Dylan Jones: 'Bob Dylan once kicked Phil Ochs out of his car saying, 'You’re not a folk singer, you're a journalist'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Barack Obama has never spoken of his fondness for the late Phil Ochs, and it is completely possible that he has never heard of him. One of America's foremost protest singers, he described himself as a "left social democrat", and during the Sixties became a staple at civil rights rallies, student sit-ins, and anti-Vietnam marches.

Originally a political journalist, he started writing political songs when he was introduced to the music of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and the Weavers. He would later call himself "the singing journalist", in much the same way that Allan Smethurst would later call himself "the singing postman" – once, when riding with Bob Dylan, he criticised one of his songs, at which Dylan kicked him out of the car, saying, "You're not a folk singer, you're a journalist".

Although he was best known for songs such as "Is There Anybody Here?", "I Ain't Marching Anymore", "Here's To The State Of Mississippi" and "Here's To The State Of Richard Nixon", the song for which Ochs ought to be remembered is "Love Me, I'm A Liberal". In this lovingly constructed rant, rather than assailing Conservatives, Ochs castigates 'liberals' who fall short of affecting social change: "I cried when they shot Medgar Evers," he sings, "Tears ran down my spine. I cried when they shot Mr Kennedy, as though I'd lost a father of mine... But Malcolm X got what was coming, he got what he asked for this time. So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal..."

There is a great YouTube clip of Ochs introducing the song at a concert, in which he says, "In every American community you have varying shades of political opinion. One of the shadiest of these is the liberals... Ten degrees to the left of centre in good times. Ten degrees to the right of centre if it affects them personally." These words, and Ochs' lyrics, have started to gain traction in the blogosphere, as it becomes fashionable to accuse Obama of reneging on his campaign promises. Personally, the attacks seems trite, although I wouldn't be surprised if Nick Clegg wasn't made aware of Phil Ochs sometime soon.

Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'