An American Hero

Amos Lassen


I love a movie that uplifts me and makes me sing and that is exactly what happened here. I have not thought about Phil Ochs in many years but as I watched this many memories came flooding back and I remembered when a protest was a protest and when we really cared about things. Not that we don’t today but with social media now things are very different. Ochs was important and relevant at a time when we really needed him as he rose to fame on the heels of the social justice movement when I was an idealistic college student who believed I could change the world.


Ochs wrote songs about things that were important and he was full of anger and pessimism. He was righteously indignant at a time when to do so was to buck the system and we followed his lead. As people like Joan Baez, Peter Yarrow, Pete Seeger, Tom Hayden and other talk about him, we are taken back in time.


He believed in the power of song as a tool for social change and his voice, whether in the chorus or solo, was powerful. The film is a look at the political climate of the 1960’s and how some popular musicians like Ochs and Baez, Dylan and Seeger were able to inspire others through their songs to become political.

Ochs had a guitar and a vibrato voice and he found what to sing about in the newspapers and magazines of the times. Kenneth Bower gives us a look at Ochs from the early days through his bouts with alcoholism and mental illness who was broken by the Chicago Riots of 1968. At age 35 he was dead from having hung himself but his legacy lives on as a symbol of one who cared too much. He was the “anti-Dylan” who almost alone was responsible for the musical protests against the war in Viet Nam but whose young death caused us to revaluate caring too much. He was in Dylan’s shadow even though he hated the idea but he is also a contrast to him. Dylan was a poet who wrote songs, Ochs was a singing journalist. Ochs voice was full and beautiful; Dylan’s was raspy and totally defiant in the 60’s. Ochs’ music fell out of vogue as we became less naïve.


But there was nothing innocent about Ochs. He loved success and being a celebrity but above all he was a musician who alienated his fans when he did not give them what they wanted. He knew truth, sang about it and died or it. The film is a wonderful tribute.


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