Tag Archives: Phil Ochs

Phil Ochs – I Ain’t Marching Anymore – Classic Music Review

I was all set to review Tape from California when my dad decided to return to the United States.

I think he’s out of his fucking mind, but it’s his mind and he has the right to do stupid shit if he so chooses.

What triggered his departure was a combination of two shit shows: the predictable acquittal of he-who-shall-not-be-named and the utter disaster of the Iowa caucuses. Having given up on the United States long ago, I hadn’t paid much attention to either. The whole impeachment debacle was as predictable as a bad mystery novel where you know it’s the butler before you finish the first chapter, so I paid little attention to the proceedings. My father, on the other hand, binge-watched the hearings, the trial that wasn’t a trial and hours upon hours of pundit commentary, yelling at the television just like he did in the good old days when he watched the 49ers on Sunday afternoons. He then made plans to stay up all night to watch the Iowa drama unfold . . . but nothing unfolded. After a couple of days of extended grumpiness, he invited me over to announce his imminent departure.

“I can’t just sit on my ass and watch my country turn into a tinpot, white supremacist dictatorship. The Democrats are going to fuck this thing up one way or another and I can’t let that happen. I’ve got to go back and do what I can do to stop this.”

That made no sense to me, so I called him on it. “Dad, if you think the Democrats are going to fuck things up, then isn’t it game over? I mean, what can you do about it?”

“I don’t know yet. I’ll figure it out when I get there. But I have to do what I can. I owe it to myself to at least try.”

“But dad, the fix is in. And even if it weren’t, Americans don’t give a shit about saving democracy. Half of them don’t bother to vote most of the time. I haven’t heard anything about mass protests or strikes like we’ve had here. As long as Americans are making money they couldn’t care less about who’s running the country. I don’t think you’re going to find many people who’ll want to play with you.”

“Well, I do give a shit about saving democracy, so I’m going. End of story.”

“Ari, you’re not going to talk him out of it,” my mother said. “He must follow his conscience.”

I continued to press my case for a few more minutes, but maman was right—dad was immovable. Taking action to protest injustice and advocate for peace has always been part of his DNA.

During the early and mid-’60s, there was a relatively brief period when public protests against injustice helped raise consciousness and change minds. My dad was there, an ardent participant in sit-ins, marches, and moratoriums with other like-minded folks determined to speak out against the madness of racism and war. And when they marched, they marched to spirituals and protest songs. Though Americans have been writing and singing protest songs for almost two centuries, the ’60s were a particularly fertile era for the genre, and protest songs frequently appeared in the regular rotation of AM stations and the Billboard/Cashbox Top 10 lists. Folk music dominated the protest scene in the first half of the decade, but the rockers started catching up once they realized there was more to life than boy-girl relationships. There was some blowback—Nina Simone’s career certainly suffered after she released “Mississippi Goddam,” and some radio stations banned Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction”—but these backhanded attempts to silence non-establishment perspectives only served to heighten public interest and encourage more artists to join the movement. Protest songs remained quite popular in the USA through the end of the decade and into the early ’70s.

But where are all the protest songs now? Where are the anthems like “If I Had a Hammer,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “We Shall Overcome” and “Blowin’ in the Wind?” While American musicians have raised their voices in protest in the intervening years, there is no sense of a unified movement against The Establishment as there was in the ’60s. And when you listen to some of the most popular protest songs from the last thirty years—“Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine, Green Day’s “American Idiot,” “We The People” by A Tribe Called Quest—they all fall short in one important respect: they express the rage but fail to bring the inspiration. “The world is fucked, so fuck you” seems to be a common theme. The great protest songs of the ’60s not only exposed the outrageous practices of the powerful but inspired people to get off their asses and do something about injustice instead of fast-forwarding to the next song on the playlist.

Man, we could really use Phil Ochs right now.

Phil Ochs entered the scene right around the time that Bob Dylan was starting to distance himself from political themes. He established himself as an important new voice in the genre on his first official album, All the News That’s Fit to Sing, where he applied his penetrating wit and genuine empathy for the disadvantaged to interpretations of current events. Ochs also revealed himself as a remarkably talented fortune teller, releasing the first protest song about Vietnam (“Vietnam Talking Blues”) a full four months before LBJ perpetrated the fraud known as the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. The album title reflects his background in journalism, and though his work certainly displayed an editorial slant, you get the sense that even at this early stage in his development as a songwriter, his primary mission was to uncover the truth about the world we inhabit.

Once upon a time, that’s what journalists were expected to do.

I Ain’t Marching Anymore was released in February 1965, featuring songs he had written in the transitional years of 1963-1964 and a few adaptations of the works of other poets and folksingers. On this second album, Ochs dispensed with the superfluous second guitar used on his debut, increasing the prominence of his lyrics and distinctive voice. While the folksinger-with-a-guitar model was pretty much standard operating procedure in those days, the contrast between his performance on All the News That’s Fit to Sing and I Ain’t Marching Anymore is striking. Phil’s voice is less tentative, his sense of urgency more obvious, and his authenticity undeniable.

Phil proves he didn’t need a second guitar with his spirited picking in the intro to “I Ain’t Marching Anymore.” The narrator is the archetypal soldier who fought in every goddamned American war from 1812 onward. Our hero has finally figured out that there are no wars to end all wars, but only old men with delusions of grandeur who peddle the outrageous notion that war is the ultimate test of one’s masculinity. Through the generation of patriotic fervor, the powers-that-be manipulate young men into enlisting so they can show the world what they’re made of:

It’s always the old to lead us to the war
It’s always the young to fall
Now look at all we’ve won with the saber and the gun
Tell me is it worth it all?

When I lived in the States I heard a lot of bitching about the many “undeclared wars” of the post-WWII era, but undeclared wars have formed the modus operandi for the United States since its founding. War is defined as “a state of armed conflict between different nations or states or different groups within a nation or state,” whether declared or not. Most Americans prefer to hide behind the declared/undeclared distinction, but not Phil Ochs, who refused to exclude one of America’s most brutal and lengthy wars:

For I’ve killed my share of Indians
In a thousand different fights
I was there at the Little Big Horn
I heard many men lying
I saw many more dying
But I ain’t marchin’ anymore

The subsequent verses record the increasingly gloomy history of American combat: Polk’s single-minded determination to achieve manifest destiny by inventing the original Gulf of Tonkin on the Rio Grande and suckering Congress to declare war on Mexico; brothers killing brothers in the Civil War; the unimaginable slaughter known as World War I; “the mighty mushroom roar” that signaled the end of WWII and demonstrated the sick ingenuity of the human race when it comes to killing. The closing verse describes the unintended consequences of what Eisenhower described as “the military-industrial complex” and the ugly truth that short-sightedness and the profit motive both play significant roles in the decision to send young men to their deaths:

Now the labor leader’s screamin’ when they close the missile plants,
United Fruit screams at the Cuban shore,
Call it “Peace” or call it “Treason”
Call it “Love” or call it “Reason”
But I ain’t marchin’ anymore.

I wish every person in uniform would wake up one day and say, “Fuck it. Fight your own goddamned battles, you sick bastards.” We haven’t evolved to that point, but there is no doubt that draft-age men in the Vietnam era took the song’s message to heart. When Phil performed “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” for the protesters camped outside the Democratic Convention in ’68, hundreds burned their draft cards, a moment that Phil called the highlight of his career.

Everybody knows about Watts, but the series of riots in prominently African-American neighborhoods during the mid-’60s began the year before with disturbances in Philly, Chicago, Rochester, Harlem, Bed-Stuy and several cities in New Jersey. Ochs explores the dynamics of the riots in those two New York neighborhoods and the failure of the white power structure to understand those dynamics in the song “In the Heat of the Summer.” Though the poetry here isn’t his sharpest, Ochs does expose the obliviousness of those in power to the underlying causes: the cops prefer confrontation to communication, the mayor is too busy right now, and the newspapers have swallowed “the tranquilizing drug of gradualism”:

For shame, for shame, wrote the papers.
Why the hurry to your hunger?
Now the rubble’s resting on your broken streets
So you see what your rage has unraveled.

Blame the victims for their uncontrollable rage! That’s the ticket! Ochs then answers the question on every white listener’s mind, “Why would they destroy their own neighborhood? It doesn’t make any sense!”

And when the fury was over
And the shame was replacing the anger.
So wrong, so wrong, but we’ve been down too long
And we had to make somebody listen

Of course it doesn’t make any sense! People feeling rage can’t make sense! The GOP would soon exploit this white obliviousness and put Ronald Reagan in the Governor’s Mansion and Richard Nixon in the White House, getting the voters to guzzle that law-and-order bullshit like beer from the keg.

Ochs wisely follows that sad, minor-key tune with the more sprightly and satirical “Draft Dodger Rag.” Note that the Senator Dodd mentioned in the song isn’t the Dodd who co-sponsored the Dodd-Frank bill after the 2008 financial crisis and who was called a “lying weasel” by the New Haven Register. This Senator Dodd is his father, Thomas J. Dodd, a fervent anti-communist on the payroll of a Guatemalan dictator who was censured by the Senate for converting campaign donations to personal cash.

Note to America: You really have to get over your fetish with nepotism. One seat per family per every other generation, please.

The rag does not deal with political corruption but with a guy who received the dreaded letter from the draft board. Instead of freaking out and losing his cool, he adopts a strategic approach and enters the interview fully prepared:

Oh, I’m just a typical American boy from a typical American town
I believe in God and Senator Dodd and a-keepin’ old Castro down
And when it came my time to serve I knew “better dead than red”
But when I got to my old draft board, buddy, this is what I said:

Sarge, I’m only eighteen, I got a ruptured spleen
And I always carry a purse
I got eyes like a bat, and my feet are flat, and my asthma’s getting worse
Yes, think of my career, my sweetheart dear, and my poor old invalid aunt
Besides, I ain’t no fool, I’m a-goin’ to school
And I’m working in a DEE-fense plant

I’ve got a dislocated disc and a wracked up back
I’m allergic to flowers and bugs
And when the bombshell hits, I get epileptic fits
And I’m addicted to a thousand drugs
I got the weakness woes, I can’t touch my toes
I can hardly reach my knees
And if the enemy came close to me
I’d probably start to sneeze

His interview strategy turns out to be a smashing success, and he graciously ends his visit by leaving the door open for future opportunities:

So I wish you well, Sarge, give ’em Hell!
Kill me a thousand or so
And if you ever get a war without blood and gore
I’ll be the first to go

“Draft Dodger Rag” is a humorous song with a serious purpose. From the Wikipedia article on Draft Evasion:

Other young men sought to evade the draft by avoiding or resisting any military commitment. In this they were bolstered by certain countercultural figures. “Draft Dodger Rag”, a 1965 song by Phil Ochs, circumvented laws against counseling evasion by employing satire to provide a how-to list of available deferments: ruptured spleen, poor eyesight, flat feet, asthma, and many more.

Draft resistance was one of the more successful protests of the era, leading to the establishment of an all-volunteer army. “The head of U.S. President Richard Nixon’s task force on the all-volunteer military reported in 1970 that the number of resisters was ‘expanding at an alarming rate’ and that the government was ‘almost powerless to apprehend and prosecute them’.” (Wikipedia) Musicians like Phil Ochs and Arlo Guthrie really did make a difference . . . eventually. The all-volunteer army did not become a reality until 1973. Lesson: If you’re going to commit your life to a protest movement, realize that you have to play the long game. The political and legal systems in place in the USA were not designed for immediate change.

Ochs took some heat from American socialists for “That’s What I Want to Hear” because in the song he tells an unemployed worker to stop whining about his misfortune and join the fight for full employment.

Editorial Comment: Based on my experience living in two left-wing, left-coast cities for the first thirty-odd years my life, I can say with utmost confidence that American socialists are the dumbest fucking people on the planet. I would describe them as a bunch of immature, naïve, dogmatic assholes who believe they are the sole owners of truth and anyone who doesn’t agree with them is a heretic. I guess they were as dumb then as they are now.

Phil was (again) way ahead of his time in discouraging self-victimization in the working class, as that was exactly the flaw that he-who-shall-not-be-named exploited in the 2016 election.

And you tell me that your job was taken away
By a big ol’ greasy machine
And you tell me that you don’t collect no more pay
And your belly is growing lean

Now if I had the jobs to give
You know I’d give them all away
But don’t waste your breath calling out my name
If you don’t have nothing to say

Phil’s advice to the self-pitying is “get together and fight” instead of feeling sorry for themselves. That’s damned good advice that any therapist would endorse. The vocal is a bit on the cheeky side, featuring flashes of Phil’s vibrato that would become more prominent on Pleasures of the Harbor (sometimes too prominent).

Though his Marxist friends couldn’t understand why Ochs would bother to write a tribute to the fallen JFK, “That Was the President” captured the deep and enduring grief many Americans experienced after the assassination. There was an earlier version of the song that took a more chronological, biographical approach, describing Kennedy as “a man of peace . . . born in the middle of the war” and listing his most notable achievements (the inspirational inaugural address, the Peace Corps, his support for civil rights). There’s one line in the older version I wish he would have saved: “And still I can remember, and still I can’t believe.” The line resonates because when I started getting interested in American history in my teens, I asked my dad about Kennedy, and his closing comment still sticks in my mind: “You know, I still can’t believe he’s really gone. Almost thirty years later and I still can’t believe it.” You might attribute this extended mourning to the fact that my dad came from an Irish Catholic family who took exceptional pride in having an Irish Catholic president, but I think it was more than ethnic and religious affiliation. JFK symbolized hope and progress for many people, and his assassination represented a big black line between a confident vision of the future and an America constantly troubled by seemingly unsolvable problems.

Even with the absence of that line, the song is an intensely moving piece, with Phil attenuating his voice to intensify the sense of loss. The suddenness of the event served to intensify the shock and fortify the sense of disbelief:

I still can see him smiling there and waving at the crowd
As he drove through the music of the band
And never even knowing no more time would be allowed
Not for the president and not for the man.

Ochs also makes an interesting argument for Kennedy’s enduring legacy by pointing to the worldwide grief as evidence of his enormous potential:

Everything he might have done and all he could have been
Was proven by the troubled traitor’s hand
For what other death could wound the hearts of so many men?
That was the president and that was the man.

“The Iron Lady” attacks the practice of capital punishment, and though both the music and poetry are rather awkward, Ochs lands a few good punches in his assault on this barbaric practice. He was certainly fighting an uphill battle and would still be fighting that uphill battle today: no Gallup poll dating as far back as 1937 has shown majority support for the elimination of the death penalty for a person convicted of murder in the United States, and only once have the results shown a plurality in favor of abolition (47-42 in June 1966). While support for the death penalty has declined from a high of 80% in the ’90s (yikes!), a majority of Americans are still fond of the idea. While Ochs points out the two obvious flaws in the system (that we “sometimes send the wrong man to the chair” and “a rich man’s never died upon the chair”), the song falls short in the area of emotional impact. I’m also not particularly enamored by his musical interpretation of Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman,” a rather ornate and contrived piece of melodramatic poetry drowning in alliteration (i.e., “Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs . . .)

Phil takes on the labor unions in “Links on the Chain,” another song that offended the purists. His basic argument is this: when unions inspire collaboration among workers in the struggle against the system, the shared experience forges a link that strengthens the chain that binds them together, resulting in a higher quality of life for union members (and making the union a more attractive option for the unorganized). However, when unions fail to empathize with and support those who are also engaged in the struggle against institutional power (in this case, African-Americans), they damage their credibility and weaken the chain.

Unions were much more powerful in the ’60s, and power not only corrupts but encourages protect-what-we’ve-got thinking that discourages risk-taking, even if the risk involves “the right thing to do.” In the first three verses, Phil describes the rise of the unions as they built solidarity in the face of police brutality and “fascist” efforts to break them. Once the leaders became comfortable and corrupt, the unions stopped serving as agents of change and progress, protecting their members through exclusion and win-lose bargaining. In effect, they became part of The Establishment. Long before George Wallace became the darling of northern union members and right-wing racist character Archie Bunker was accepted by the viewing public as the prototypical hard-hat union man, Phil Ochs called out the unions for engaging in institutional racism under the guise of protecting union jobs:

And then in 1954, decisions finally made,
The black man was a-risin’ fast and racin’ from the shade,
And your union took no stand and your union was betrayed,
As you lost yourself a link on the chain, on the chain,
As you lost yourself a link on the chain.

And then there came the boycotts and then the freedom rides,
And forgetting what you stood for, you tried to block the tide,
Oh, the automation bosses were laughin’ on the side,
As they watched you lose your link on the chain, on the chain,
As they watched you lose your link on the chain.

Very perceptive of Phil to see that racism and exclusivity simply played into the hands of the owners. In the final verse, he raises his voice in justifiable outrage at union members who support racist union policies:

For now the times are tellin’ you the times are rollin’ on,
And you’re fighting for the same thing, the jobs that will be gone,
Now it’s only fair to ask you boys, which side are you on?
As you’re buildin’ all your links on the chain, on the chain,
As you’re buildin’ all your links on the chain.

All of Phil’s predictions of doom came true. When he wrote the song in the mid-’60s, a third of the U. S. private sector was unionized; that percentage is now around 7% (note that the decline in union membership is a worldwide phenomenon). American unions demonstrated their short-sightedness when they failed to launch any credible effort to organize Silicon Valley and confirmed their impotence when they failed to protect union jobs during the mass layoffs of the ’70s and ’80s. Ronald Reagan put the nail in the coffin when he broke the air controllers’ union (PATCO) after the union overplayed its hand.

For some reason, I find this song (and Phil’s stirring performance) incredibly moving though I really don’t think much of unions. I now live in a country where strikes are as common as sunshine in Arizona. I avoid Air France like the plague. Guess what? Union membership in France is 6-8%! Our strikes and stoppages get more press because they involve public transportation. The truth is, the French don’t need unions to make a point, because the French take to the streets like ducks take to water. The disturbing part of all this is that the worldwide decline in union membership correlates fairly well with the income inequality that threatens democracies everywhere.

“The Hills of West Virginia” begins as a Guthrie-esque travelogue, eventually morphing into a haunting description of the environmental devastation brought on by coal mining (“And the rocks they were staring cold and jagged/Where explosions of the powder had torn away the side”). It’s followed by a heavily edited version of a Spanish-American War poem by a very minor American poet by the name of John Rooney, “The Men Behind the Guns.” Both versions make the point that while the admirals and other manifestations of top brass get all the headlines, we should not forget the men who do the actual killing. The key difference is Rooney celebrates their “bravery” while Ochs focuses on the traumatic reality of those who fire the guns. Verdict: Phil by a landslide.

“Talking Birmingham Jam” is in a Guthrie-influenced format that gives a performer wide latitude in spinning a story and the opportunity to update a song to include relevant new events (which explains why the version on this album differs from the performance you hear on Live at Newport)The differences in the song’s text aren’t substantial, but I do wish the album version had included Phil’s Newport intro, where he notes: “Well, I think, whenever there’s a deep tragedy, there’s also present something of the ridiculous.” The horrors of Birmingham were anything but funny, but bringing the perspective offered by satire to bear on tragedy highlights the utter absurdity of inhuman behavior:

Well, I’ve seen travelin’ many ways,
I’ve traveled in cars and old subways.
But in Birmingham, some people chose
To fly down the street from a fire hose,
Doin’ some hard travelin’,
From hydrants a-plenty!

The image of those children tumbling down the street is unforgettable and unforgivable, and I think Phil’s “naive traveler” perspective is designed to remind the listener that some human beings actually believed that firehosing was just one of many standard options the police had in their toolbox to “keep the peace.”

I really can’t comment on Phil’s version of Ewan MacColl’s “Ballad of the Carpenter” because anyone can cherry-pick from the gospels and “prove” that Jesus was on their side. I suppose this qualifies as the “liberal” interpretation (Jesus was a workingman fighting for the poor), but there are so many different takes on what the Bible means that I don’t feel I can trust any of them. I will say that the most ridiculous biblical interpretations I’ve read can be found in the book God in the Stadium: Sports and Religion in America by Robert J. Higgs:

As spiritual awakening becomes equated with worldly success, enlightenment with sliding effectively into second base, Jesus becomes more and more a model for athletic achievement. Says Brett Butler, “I believe if Jesus Christ was a baseball player, he’d go in hard to break up the double play and then pick up the guy and say, ‘I love you.'”

Oh, oh, oh, oh for fuck’s sake.

“Day of Decision” reflects the spirit of the times, in particular the widely-shared sense that the human race had arrived at an inflection point and big decisions had to be made on a variety of issues. JFK helped frame the dialogue for Americans in his acceptance speech to the Democratic convention: ” . . . the New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises—it is a set of challenges.” The challenges that emerged in that decade were both plentiful and diverse: nuclear proliferation, the struggle for equal rights, America’s role in the world, environmental degradation, urban blight, etc. In retrospect, the decade’s challenges triggered a nationwide identity crisis involving two competing world views based on two very different sets of values. As the decade progressed, the term “polarization” appears more frequently in editorials, confirming both the division and that such a division was not “normal.” The standard response when faced with conflict—“Hey, come on, we’re all Americans here”—no longer resonated with the populace. Some longed for a return to a simpler world; others found the challenges exciting and engaging. In essence, one side fought for an America that prioritized equality, peace and caring for the needy while the other side trumpeted the virtues of individual freedom, free markets and American military might.

As is usually the case, reality did not reflect that beautifully simple dichotomy, and many Americans spent the decade torn between one view or the other. The true poster boy of 1960’s America was Lyndon Johnson because he tried to play to both sides and wound up pissing off everyone.

In 1964, the dominant challenge involved race. The argument that it was time to shit or get off the pot and choose one side or the other in the struggle for racial equality is the primary thrust of “Days of Decision”:

Oh, the shadows of doubt are in many a mind,
Lookin’ for an answer they’re never gonna find,
But they’d better decide ’cause they’re runnin’ out of time,
For these are the days of decision . . .

There’s many a cross that burns in the night,
And the fingers of the fire are pointing as they bite,
Oh you can’t let the smoke keep on blinding all your sight,
For these are the days of decision.

Phil Ochs was a human being of great moral clarity, and for him, the choice was a matter of right or wrong. At roughly the same moment in history, another man of great moral clarity also argued that Americans faced an important choice involving right or wrong:

Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.

I can hear old liberals sputtering, “Tha-tha-that’s Barry Goldwater! He was a nut! He wanted to lob a few nukes into the men’s room in the Kremlin! He was a racist who voted against the Civil Rights Act!”

Hmm. There’s plenty of evidence that Goldwater was not a racist (nor a homophobe). He just held a very naïve belief that regular people could work out this discrimination thing all by themselves. Let’s look at another perspective on extremism and moderation:

My reason for believing in extremism—intelligently directed extremism, extremism in defense of liberty, extremism in quest of justice—is because I firmly believe in my heart that the day the black man takes an uncompromising step and realizes he’s within his rights, when his own freedom is being jeopardized, to use any means necessary to bring about his own freedom or put a halt to that injustice, I don’t think he’ll be by himself. [Emphasis added.]

That comment was made by Malcolm X at a 1964 debate sponsored by the Oxford Union Society where two sides argued for or against Goldwater’s assertion. Obviously, Malcolm argued for the affirmative side, and I’m 100% sure that Phil Ochs would have endorsed Goldwater’s sentiments as well. He was a passionate defender of civil liberties and could get quite testy on the subject of moderates: “They’ll listen close, with open ears/They’ll help us out in a couple a hundred years.” Your interpretation of the message depends entirely on your definitions of “liberty” and “justice.”

And there’s the rub. If it’s a day of decision for your side, it’s a day of decision for their side. Human beings have never figured out how to resolve value conflicts, and until we do, one side is always going to demonize the other side. While my beliefs are highly simpatico with Phil’s beliefs, I have to accept that half the people in the world neither share them nor respect them. I might think they’re crazy or backward but I can’t deny their existence any more than they can deny mine.

Serendipitously, the closing track on the album (except on other editions that include the electric version of “I Ain’t Marching Anymore”) deals with this very issue and shows that Phil completely understood that value conflicts were irresolvable. In “Here’s to the State of Mississippi,” his solution to the apparent values gap between Mississippi and the rest of the country is short and to the point: “Get lost!”

Here’s to the state of Mississippi,
For underneath her borders, the devil draws no lines,
If you drag her muddy river, nameless bodies you will find.
Oh, the fat trees of the forest have hid a thousand crimes,
The calendar is lyin’ when it reads the present time.
Oh, here’s to the land you’ve torn out the heart of,
Mississippi find yourself another country to be part of!

In stark language teeming with exasperation and despair, Ochs catalogs the seemingly endless accounts of unthinkable brutality and rampant corruption in the Magnolia State, where the Stars and Bars still fly in the upper-left corner of the state flag. The intensity of the performance combines with the power of the words to make a compelling argument for a divorce based on mutual incompatibility:

And here’s to the government of Mississippi
In the swamp of their bureaucracy they’re always bogging down
And criminals are posing as the mayors of the towns
And they hope that no one sees the sights and no one hears the sounds
And the speeches of the governor are the ravings of a clown
Oh, here’s to the land you’ve torn out the heart of
Mississippi find yourself another country to be part of

Yes, but . . .

In my teens, I often wondered why Lincoln wanted to “save the union” when it was obvious that the South was a constant barrier to progress before the Civil War (and long after). Then I started reading stories about white supremacists in the Pacific Northwest, neo-nazis in Illinois and the demonization of immigrants in the liberal paradise of California. If you were to cut out all the racist-sexist-homophobic areas out of the United States, the map would look like a torn piece of Swiss cheese. If you cut out all the liberal oases, you would lose the majority of your major cities and metro areas. This morning I read a piece about how Eastern Oregon wants to join Idaho so they don’t have to live under the tyranny of those Portland progressives. It seems that every American’s solution to their bucketful of problems comes down to this: MAKE THE BAD PEOPLE GO AWAY.

Hey! Americans! You finally agree on something!

Well, before you ask Anthony to send your foes to the cornfield (sorry, I’m an original Twilight Zone junkie), you might want to think about this: when they’re in power, they’ll ask Anthony to send you to the cornfield.

And that’s where America stands right now, locked in eternal conflict with both sides flinging shit at each other. There is no doubt in my mind which side is right, and Phil Ochs felt the same sense of certainty. If he was with us now, he’d sing of the fundamental inhumanity of family separation and putting babies in cages, expose the web of corruption and deceit in every corner of government through brilliant and pointed satire, sound a clarion call to save our dying planet and, as always, call out the hatred and racism that divides and destroys us.

Then again, I wonder if anyone would pay attention. Americans still get their paychecks, still have their Super Bowl parties, and still have a million entertainment options to help them avoid dealing with reality. Americans have become the Germans of the 1930s, some celebrating the destruction of democracy in hate-filled rallies, the rest silent accomplices to the establishment of a cruel and heartless dictatorship.

And though I’m pretty sure America is done for, I admire my father for staying true to himself and for fighting the good fight.

I’ll close this post with a verse from “Power and the Glory,” one of Phil’s most revered songs from All the News That’s Fit to Sing. The verse doesn’t appear in the original release but has appeared on bootlegs. I’m using it for the close because Phil’s words succinctly describe the current situation in the United States and his cherished belief that people working together can successively fight against hate and injustice:

Yet our land is still troubled by men who have to hate
They twist away our freedom and they twist away our fate
Fear is their weapon and treason is their cry
We can stop them if we try.

I wish with all my heart that the dream will come true. Love you, dad, and I’m immeasurably proud to be your daughter.

Phil Ochs – Rehearsals for Retirement – Classic Music Review

 

rehearsals-for-retirement-1969

In contrast to the horror my mother and I experience daily as we pore through news and tweets related to the accession of King Donald to the throne of the most powerful and dangerous nation on the planet, my flaming liberal father is rather philosophical about the whole thing. “Been there, done that,” he shrugs.

The “been there” period he refers to is that dark period in American history characterized by the Vietnam war, race riots and the emergence of white backlash. Americans were divided on issues of patriotism, long hair/short hair, liberation movements, the “drug epidemic,” race and the “creeping socialism” of The Great Society. I asked him to reproduce his rant while I captured it on my keyboard.

“You think the 2016 campaign was ugly? Go back to 1968. Two major assassinations. Riots at the Democratic Convention, cops beating the shit out of kids. After the tear gas had cleared, the Gallup Poll put the Democratic establishment nominee in third place—behind George Wallace, a mean-spirited, lifelong segregationist. After losing Bobby Kennedy, we were down to a choice between Wallace, Hubert Humphrey—who spent his time as vice-president licking Lyndon Johnson’s ass and supporting the war—and Richard Nixon, who had been left for dead as a loser years before. A whole generation of young voters who had become engaged through Gene McCarthy and Bobby decided to check out—just like a lot of Bernie voters did. People voted for Nixon and Wallace for the same reason they voted for Trump—it was all about white people feeling threatened by what they saw as an erosion in the white version of the American Dream. Things were tense—families were falling apart over the war, the generation gap was huge, and if you had long hair or black skin, you stood a pretty good chance of having some redneck kick the shit out of you, just for the hell of it. The people who voted for Nixon and Wallace were just as dumb, uneducated and uninformed as the typical Trump voter. Wallace was constantly sneering about the “pointy-headed intellectuals,” and Nixon resented anyone who went to a more prestigious college than he did. Wallace and Nixon were bitter, fearful men who tapped into the bitter fear of the majority of voters who wanted law and order no matter what. Nixon called them the Silent Majority, and you’ve seen one of them on TV reruns—Archie Bunker. People thought we’d made all this progress by electing a black president and they forgot that all those Archie Bunkers were still hanging around, nursing their resentment. We all laughed at Archie Bunker, just like liberals laughed at the deplorables. Back then, that attitude gave us Richard Nixon. Now it’s Trump.

“People are calling Trump fascist, anti-democratic, corrupt, dishonest—all the labels we applied to Nixon. Just like Trump, Nixon was a dishonest prick who fixed an election, too, and it eventually caught up with him, just like it will for Trump. So to me, this is ‘Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.'”

To support his argument, he introduced Exhibit A, Phil Ochs’ post-Chicago release, Rehearsals for Retirement, ghoulish cover and all. “Listen to this and then write your review. It’s all there.”

As is true with everything Phil Ochs ever did, Rehearsals for Retirement is an uncomfortably captivating piece of music. Never one to pull punches or fail to call bullshit on the complacent, unthinking dogma we know as American Exceptionalism, Phil Ochs was a perceptive satirist and usually a compassionate human being. But as I’ve learned through my difficulty in ridding myself of my abiding disgust for anyone who voted for The Orange Nightmare, compassion has its limits. What’s the fucking point trying to dialogue with people who choose to remain uneducated and cling to their fears and prejudices like security blankets? Rehearsals for Retirement is the moment when Phil Ochs realized that the fix was in and that the repressive forces in American society had marshaled their ample resources to put an end to all that socialist hippie nonsense. For Phil Ochs, the shining vision of a compassionate society where everyone could get a fair shake died on the mean streets of Chicago in August 1968.

Hence the tombstone.

Many people in the 60’s believed in “the dream” because they saw parts of the dream come true. The folk revival of the 1960’s coincided with a higher level of economic security in the States, which helped foster a greater degree of openness and self-reflection in the American populace. The consciousness-raising that took place in the early part of the decade was facilitated by leaders like JFK and MLK and encouraged by the work of the great folk artists of the day. It’s hard to believe now, but in the 60’s, protest marches and songs actually changed minds and led to real social progress, particularly in the area of civil rights. Americans by and large wanted to create a truly fair and inclusive society where everyone had an equal shot at the American Dream. The anti-progress conservative movement had been largely discredited by LBJ’s landslide victory over Goldwater in 1964, and LBJ cashed in his political capital on the cornerstone legislation of The Great Society and The War on Poverty: Medicare, The Voting Rights Act, The National Endowment for the Arts, stronger anti-pollution laws, aid to education, low-income housing—a cornucopia of laws validating the new self-image of Americans as a kind and generous people.

Then something changed. When I researched the two years associated with the pivot point, one statistic leapt out at me above all else: the sudden shift in American attitudes concerning the death penalty. In the early 60’s, Americans had begun to question the value and morality of state-sponsored murder, as reflected in annual Gallup polls showing decreasing support for the barbaric practice. In May 1966, for the first time in the history of the poll, a plurality of Americans favored abolishing the death penalty: 42% wanting to keep it, but 47% opting for abolition.

But the June 1967 survey revealed a sudden and significant reversal: 54% wanted to keep the death penalty, while only 38% wanted to get rid of it. This began a long, sickening trend that peaked in 1994, when 80% of the American people favored executions. While support for the death penalty drifted down to 60% in the 2016 poll, a solid majority of Americans remain enamored with legalized murder.

So what happened between May 1966 and June 1967 that made such a difference?

I can answer that in two words: Ronald Reagan.

Far more likable and telegenic than the grumpy Goldwater, Ronald Reagan swept to victory in a campaign that demonized protesters, hippies, minorities and welfare queens, capitalizing on deep-seeded white fear of economic and social displacement. Elected Governor of California in a landslide fueled by white disgust with the previous year’s Watts riots, Reagan gave voice to nostalgia for days gone by, the virtues of the Protestant work ethic, patriotism, law-and-order and un-politically correct racism. Reagan voters wanted to slam the door on civil rights that threatened property rights, hair styles that threatened gender identity, and any and all behaviors lumped under the label “un-American,” especially disagreement with American foreign policy.

We meet one of the flock who happily voted The Gipper into office in the opening number, “Pretty Smart on My Part.” Musically, the song takes you by surprise, with Phil channeling fellow Texan Buddy Holly in an intense acoustic strum reminiscent of the pattern in “Not Fade Away.” Phil enters in fine voice and seemingly good spirits as the voice of the man of the Silent Majority, who knows there are people out there who want to get him, hurt him and bring him down. These nefarious enemies include hitchhiking hippies, women with big tits, imaginary rapists and disease-ridden Chinese (or any Asian ethnic group; the bastard probably can’t tell the difference and calls them all “Chinese”). He responds to each of these “outsiders” with typically violent responses, some direct, some indirect. With the hitchhiker, he decides to run him over with his car; with the woman, he decides to tie her up and whip her (obviously Phil only had a superficial understanding of BDSM dynamics). The most curious incident involves the alleged rapist, for instead of doing the manly thing and protecting his wife, he does the manly thing and heads off to kill innocent birds:

I can see him coming
He’s walking through bedroom
With a switchblade knife
He’s looking at my wife
He wants to get me
He wants to hurt me
He wants to bring me down
But sometime later when I feel a little braver
I’ll go hunting with my rifle
Where the wild geese are flying
Then I’m gonna bag one
Pretty smart on my part
Find my way home in the dark

Yeah, I bet it makes you feel like such a man to kill a defenseless animal. Ooh, baby, fuck me with your long stiff rod!

Far more frightening is this dumb shit’s take on foreign policy, a completely ignorant, ethnocentric, racist stance that values extermination over negotiation:

I can see them coming
They’re training in the mountains
And they talk Chinese
And they spread disease
They want to get me
They want to hurt me
They want to bring me down
But sometime later when I feel a little safer
We’ll assassinate the president
And take over the government
And then we’re going to fry them
Pretty smart on my part
Find my way home in the dark

The key line in the song is “find my way home in the dark,” for it captures both the “man’s home is his castle” ethic of sacred property rights and the self-engendered belief that anyone who is “not me” is a tool of the Prince of Darkness. As I reconnected with this song, I thought of all those Trump voters, who—with a huge assist from their equally moronic candidate—wanted to blame China for everything: their unemployment, their loss of status in the world, the myth of America the Disrespected. Of course, it never dawned on these dummies that the Chinese were simply engaged in the same cutthroat competition for markets that Americans have practiced with abandon for over a century, or that they could have responded to globalization by GETTING A FUCKING EDUCATION and learning a new trade. No, just as was true in the 60’s, they want to thrill in their misery, blame everyone but themselves and turn to their cherished guns as their ultimate backup plan. Phil Ochs was not describing a phenomenon unique to the 1960’s; he was describing a central character flaw in the American male.

Doing a 180, Phil gives us “The Doll House,” a lovely waltz highlighted by Lincoln Mayorga’s deft celeste-like piano. The lyrics tend to the obscure, generally describing a fantastical and mythical world reminiscent of dreamland. Some have translated the opening line as, “Lost in the valley of dolls,” suggesting a drug-induced fantasy; what I hear is “Valley of Oz,” which fits better with the cultural references strewn throughout the song. This alternative world is a mélange of surreal imagery and mythical personages drawn from a variety of cultures (Cinderella, Tom Sawyer, The Lady of the Lake and Pirate Jenny—and perhaps Oz) with no apparent connection to one another. The only solid clue to interpretation is Phil’s shift to Dylan imitator in the second chorus, which could indicate the song was a send-up of Dylan’s more symbolist work . . . but that’s pure speculation. In any case, “The Doll House” is a lovely rainy afternoon song that flows beautifully.

There’s no mistaking the meaning of “I Kill Therefore I Am,” a no-holds barred attack on the American police. The cops of the era were labeled “pigs” by the New Left due to their well-documented, televised preference for beating heads with nightsticks, blasting little kids with firehoses and the disgusting frenzy of physical force displayed in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. The tendency of many young people in that generation to indulge in illegal substances added to the general tension between police and populace. What makes the song relevant today are two aspects of American policing that haven’t changed in fifty years: racial profiling and the conspiracy of the system to protect police from blatantly illegal actions:

I don’t like the black man, for he doesn’t know his place
Take the back of my hand or I’ll spray you with my mace
I’m as brave as any man can be
I find my courage through chemistry
I am the masculine american man
I kill therefore I am  . . .

Farewell to the gangsters we don’t need them anymore
We’ve got the police force, they’re the ones who break the law
He’s got a gun and he’s a hater
He shoots first, he shoots later
I am the masculine american man
I kill therefore I am.

As in “Pretty Smart on My Part” and “Outside of a Small Circle of Friends,” the upbeat, light rock music provides ironic counterpoint to the penetrating lyrics. This proved to be one of Phil’s most courageous songs, for as paranoid as he might have seemed to friends and family during his later decline, the FBI was busy building a file of over 500 pages related to his “subversive” activity.

Next, Phil’s attention turns inward in a trio of songs most would classify as “difficult.” I can’t argue with that characterization, but I deeply appreciate the emotional honesty of all three songs.

It all begins at Lincoln Park on the night of August 28, 1968, with his presence at an earth-shattering event that would add new pages to his FBI file. Phil Mershon described the scene in a piece on furious.com:

Humphrey accepted his party’s nomination on August 28, as the day ended and the scent of tear gas wafted up Michigan Avenue to the nominee’s suite at the Conrad Hilton. The worst violence was about to begin. And the New York folk singer would be right in the thick of things. The protestors had gathered in Grant Park to hear a series of speeches before marching to the Convention Center. The Chicago Police attempted to contain the group by surrounding the Park. One after another speaker addressed the crowd. In between speeches of men like activist Dave Dellinger, poet Allen Ginsberg, and comedian Dick Gregory, Phil would stand in the back of a pick-up truck and sing for the crowd. Shortly after he sang a rousing version of “I Ain’t Marching Anymore,” he saw a young boy climb the park’s flag pole and pull down Old Glory. The was all the provocation the police required. They grabbed the kid, beat him with their nightsticks, and tossed him into the back of a squad car while the more agitated onlookers threw rocks at the arresting officers. Press cameras filmed all this for posterity and even broadcast one cop commanding “Make sure you show them throwing rocks!” While Dave Dellinger attempted to lead a nonviolent march to the Convention Center (and was blocked from doing so), others took advantage of an opening in the quarantine and thousands of young people marched toward the Hilton. Enraged at being distracted, the police charged up Michigan Avenue, firing tear gas canisters and clubbing everything in sight. When clubs failed to subdue, they stomped. And when that proved ineffective, they kicked, shoved, punched and beat. The crowd shouted “The whole world is watching!”

That scene provided the bulk of the material for “William Butler Yeats Visits Lincoln Park and Escapes Unscathed,” a melancholy depiction of the riot and, to some degree, its consequences. Given Phil’s politics, one might approach this song expecting a classic poor-me leftist rant that pins the blame squarely on the cops, but Phil Ochs was a much more perceptive human being capable of connecting the hidden dots. After describing the scene where young people peacefully assembled in the gloaming before the mayhem began, Phil comments on those who organized the protest:

They spread their sheets upon the ground just like a wandering tribe
And the wise men walked in their Robespierre robes
Through Lincoln Park the dark was turning

Robespierre is the ultimate symbol of the extreme zealot, a purist leader who responded to any suspected deviation from the party line by sending the heretics to the guillotine. The reference clearly indicates that Phil considered the movement’s organizers equally culpable for the violence that night by stoking an “us-against them mentality” that would prove to be completely self-defeating. Phil Mershon put it this way:

As Phil Ochs and the others would soon come to realize, most of the whole world didn’t care and among those who did, many felt the cops hadn’t gone far enough.

Back in Los Angeles, Phil began to question his own approach to politics in America. While the Yippies and other radicals had been creating and recreating their own counterculture, they had alienated the American working class along with Middle America. People who were already involved, Ochs reasoned, didn’t need to be converted. Nixon–who would ride to victory above the shattered remains of a splintered Democratic Party–called these frightened Americans ‘the Silent Majority.’ Ochs knew that if this majority rejected the members of the New Left, they would in turn embrace the solutions of men like Nixon and George Wallace. Frightened by those prospects, the songwriter began to detach himself by degrees from the journalistic approach to his craft. The resulting music spoke with broader, more universal tones.

The reference to Yeats in the song’s title is therefore not a validation of candidate Eugene McCarthy’s favorite poet, but a realization that truths discovered through poetry have greater depth and duration than polemical positioning. The arrangement is itself poetic, combining piano with accordion and viola, creating that slow-motion atmosphere one experiences in the midst of a catastrophic event, where every visual, sound and smell is amplified a thousandfold. The curious addition of a barrelhouse segment after a brief silence underscored the competition for activist purity common on the left—if you weren’t in Chicago, you were nowhere, even if you happened to be helping the citizens of Detroit rebuild a city torn by riots.

“My Life” is the complementary twin of “William Butler Yeats Visits Lincoln Park and Escapes Unscathed,” a statement of rebirth following the symbolic death of Chicago: “My life is now a death to me/So I’ll mold it and I’ll hold it till I’m born.” But as is true with nearly everything associated with Phil Ochs, the truth is much more complicated. He follows the statement of rebirth with the sad acknowledgment that no matter how much of his past he leaves behind and no matter where he chooses to take his art, he will always be a stranger in a strange land, deprived of peace and privacy:

So I turned to the land
Where I’m so out of place
Throw a curse on the plan
In return for the grace
To know where I stand
Take everything I own
Take your tap from my phone
And leave my life alone
My life alone.

The expression of alienation and the desire to retreat is the antithesis of American Optimism, so insipidly expressed in Paul Anka’s “My Way.”

But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall
And did it my way

Americans love a fighter—someone who can take the punch and get up from the canvas. In real life, things don’t work that way. People lose their jobs and slip into depression, and all the optimism in the world isn’t going to make a difference to someone who feels utterly worthless. You can fight until you turn black and blue but when you’re trying to work an employment system where your chances of getting a job depend largely on favoritism or dumb luck, fighting isn’t going to get you anywhere. Although this final verse is heartbreaking and full of anguish, it has the undying virtue of emotional honesty. This was a man frightened and astonished by what was happening in the world, feelings that many of us living in the present can easily relate to.

The final song in the trilogy, “The Scorpion Departs, But Never Returns,” superficially relates the story of the USS Scorpion, a US Navy submarine that was lost due to an “unexplained catastrophic event” that caused the ship to be crushed by the sheer pressure of the ocean’s depths, killing all 99 crewmen. In the liner notes for Rehearsals for Retirement/Gunfight at Carnegie Hall, Richie Unterberger noted that, “it could just be taken as a tale of a ship lost at sea, it also reflects directionlessness Ochs saw in both the course of America and within his own life.” The depiction of the captain as an unresponsive, uncommunicative leader captures the aimlessness one feels when leaders fail to live up to their responsibilities, but it also points out the problematic nature of depending on leaders to protect us from harm. In the last two verses, Phil gamely attempts to balance hope and despair, but in the end, comes firmly down on the side of anguish and self-doubt:

The radio is begging them to come back to the shore
All will be forgiven, it’ll be just like before
All you’ve ever wanted will be waiting by your door
We will forgive you, we will forgive you
Tell me we will forgive you

But no one gives an answer not even one goodbye
Oh, the silence of their sinking is all that they reply
Some have chosen to decay and others chose to die
But I’m not dying, no I’m not dying
Tell me I’m not dying

The arrangement here echoes the more complex arrangements of Pleasures of the Harbor, featuring a French horn counterpoint that somehow manages to express a mournful urgency.

Having plumbed the depths of his soul, Phil gives himself and the listener a break with the light-and-bouncy “The World Began in Eden and Ended in Los Angeles.” Some have remarked that the cheesy horns were a dig at Herb Alpert, but I don’t think The Tijuana Brass was that bad. It’s followed by “Doesn’t Lenny Live Here Anymore,” another waltz featuring one of Phil’s most lovely melodies, one that flows so beautifully with the lyrics that it’s difficult to reconcile the beauty with the subject matter—the relentless progression of depression. This song has been mistakenly identified as some kind of tribute to Lenny Bruce, a perception that fits neither with the lyrics nor the timing (Lenny Bruce had died over two years before). My take is Lenny is the narrator of his own story, the depressed soul separating himself from his decaying self by shifting to the third-person perspective. Our Lenny’s journey into darkness ends in a dingy room in nowheresville, a “long-time loser” grieving for an ex-lover but still suffering from her definitive judgment of his worth:

The fat official smiles at the pass on the border
And the hungry broom makes sure that the room is in order
You pull the shade
All the beds are made
As your lips caress the razor of the blade
Of the blade

And the haggard ex-lover of a long-time loser
Stands rejectedly by the door
Doesn’t Lenny live here anymore?
Are you sure?

A difficult piece of work, indeed.

Phil returns to the political in “Another Age,” a fairly straightforward condemnation of American involvement in the Vietnam War and the lasting damage to American society that went far beyond the sickening body count. “We were born in a revolution and we died in a wasted war” expresses both the pointlessness of that terrible war and the complete destruction of America’s standing as the world’s moral guardian. Once again, a snappy tempo contrasts with the bitter lyrics, though the way the rhythmic structure allows Phil’s voice to soar on “So I pledge allegiance against the flag” confirms the wisdom of the counterintuitive choice.

The title track ends the album, one of the most remarkable duets of voice and piano you will ever hear. Phil and Lincoln Mayorga perform like perfectly-synced dancers following a rhythm of spontaneous creation. Both introduce subtle delays in the song’s progress to highlight the emotional content, with Phil in particular extending syllables beyond expected length, particularly on the second lines of the verses. The couplet that serves as the song’s bridge is one I find endlessly intriguing, due to the ambiguity concerning the kind of laughter he’s describing: joyful, contemptuous or absurd? The message of comfort to his daughter in the second line might indicate any of the three, with the implication that the end is not as important as the journey:

Had I known the end would end in laughter
Still I’d tell my daughter that it doesn’t matter

Rehearsals for Retirement turned out to be a commercial disaster, Phil Ochs’ worst-selling album, one that was removed from the A&M catalog rather speedily after its release. While the relentless sense of despair at the loss of one’s country and one’s soul may have accounted for poor sales, I think the more likely culprit was its rejection of American Optimism. Phil Ochs saw the writing on the wall and put it into song but no one wanted to hear that America was finished or that the tried-and-true tactics of the early Civil Rights Movement would fail to stop the war. Identities were locked into place, the battle lines were drawn and any chance of dialogue obliterated be the “me”/”not me” paradigm.

Once again, America finds itself thoroughly divided and in a much more precarious position than it was in the 1960’s. Nixon never came close to experiencing Republican control of Congress, so he had no choice but to compromise on issues of human rights and the environment. For all practical purposes, America is now a one-party state led by a mean-spirited sociopath. While Democrats can vote against this insult to intelligence or that abuse of human rights, the right wing controls the votes. Things seem beyond hopeless, but the worst thing Americans can do is go into denial about it or—even worse—normalize the situation.

In Rehearsals for Retirement, Phil Ochs spoke the emotional and political truth of a country shattered by repeated acts of self-destruction—a country very much like the United States of January 2017. Despite its dark and brooding tone, listening to Rehearsals for Retirement turned out to be a cathartic and comforting experience for me. Phil Ochs expressed all the feelings I have experienced since the election: angst, depression, anguish anger, frustration and confusion about what to do next. Being reminded that we have gone through similar dark periods in recent history helped me appreciate the fundamental truth that the struggle against prejudice, greed and violence is a never-ending battle against human fear and ignorance.

When I reviewed London Calling a few months ago, I had no answer to Joe Strummer’s essential question: “What are we gonna do now?” Somehow, listening to Rehearsals for Retirement clarified things for me. We need to accept the fundamental truth that the emerging fascist leaders of the day (Trump, Le Pen, Duterte, etc.) capitalize solely on human fear and insecurity. They do that because they are frightened human beings themselves. They project a strong, tough image to protect their essential vulnerability, and in the process gather many frightened followers. While human beings in fear can be terribly dangerous, they are also inherently fragile. On my part, I will do everything I can to expose these frauds as the deeply insecure people they are and persistently fight them with the truth. I also intend to respect, engage and try to understand the frightened people who follow these corrupt leaders (and I have lots of opportunity to do that, since I live in a part of France where LePen is relatively popular). Finally, I will do whatever I can to work with others to eliminate the two primary sources of fear in our world today: economic inequality and prejudice.

With luck, I may be able to influence half a dozen people to face their fears and move on. But if enough of us fight the fascists with the weapons of truth and human respect—no matter how ugly things get—we can put these motherfuckers where they belong—on the ash heap of history.

Fuck “Let’s win one for The Gipper.” Let’s win this one for Phil Ochs!

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