Friday, January 07, 2011

Phil Ochs

I never realized, until I finally made my way, as an adult, to New York and Los Angeles, how much of the non-Baptist culture of the Big Wide World that I was barely aware of.

It's not that my parents ever cut us off from things. It's that we were raised with a certain set of principles, and much of what the outside world offered, went against those principles. So, we had, and have, a culture. One that exists outside the view of the rest of the world. And this, by the way, is true of every human being. We live inside our own worldview and culture. So, I'm not slamming Baptists. Just stating a fact.

When I was five, our folks moved us from Arkansas, where I was born, to Anaheim, California where my dad eventually became pastor of Trinity Baptist Church. Missionary Baptist. (In the past, when Northerners asked me what a Missionary Baptist was, I would tell them, "They dropped out of an association that dropped out of an association that used to be Southern Baptist. So, they're two degrees more conservative than Southern Baptist." The look of horror on their faces was priceless.)

But, when I was in 9th grade, I believe, we moved to West Monroe, Louisiana. This would be -- god, I hate trying to remember dates -- 1968? Then, a year later, we were in southeast Texas in the golden triangle.What I remember is that my family watched the moon landing from a flickering TV in a big, old wooden house in Buna, just north of the blinking yellow light.

So, probably I was a sophomore. I loved Top 40, having discovered it in the summer of '67 when I got my first transistor radio. The first record I bought was "A Little Bit Me" by the Monkees. I was so in love with them. I had all the souvenir books and picture books. I didn't know those publications were meant for girls.

But, really, Top 40 was my peek into the outside world. It was radical enough! Protest music and folk music were way off my radar, unless they crawled in through groups like the Byrd. I never even heard a Bob Dylan vocal until I was an adult. By that I mean sit and listen to it and know it's Bob Dylan. But the same was true, for me, about Broadway music.

I do remember one song, though. I didn't know where I heard it or who it was, but I loved it. Something about the utter clarity of the lyric, and the fierce anger we all felt as we were being sent into the meatgrinder of Vietnam. There was a draft back then, so you had no choice, if your number came up.

The simplicity of "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore" still makes my blood pressure rise, as I'm immediately transported back to that era.

The present generation of soldier is volunteer. I think this is why the public is not more outraged at the madness of Bush and Obama's foreign escapades. Also, the war is mostly kept off the front pages, and, Wikileaks aside, we don't really know what's going on.

But that singer's name was Phil Ochs. There is a new documentary out about him that I intend to see. Here is the trailer:

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