folk music community. Out of this community would spring the musicians and singers that would help put Elektra at the forefront of the New York folk scene and capture the birth and growth of the “folk boom” (not the nicest of phrases, but handy none the less).

Elektra’s second, and first folk LP, was the prosaically titled ‘Jean Ritchie Singing Traditional Songs of Her Kentucky Mountain Family’ which sold close to 1000 copies. Jean got paid 22c per record sold and was given three free copies. As Holzman stated “everyone cared deeply about what they were doing, and as a secondary consideration you might even be able to make a living”. For the next ten years or so, Elektra’s roster was made up of a virtual revolving door of recording artists (Shep Gindandes and Cynthia Gooding [who’s 1953 LPs featured artwork by Maurice Sendak], Tom Paley, Theodore Bikel. Ed McCurdy, Oscar Brand and Geula Gill to name but a few) with their records interspersed with some notable additions, from the legendary (Art Blakey, Sonny Terry) to the leftfield (Joyce Grenfell, Jean Shepherd) to the oddball (Zacherley, he of Dinner With Drac’ “fame”).  Along the way they also released an LP by Alan Arkin and in 1963 ‘New Dimensions in Banjo and Bluegrass’ by Eric Weissberg and Marshall Brickman, who went on to co-write several movies with Woody Allen, including ‘Annie Hall’ and ‘Manhattan’. Weissberg and Brickman also recorded Dueling Banjos, later used, to great effect, in the 1972 John Boorman movie ‘Deliverance’. Brickman was also in The Tarriers alongside label mate Alan Arkin, who released ‘Once Over Lightly’ in 1955 before a successful acting career that saw him win an Academy Award for ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ in 2007.

Chippewa Falls’ finest…
Annie Hall and Judy Henske

 According to Elektra historian Andy Finney it was in 1956, it was the release of Josh White’s ‘Josh at Midnight’, that heralded the start of “mainstream Elektra”. While earlier albums were released and largely ignored and/or forgotten, ‘Josh at Midnight’ would stay on the Elektra catalogue for some twenty years. The same old names would continue to have records released by Elektra (just where did Theo Bikel find all those Israeli folk songs?) but new names started appearing too. In 1958 a various artist LP named ‘Our Singing Heritage’ featured two songs by Dave Van Ronk. Van Ronk would remain a staple of the Greenwich Village scene, a link perhaps between the older generation of native New Yorkers and the new wave that was on the verge of invading. The first of this new generation to record with Elektra was Seattle, Washington native Judy Collins who released two albums in 1962 – ‘Maid of Constant Sorrow’ and ‘Golden Apples of the Sun’. The same old names (Ed McCurdy, Josh White, Cynthia Gooding, Theodore Bikel) saw releases before Judy Henske, of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, (keen readers may notice that Chippewa Falls is also the hometown of Annie Hall in the movie of the same name. Marshall Brickman must have paying attention!) released her eponymous debut. That same year Oscar Brand with his Sand Trappers released his ‘Songs Fore Golfers’. I’m guessing it wasn’t terribly groundbreaking.

The competition

And then in 1964, after the releases of Bob Gibson’s ‘Where I’m Bound’, ‘Cough – Army Songs out of the Barracks Bag’ by Oscar Brand, Fred Engleberg’s ‘The Songs of Fred Engelberg’, The Even Dozen Jug Band’s eponymous LP (featuring Stefan Grossman, John Sebastian, who would later form The Lovin’ Spoonful and play harmonica on Phil’s Bound For Glory, Steve Katz, later of Blood Sweat and Tears and part of the Blues Project that played back-up to Phil on his “electrified” version of I Ain’t Marching Anymore, and Geoff Muldaur who married bandmate Maria D’Amato who then became the far-more-famous Maria Muldaur), Judy Collins’ ‘3’, Judy Henske’s ‘High Flying Bird’, Rey De La Torre’s ‘20th Century Music for the Guitar’, Fred Neil’s debut ‘Tear Down The Walls’, released with Vince Martin, ‘The Patriot Game’ by The Irish Ramblers, ‘Adventures for 12-String, 6-String and Banjo’ by Dick Rosmini (who, much later, added pedal steel guitar and harmonica to Phil’s Greatest Hits), yet more Thedore Bikel, thirteen LPs worth of sound effects, (Volume 8, side one, track 12, ‘Griddle’), the various artist ‘Blues Project’ featuring two tracks by Dave Van Ronk, two tracks by Mark Spoelstra (who also appeared on ‘Broadside Ballads Vol. 1’)as well as Danny Kalb (who would provide second guitar to All The News That’s Fit To Sing and an appearance on piano of Bob Landy, really Bob Dylan, on Geoff Muldaur’s Downtown Blues), The Dillards’ ‘Live!!! Almost!!!’, Jean Carignan’s ‘The Folk Fiddler who Electrified the Newport Fold Festival’, ‘Lots More Blues, Rags and Hollers’ by Koerner, Glover and Ray, The Ian Campbell Folk Groups eponymous debut and before the releases of ‘Swing Hallelujah: the Christian Tabernacle Church of New York City with Reverend WM O’Neil’, Woody Guthrie’s ‘Library of Congress Recordings’, ‘Happy All The Time’ by Joseph Spence, Jean Redpath’s ‘Laddie Lie Near Me’, Juan Serrano’s ‘Bravo Serrano’, the various artist ‘Old Time Banjo Project’, Tom Paxton’s debut ‘Ramblin’ Boy’, Hamilton Camp’s ‘Paths of Victory’ and the various artist ‘The Iron Muse – A Panorama of British Industrial Folk Music’, came… Elektra EKL 269 (Mono) and EKS 7269 (Stereo) All The News That’s Fit To Sing by Columbus, Ohio’s very own, Phil Ochs.

Perhaps it’s no wonder that when Phil left Elektra for A&M in 1966 following the release of his third album Phil Ochs in Concert , one of the reasons he cited was lack of support from the record company. As one of 25 Elektra releases in 1964, plus the thirteen special effects LPs, Phil was a part of a genuinely hip movement. That he didn’t get lost amongst it, that he rose to gain some notoriety, is testament to something rather special. Of that lot, only the Judy’s Henske and Collins and Tom Paxton could be counted as Phil’s immediate peers. And while it may not have been the giant leap towards world domination that Phil was hoping, standing out from that crowd and getting a record released was no little achievement.

 

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