Phil Ochs Milton Okun - Essay

Milton Okun

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Phil Ochs was a journalism student when the idea of writing singing editorials occurred to him.

Although he has moved from bright and urgently topical songs into themes of more durability, such as "There but for Fortune," Phil perhaps made his greatest impact as a "troubadour of the New Left." His "living newspaper" was kept up to date in the early 1960s with fresh editions of "The Ballad of William Worthy," "Talking Vietnam Blues" and "I Ain't Marching Any More."

Phil was, for a time, very much a product of the New York Broadside school! of topical songwriting, speaking out on dozens of current issues with his joggy melodies, his biting and sarcastic lyrics and his tart wit. He found, at that stage, that much of what he had learned about journalism applied as well to the writer of topical songs—the need to keep on top of the news, to form clear opinions and to state them with an eye toward persuasiveness and interest-holding, and the deadlines, for even he was forced to admit that "nothing is deader than yesterday's newspaper."

But Phil Ochs, showing strong ability to shift the style and the content of his writing, is as alive as tomorrow's newspaper. Of late, his work has probed in the direction of greater psychological depth and evaluations of middle-class life.

Milton Okun, "Phil Ochs," in his Something to Sing About: The Personal Choices of America's Folk Singers (reprinted with permission of Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.; copyright © 1968 by Milton Okun), Macmillan, 1968, p. 198.