06 January 2011

Rock 'n Film: "Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune"

Phil Ochs may be a singer-songwriter that you have heard of, but probably a performer that you have never heard. An artist with serious left political leanings, Ochs came to the forefront of the folk movement in the early 1960s, heralded in the same class of Greenwich Village scene stars as Joan Baez, Peter, Paul & Mary, Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton. Ochs famously declared himself "the best" until he heard Dylan and revised his statement to "second best."

Preferring the term "topical singer" as opposed to "protest singer," Ochs was best known for his compositions "Too Many Martyrs," "Draft Dodger Rag" and particularly "I Ain't Marching Anymore." He appeared at countless political rallies not only in the United States but in South America and Africa supporting civil rights, labor and anti-war movements. He was at the center of a couple of seminal events: the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968 which turned into what was eventually described by an independent commission as a "police riot"; and the "Free John Sinclair" rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1971, notable for the first public appearance and performance of John Lennon since he left The Beatles (looking back, it is likely John & Yoko lifted their "War Is Over! [If You Want It]" campaign from Ochs' song "The War Is Over" in which he tells listeners to just unilaterally declare the war in Vietnam to be finished).

These topics and events, as well as Ochs' personal struggles with mental illness and alcohol, are mined by director Ken Bowser in the new documentary Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune, which opened in New York City last night. Selected cities will see screenings in the coming months. In addition to archival footage, the film is interspersed with commentary from Ochs' immediate family as well as Billy Bragg, Pete Seeger, Sean Penn, Christopher Hitchens, Ed Sanders, Baez and others.

You can view the movie trailer here.

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