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There But For Fortune

Playing now in Toronto is the new documentary on Phil Ochs’ life, There But For Fortune. The film tells the tale of the subtle rise and drastic fall of “the singing journalist.”

There But For Fortune is a portrait of a man who always wanted to change the world, a man who stopped looking to change the world, and spiralled into mental illness. Watching the story of a man struggling with mental illness is not an easy thing to watch1, but with music so beautiful as Ochs’ it’s hard not to enjoy this film. Watching this film made me think of my love of Phil Ochs’ music, and the places he’s been with me.

When I first found Pleasures of the Harbour in my father’s record collection, I didn’t know what it was, but something about the cover art made me put it on the turntable. It didn’t really fit into my father’s collection, but the music was stunning, and the piano work hooked me. Then I was in a record store and discovered a box set called Farewells and Fantasies, and I had to have it.

In September of 2004, I rode the Queen Street streetcar eastbound on my way to work, while listening to Phil Ochs on my iPod. I was struggling to come up with an feature article idea for the second issue of Being There, a magazine I was then writing for.

It was two months before the reelection of George W. Bush, and I saw too much of what Ochs was singing about in my southern neighbour. I wrote about Ochs’ music, and the historical background in both the past and present.

“The only way to touch her is the gun beside your head.” – Phil Ochs, “I’ve Had Her”

This film could only make me think of

  1. Especially for me. []

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