Phil Ochs Josh Dunson - Essay

Josh Dunson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Phil's early songs, with humor, compassion, and anger, cut through conservative and liberal excuses for inaction. Often the songs would follow one after the other, three or four in a week, then a "dry period", and then some major event would happen and there was Phil, lying on the couch picking his tunes, matching lyrics, writing, rewriting and rewriting….

[The] songs Phil wrote came to reflect mass movements. The songs were better written and more incisive. Finally, the "Draft Dodger Rag" and "I Ain't Marching Anymore" became the adopted anthems of millions of students who knew they never would fight in the Vietnam War….

Phil learned what the labor movement was, and expressed his sense of betrayal at the Meany leadership in songs like "The Ballad of U.S. Steel" and "Links on the Chain". Yet Phil was sympathetic to working class people and their economic exploitation. Perhaps his understanding was expressed best in the "Automation Song".

Although from the beginning Phil was vulnerable to the pain caused by the stresses and false values of the music industry, on the whole those early years were good ones. Phil was filled with energy and hope. He was exhilarated at the enthusiastic response to each new song. He was delighted when the songs made for passionate arguments.

Josh Dunson, "Phil Ochs: 1941–1976," in Sing Out! (© 1976 Sing Out! Magazine, Inc.; 505-8th Ave., NY, NY 10018; excerpted with permission), Vol. 25, No. 1, May-June, 1976, p. 40.