Thursday, May 21, 2009

Phil Ochs

Nobody likes William F. Buckley--evil man.

But I wasn't sleepy and I was watching Charlie Rose, and he was replaying Buckley clips because the son was on. There was a late clip of Buckley, looking like a grotesque of himself, like his Buckley mask had melted. He was saying that he'd done everything and that his life was over, but that he couldn't commit suicide, that being a sin. I felt the normal amount of sympathy that you might feel for someone who was a walking bag of shit--thought, he must have suffered from depression. Didn't quite say "poor man" but almost got there---feeling sorry for him, a little. Snapped out of it--oh, yeah, oh, yeah--there are good depressives and there are...walking bags of shit who are depressed.

Immediately thought of Phil Ochs, at first thinking well that's a strange skip, but then, no,

not so much--the sixties, the war...depression, and in Ochs case suicide.

And so I downloaded Rehearsals for Retirement because I don't have it on CD and Amoeba was closed. The opening lines make up the saddest couplet ever, well maybe not ever, but it's like something out of Wyatt, so universal, a perfect articulation of end-of-the-line despair:

The days grow longer for smaller prizes

I feel a stranger to all surprises

A brick wall of a couplet, high art, I think. Disturbing art is somehow (more) uplifting...that someone in such great pain could come out with those lines. Could only come out of intense pain--a kind of last gasp.

I'd read some bios but years ago, so I did a little late-night google research, refreshed my memory--that album cover with his tombstone, died in Chicago '68 (real date of death is, I think, '76)--that he was so torn up by, whatever you want to call it, the failure of the revolution, the death of the American dream (was there one?). His despair, depression, whatever was at least partly rooted in his concern for humanity.

Perhaps despair was (is?) an appropriate response to the times. And is it an essential ingredient in art?

1 comment:

  1. The thing about Buckley's son's book and that C.Rose show is that it is an fillial expose of what relentless raptors his parents were...

    cf: Ochs' lyric:
    "I feel a stranger to all surprises"

    brought to mind another suicide, R. Brautigan who wrote:

    The last surprise is when you realize
    that nothing surprises you anymore