Phil Ochs: Tape From California

Half the World is crazy and the other half is scared, Madonnas do the minuet for the naked millionaires. The anarchists are rising while we’re racing for the moon, it doesn’t take a seer to see that the scene is coming soon… To the victor go the ashes of the spoils, seeds in the soil. Sorry, I can’t stop and talk now – I’m in kind of a hurry anyhow – but I’ll send you a tape from California.

Phil Ochs (Tape From California, 1968)

The madness is repeating itself: wars on foreign soil, protests at home and presidential candidates selling lunar adventures. Phil Ochs was a man who saw the world falling apart and desperately longed to keep it together, willfully declaring an end to war through his music.  Once he concluded it was impossible, he succumbed to writers-block, drifted into despair & madness, and eventually committed suicide.

Sadly, this would not be the first time he had committed suicide: Ochs famously portrayed his own grave on the cover of his 1969 album Rehearsal for Retirement, the epitaph reading “Phil Ochs (American). Born: El Paso, Texas, 1940. Died: Chicago, Illinois, 1968” in reference to his feelings after the assassinations of Martin Luther King & Robert Kennedy, the election of Tricky-Dick Nixon, and the police violence against protesters at the DNC in Chicago (an event at which he performed).

Nor would it be the second time he brought his own life to an end: In 1971, Ochs befriended Chilean poet, musician, and activist Víctor Jara on a trip to Chile, shortly after the 1970 election of Salvador Allende.  Two years later, Allende was assassinated in a violent coup d’état and Ochs’ friend Víctor Jara was savagely tortured and murdered while in the care of the Chilean military, his bullet riddled and lifeless body dumped on a street just outside of Santiago. Soon after, depressed and self-medicating with alcohol, Ochs announced that he (Ochs) had been murdered – by a man named John Butler Train – and that he (Ochs) was, in fact, the murderer John Butler Train.

Friends and family desperately tried to help as he became more unstable. Convinced that the FBI, CIA, and others were after him and wanted him dead, and unable to separate fact from fiction, Phil Ochs hung himself April 9th, 1976, in Far Rockaway, NY.

A man who elucidated the sadness of conscripted death ultimately could not withstand the punishing tragedy of life.

And I won’t be laughing at the lies when I’m gone. And I can’t question how or when or why when I’m gone. Can’t live proud enough to die when I’m gone. So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here.

Phil Ochs (When I’m Gone, 1966)

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  1. For how depressing his life was, the music didn’t have me grabbing for my opinel….ok for mixing into a playlist for sure.

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