"Anybody could be Dylan. Ochs' songs were for those who cared." That's one of the quotes describing Phil Ochs (pronounced Oaks) in Kenneth Bowser's terrific documentary, "Phil Ochs: There But for the Fortune" - currently playing at the Avalon after a nice run at the West End. (My apologies to Josh there for my not taking a group to see this.) Like the great documentary film "Harvard Beats Yale 29-29" which I also saw at the Avalon's upstairs theater, this film chronicles the '60s in all its war and tragic pieces. What a different world it was! I knew of Phil Ochs because of an older brother who played his music, especially the wonderfully evocative "Outside a Small Circle of Friends." Hear it in this clip.
But he was best known for his protest songs, beautifully written from stories in the newspapers. It's worth it to see this film just for the history lesson we get of the '60s. To go from the excitement of John Kennedy to his assassination and then to the start of the Vietnam War followed by the amazing passion and bravery of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy to their deaths. Oh my gosh! Even to see them fall today is heartbreaking; they were so young! And then ending the decade with Richard Nixon! Young people stood up for what they believed in - and foremost among these was Ochs.
We get interviews with the people who knew him, from family to Joan Baez, Christopher Hitchens, Pete Seegera and Tom Hayden, and finally to an admirer Sean Penn. With his music always playing in the background, we hear I Ain't Marching Anymore, The War Is Over, The Ringing of Revolution, What Are You Waiting For? They wouldn't give permits for protest concerts at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago but Ochs came anyway and just set up makeshift concerts on the street.
One poignant interview toward the end of the film with his daughter said that he would be pleased that his music is still relevant but not pleased that we're still fighting so many of the same battles (unnecessary wars). Unfortunately, Ochs started drinking, became very unstable and committed suicide at age 35. This film is riveting and should be seen by adults and teenagers alike.