Tag Archives: Phil Ochs

Recollection Volume 23 – Farewells & Fantasies

Recollection is a project to review my record collection. I will listen to an album I own and review it. The album will be chosen randomly by computron. Today computron chooses…

Album: Farewells & Fantasies
Artist: Phil Ochs
Released: 1997
Format(s) I own it on: CD Box Set

0008122735182_500X500I’ve been a fan of Phil Ochs since I bought this box set when I was 17. It was inexpensive, and with three CDs worth of material, a steal. Farewells & Fantasies is strange. I don’t know if I’d recommend anyone buy this record. The problem is that it’s a lot of music to get through and into, so that leaves out the newbs1 For the fan, it’s far from complete. It selects a best of Ochs, and a mediocre of Ochs. It some times leaves off what I would believe to be essential tracks. So I can’t see a fan wanting to own this collection.

The completist is the only one this box is targeted to, as there are about three tracks that are unique to this collection, but those three tracks are far from worth the price of entry.

The we can look at who Ochs is. It seems that he gets a lot of flak. It seems that if you’re a serious Bob Dylan fan, you hate Phil Ochs. I’ve heard from many Dylan fans who deride Ochs’ work. I think this comes from a place of ignorance. It seems that Ochs is often compared to Dylan, when the two of them are a world apart. While they’re both folk artists, Dylan was never a folk artist the truest sense of the word. He always had a taste of jazz and blues that true folk doesn’t keep. Ochs on the other hand, even when going electric, or adding an excess of orchestration is a folky at heart.

People also deride Ochs for being a singing journalist. He was singing about his world, and the passion he had to make the world a better place. He used sarcasm to sneer at those who are apathetic, and I’m okay with him being a singing journalist in that sense, but the difference is I don’t look at old newspapers, but I do listen to Ochs. Obviously his medium is much more effective. Ochs also matured as a songwriter, and proved himself able to adapt away from his protest songs; while he still protested, he did a bit less directly.

My attraction to Ochs and my interest in politics are two worlds that obviously overlap. When I first starting writing about music in 2004, I was writing for Being There. The first feature I wrote was an interview with Joel Plaskett, the second was about Phil Ochs. A decade ago when I wrote about Ochs, I was writing about how the world hasn’t changed in the 30 years since his death. Another decade has passed, and I feel we’re still here. In Canada we have a government that is destroying our electoral laws, and weakening Elections Canada, in Ontario we have a government overwrought with scandal who are still somehow the best option, and in Toronto we have a crack addict mayor who hates women, sexual minorities, and people of colour. Phil Ochs’ voice is still valued.


Ochs took Alfred Noyes’ classic poem “The Highway Man” and placed it to a melody that helps the poem shine. The sparse live performance (recorded in Vancouver) makes Ochs’ voice sound far away. The listener feels a distance to the singer allowing the song to chill you.

“Pleasures of the Harbor,” “Changes,” “When I’m Gone,” “Here’s To The State Of Mississippi,” “Canons Of Christianity” are all amongst Ochs’ best.


“White Boots Marching In A Yellow Land,” “Morning,” and “Santo Domingo” are amongst the songs I listen to the least.

Men 18.25 (79%) | Women 4.75 (21%)
Canada 6.8 (30%) | USA 11.53 (50%) | UK 4.66 (20%)
Ontario 3 (43%) | Quebec 0 (0%) | Nova Scotia2 (29%) | New Brunswick 1 (14%) | Manitoba 0 (0%) | British Columbia 0 (0%) | Prince Edward Island 0 (0%)
Saskatchewan 0 (0%) | Alberta 0 (0%) | Newfoundland and Labrador 1 (14%) | Northwest Territories 0 (0%) | Yukon 0 (0%) | Nunavut 0 (0%)
  1. Except me, but I’m strange. []

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. []