Chuck Jaffee: A 1960s voice that’s still worth hearing in 2011
April 15, 2011
When Phil Ochs came to know Bob Dylan, Ochs changed his tune a little. Instead of saying that he was striving to be the best songwriter alive, Ochs was satisfied to work at being the second best songwriter alive.
The film, “Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune,” expresses that and more about the connection and distance between Ochs and Dylan.
You may seek out this documentary to remind you about one of the purest voices of 1960s protest.
You may seek out this biographical account to discover the highs and lows of a prescient and gifted political activist and entertainer.
Even if you never heard of Phil Ochs, you may seek out this film because he still serves as a voice for the state of the world. The film does good service presenting Phil Ochs singing Phil Ochs many times over.
He spoke to a wide range of issues, including civil rights and the Vietnam war. Of his hundreds of songs, the one he made most famous may be “I Ain’t Marching Anymore.”
He wasn’t merely a voice of the anti-war movement, he was an organizer. He wasn’t merely a protester, he was an intelligent, satiric and lyrical tuning fork for injustices passing through newspaper headlines that he transformed into ringing folk songs.
In addition to hearing from members of his family, many people speak throughout the film of their friend. Ochs’ personal burdens grew heavier toward the end of a life that lasted only 35 years.
Joan Baez speaks of him in the film. She sang one of his more recognizable songs (and the subtitle of this documentary): “There But for Fortune.” From those lyrics written in the 1960s, “Show me a country where the bombs had to fall / Show me the ruins of buildings so tall / And I’ll show you a young land / With many reasons why / There but for fortune, go you or I.”
Chuck Jaffee of Nevada City likes to plug people into the spirit of independent filmmakers. Find his other articles for The Union at http://www.startlets.com. “Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune” shows at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 17 at the Nevada Theatre.
From a conversation between Chuck Jaffee and Ken Bowser, the director of “Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune”:
CJ: People who were plugged into Phil Ochs when he was alive will want to see this documentary about him. That’s easy to understand. Why should people who don’t know him or his music want to see it?
KB: His life perfectly reflected the 1960s. More than that, you see it because it’s a great story. That he’s a great artist is besides the point.
CJ: Ochs died 35 years ago. Why and how did you come to be the one to make this film?
KB: I started 20 years ago when I contacted his family. About six or seven years ago, I was in a position to try to further the project with my own money. Then, three years ago, a producer named Michael Cole put up the money this kind of project needs to get it finished. Phil Ochs affected my world view. I was personally moved by this man. Michael Cole seems to have been affected like I was.
CJ: Unlike Bob Dylan, Ochs was a fully committed social and political activist. Do you think it’s fair to say that Ochs was less famous and enduring because of it?
KB: Mystery trumps commitment every time, commercially and artistically. I’ve learned to tone down my enthusiasm and passion some. It can make people uncomfortable.
CJ: Ochs took his own life at age 35, a life that included alcoholism and mental illness. (He was bipolar.) Do you think your film offers any special insights into these all too common afflictions?
KB: People coming up to thank me, it’s never about making the film really. I get a lot of someone in my family was bipolar or committed suicide.
CJ: What hits your gut the most, after the intimate experience of making this film? What resonates in your mind the most?
KB: I got to share my love and passion for an artist with other people. It’s like screening home movies about a brother I love. So much of what he wrote about in the 1960s relates to what’s going on today.