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December 19: Phil Ochs

December 19, 2011

Songwriter Phil Ochs was born on this date in El Paso, Texas, in 1940. He was introduced to both the guitar and radical politics at Ohio State University by Jim Glover, with whom he formed “The Singing Socialists” at the end of the 1950s. By 1962, Ochs was a college drop-out and a ubiquitous presence within the New York folk music scene while creating a long roster of political songs, including “I Ain’t Marching Any More,” “There But for Fortune,” “Power and the Glory,” “Draft Dodger Rag,” “Outside of a Small Circle of Friends,” and numerous other sharp, soulful, witty, well-rhymed pieces that protested the injustices and alienation of 1960s America. Joan Baez and others covered some of his songs, but Ochs never achieved the star status he coveted, and he ran out of gas in the early 1970s. Alcohol, depression, and damage to his vocal chords (following a strangulation during a mugging in Kenya) all contributed to his decline before he committed suicide on April 9, 1976. “Sarge, I’m only sixteen, I got a ruptured spleen, and I always carry a purse/ I got eyes like a bat and my feet are flat and my asthma’s getting worse/ Oh think of my career and my sweetheart dear and my poor old invalid aunt/ Besides I ain’t no fool, I’m going to school, and I’m working at a defense plant!” —Phil Ochs, “Draft Dodger Rag”

Watch Phil Ochs sing “I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore”