The Pre-Revolutionary Clown


| 8/10/2011 10:53:02 AM



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Five thousand people streamed through the streets of Manhattan. The crowd marched against the stream of traffic: It made it harder for the NYPD to follow them. Some carried briefcases and umbrellas, having been caught up in the throng on their way home from work or during an afternoon stroll. Others lifted bright placards above their heads. “God Bless You Lyndon For Ending The War,” read one. A smallish man in wire-rimmed glasses and a black military duster led the pack, singing, “I declare the war is over” in an off-pitch, nasal croon.

The man’s name was Phil Ochs, and the Vietnam War wouldn’t actually end for another seven and a half years. 

***

Phil Ochs is an American enigma. He grew up Jewish in El Paso, Texas, with his father, a veteran with crippling post-traumatic stress disorder, and mother, a nouveau riche Scottish immigrant. With only an acoustic guitar, Ochs wrote trenchant protest music and gave the ‘60s counterculture movement its most famous anti-war anthem. John Wayne and Elvis Presley, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan, Victor Jara and Robert F. Kennedy were all among his idols. He drank too much. Alcoholism turned into depression, depression turned into lunacy, and all three drove him to suicide at the age of 35.



Ochs’ meteoric rise and fall are the subject of Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune, a comprehensive documentary of the young musician’s life and passions, released last month on First Run Features. Director Kenneth Bowser charts Ochs’ inspirations through shifting political winds, revolutionary cultural trends, and the abrupt punctuation marks of history.  Bowser sketches a sharp portrait of a man devoted to equality, progress, and justice until his untimely death.

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