Phil Ochs Peter Knobler - Essay

Peter Knobler

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The girl on the ticket line wanted "two tickets to the Bob Dylan concert." In fact the evening was a "Concert Tribute to Phil Ochs," and the irony would not have been lost on Phil. Even past the very end he didn't give the people what they wanted….

Phil killed himself. If you must gauge your life, I think a good standard would be your effect on your friends. Another, if you're lucky, would be your effect on the public at large. Phil's friends gathered onstage at New York's Felt Forum with a socialist vision and one more opportunity to say it out loud. There have been moments in which that vision seemed a safer bet, closer to fruition, sometimes almost inevitable—but few in which its risks were more clear. Fortunately for Phil, he and his friends chose each other so they would carry on….

It's very easy to overstate Phil's case: "Phil was a political prisoner killed by America"; "Phil was the '60s"; "Don't mourn for Phil—organize." But that's more exhortation. Phil was simply not a very happy guy, with a well-defined sense of the way things ought to be that would not let him alone. He was much more than a topical songwriter, though that would have been quite enough. Phil followed Dylan's lead and wrote statements which were both personal and universal. "Pleasures of the Harbor," "Changes," "Chords of Fame," "Flower Lady"—these are songs people have already forgotten, and which deserve better. His infamous Shootout at Carnegie Hall gold lamé suit concert would be received gleefully today as the ironic yet affectionate statement of roots and direction that it was meant to be. He played Buddy Holly and Elvis medleys and made more sense than any Eagles benefit for Jerry Brown.

But when Phil's friends gathered to remember him, their thoughts were political, as well they should be. The positions may have changed in the last decade but the concerns have remained constant…. The work goes on.

Peter Knobler, "Editorial: 'Phil Ochs'," in Crawdaddy (copyright © 1976 by Crawdaddy Publishing Co., Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), August, 1976, p. 5.