Phil Ochs Karl Dallas - Essay

Karl Dallas

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

If Bob Dylan is the king of protest—and some might say he's already abdicated—Phil Ochs … is the president.

Still in his mid twenties, he has reached a position where Dylan can say of him: "I just can't keep up with Phil. And he's getting better and better and better."…

Unlike some other protesters, his attacks aren't safe and generalised. He chooses his targets well, and he hits them hard—so hard, that when in one recent song he invited the State of Mississippi to "find yourself another country to belong to" he got protests from outraged liberals who said that the people of Mississippi aren't all bad.

In spite of this, Phil sees himself as primarily an artist….

Phil's songs have a tremendous impact, not the least because his protest isn't against the same old safe subjects, the Bomb, race hate and so on. It's easy to be against them.

Pete Seeger said the chorus of "Lou Marsh" was the finest he'd ever heard in a topical song. And this is about the murder of a social worker who was trying to keep teenage New York kids from fighting.

It's the sort of song that takes protest out of the safe, never-never land of "them" and turns it savagely against the responsibility of the individual for the ills of today.

Karl Dallas, "Dylan Said It—'I Can't Keep Up with Phil'," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), November 27, 1965, p. 10.