Phil Ochs, “The War is Over.”

In 1966, Beat poet Allen Ginsberg published a poem that contained the lines, “I here declare the end of the War!… this Act done by my own voice.” The concept of declaring an end to the Vietnam War “from the bottom up” appealed to Phil Ochs’ Yippie sensibilities, and he composed this song:

In early 1967, he wrote for the LA Free Press:

“A protest demonstration does not satisfy the demands of modern mass communications; it is somehow out of tune with the electric age. A protest rally is an act of negation against an act of negation, canceling each other out. The times demand a positive approach to demonstrations, a pro-life, joyful, energized, magnificently absurd demonstration against the sucking vacuum of war.
The trick is not to go against the establishment, but not to believe them. Come on, now—do you really believe that a war is being fought in this day and age—certainly, not a war that has anything to do with us. Why, that would be absurd—don’t you think?
On June 23, there is going to be a celebration of the end of the war. This celebration could be a love-in, a be-in, a to-be or not to be-in, a happening, a rally, a demonstration, an earthquake, a premature solstice, living theatre, living movies, a huge Hollywood production, a statement of numbers that you can attend without insulting your aesthetic.
Johnson will be speaking at a $500 a plate dinner inside the Century Plaza Hotel, so we can have a penny a plate dinner outside at the celebration. How ironic to have this bit actor give a speech demanding that people support a demented war while outside thousands are celebrating the end of the war!”

June 23rd rolled around, and there was a protest in LA outside the hotel, but it didn’t turn out the way Ochs envisioned it. It started as a conventional peaceful protest, and included a significant number of people attending their first protest rally ever. By the end of the march, they were abruptly introduced to the war on the domestic front.

“On the night of June 23, 1967, the meaning of ‘police brutality’ took on an electrifying reality for thousands of respectable middle-class residents of Los Angeles who participated in a peaceful anti-Vietnam demonstration,” wrote one of those respectable residents a few days later. He was a college professor, and his family was with him. The quote comes from an article written by this eyewitness’s son many years later, who continued:

“Forty-six years ago today, Los Angeles was rocked by a violent police response to a peaceful demonstration against the Vietnam War. I don’t know if it’s taught in schools, or if anyone besides the people who were there remember it.
But it was an important moment in the life of the city, and its reverberations were felt across the rest of the country.
The city permit called for marchers to keep moving — past the hotel, to Santa Monica Boulevard and back toward the park. But when the marchers approached the hotel, a group of demonstrators sat down in the street, stopping forward movement. Primed for a confrontation, and determined not to be embarrassed in front of the president and his supporters, who dined on filet mignon forestiere as the Supremes entertained, the police ordered the crowd to disperse.
The people who had sat down in protest stayed put. Few of the thousands of marchers behind them heard the dispersal orders; even if they had, they were trapped by the crowds and had trouble moving.
Watching from the comfort of a high floor in the hotel, Los Angeles Police Chief Tom Reddin ordered his men to break up the demonstration by force.”

It was incidents like these that broke the back of Ochs political optimism over the next year and a half. This story does end on an up, though- sort of. He played this song at a concert that actually did celebrate the end of the war- eight years later.

The War Is Over
By Phil Ochs

Silent Soldiers on a silver screen
Framed in fantasies and dragged in dream
Unpaid actors of the mystery
The mad director knows that freedom will not make you free
And what’s this got to do with me

I declare the war is over
It’s over, it’s over

Drums are drizzling on a grain of sand
Fading rhythms of a fading land
Prove your courage in the proud parade
Trust your leaders where mistakes are almost never made
And they’re afraid that I’m afraid

I’m afraid the war is over
It’s over, it’s over

Angry artists painting angry signs
Use their vision just to blind the blind
Poisoned players of a grizzly game
One is guilty and the other gets the point to blame
Pardon me if I refrain

I declare the war is over
It’s over, it’s over

So do your duty, boys, and join with pride
Serve your country in her suicide
Find the flags so you can wave goodbye
But just before the end even treason might be worth a try
This country is to young to die

I declare the war is over
It’s over, it’s over

One-legged veterans will greet the dawn
And they’re whistling marches as they mow the lawn
And the gargoyles only sit and grieve
The gypsy fortune teller told me that we’d been deceived
You only are what you believe

I believe the war is over
It’s over, it’s over

(Ochs changed the verses for the recorded version; below are the other verses originally written:)

Cardboard cowboys of a new frontier
drowning indians in vats of beer
the troops are leaving on the trojan train
the sun in their eyes, but i am hiding from the rain
now one of us must be insane

All the children play with gatling guns
tattoord moithers with their tattooed sons
the strong will wonder if they’re really strong
but surely we’ve been gone to long

But at least we’re working building tanks and planesC#m
and a raise is coming so we can’t complain
the master of the march has lost his mind
perhaps, some other war, this fabled farce would all be fine
but now we’re running out of time

Michael Considine & Robbie McMahon, “Spancilhill”

Putting a poem to music is an old folk tradition, one that I have written about elsewhere (see the posts about  Victor Jara and Joe Hill). The poem “Spancilhill” was written by an ordinary Irish worker who emigrated to the United States in the late 19th century. It was Michael Considine’s intention to save enough money to bring his sweetheart to the new world so they could get married and start a family.

Considine’s biographic details are sketchy, which is common amongst people of his class and era. The only reason he is known to history at all is this poem. He was in his early 20s when he left his home in County Clare and travelled across the sea, and he became very ill after a few years. When he realised he was dying, he wrote “Spancillhill” and sent it home.
The poem was kept safe by his family, and the authentic version came to the County Clare-born Irish singer Robbie McMahon several decades later.

Jim Carroll tells it this way:

“The story goes that, in the late 1930s or early ’40s, Robbie McMahon announced he was going to sing ‘Spancilhill’, when the woman of the house, Moira Keane, a relative of Michael Considine, handed Robbie McMahon the original text of the song saying “If ye are going to sing that song ye might as well sing it right.” This text was confirmed some time later, around 1953, at another session, when Robbie was asked to sing it and a local man first resisted him, saying: ‘Don’t sing that song’. When asked why not, the old man replied, ‘because ye don’t know it’. Robbie sang the song anyway using the version given to him by Moira Keane.
As he got into the song, he noticed the old man paying more attention, fiddling with his cap and looking a little flustered. When the song was finished the old man asked: ‘Where did you get that song?’ McMahon told him and the old man seemed both perturbed and pleased at the same time. The old man was John Considine, the nephew of the songs’ composer. John was seventy-six at that time and had kept his uncle’s song safe for seventy years. He gave his approval to Robbie’s performance after hearing that he had sung the original version.”

If you like your stories musically told, I recommend track 7 on this playlist– Robbie McMahon’s “Myself and Spancil Hill.” (You can also listen to his version of “Spancillhill” itself). Robbie McMahon’s lyrics are the ones reprinted below.

Spancilhill
by Michael Considine

Last night as I lay dreaming, of the pleasant days gone by,
My mind being bent on rambling and to Erin’s Isle I did fly.
I stepped on board a vision and sailed out with a will,
‘Till I gladly came to anchor at the Cross of Spancilhill.

Enchanted by the novelty, delighted with the scenes,
Where in my early childhood, I often times have been.
I thought I heard a murmur, I think I hear it still,
‘Tis that little stream of water at the Cross of Spancilhill.

And to amuse my fancy, I lay upon the ground,
Where all my school companions, in crowds assembled ’round.
Some have grown to manhood, while more their graves did fill,
Oh I thought we were all young again, at the Cross of Spancilhill.

It being on a Sabbath morning, I thought I heard a bell,
O’er hills and vallies sounded, in notes that seemed to tell,
That Father Dan was coming, his duty to fulfill,
At the parish church of Clooney, just one mile from Spancilhill.

And when our duty did commence, we all knelt down in prayer,
In hopes for to be ready, to climb the Golden Stair.
And when back home returning, we danced with right good will,
To Martin Moylan’s music, at the Cross of Spancilhill.

It being on the twenty third of June, the day before the fair,
Sure Erin’s sons and daughters, they all assembled there.
The young, the old, the stout and the bold, they came to sport and kill,
What a curious combination, at the Fair of Spancilhill.

I went into my old home, as every stone can tell,
The old boreen was just the same, and the apple tree over the well,
I miss my sister Ellen, my brothers Pat and Bill,
Sure I only met my strange faces at my home in Spancilhill.

I called to see my neighbors, to hear what they might say,
The old were getting feeble, and the young ones turning grey.
I met with tailor Quigley, he’s as brave as ever still,
Sure he always made my breeches when I lived in Spancilhill.

I paid a flying visit, to my first and only love,
She’s as pure as any lilly, and as gentle as a dove.
She threw her arms around me, saying Mike I love you still,
She is Mack the Rangers daughter, the Pride of Spancilhill.

I thought I stooped to kiss her, as I did in days of yore,
Says she Mike you’re only joking, as you often were before,
The cock crew on the roost again, he crew both loud and shrill,
And I awoke in California, far far from Spancilhill.

But when my vision faded, the tears came in my eyes,
In hope to see that dear old spot, some day before I die.
May the Joyous King of Angels, His Choicest Blessings spill,
On that Glorious spot of Nature, the Cross of Spancilhill.

There are of course many versions of this song by many (mostly Irish) singers (mostly, according to McMahon, wrong). I have picked this one because it is a wonderful duet, featuring two of my very favourites. You wouldn’t think Christy Moore and Shane McGowan would mesh, but they do.

Awesome Anti-Fascist Anthems: a Playlist

The featured image on this post comes from the essay written by Umberto Eco, one of the way too many great artists that we have lost over this screwed up year. If you apply these criteria to your own country, I am sure you will agree that we need this playlist. (Feel free to add your own expletives at this point).

Obviously there are many fine anti-fascist songs that are not yet on this list (Blaggers ITA are forthcoming, I promise), and I appreciate any suggestions, ideally accompanied by links. (I have in mind a history-in-music playlist, of songs by or about resisters of fascism in the 20th century…)

Further reading:

Umberto Eco, “Ur-fascism.” New York Review of Books, 22nd June 1995.

Josh Jones, “Umberto Eco Makes a List of the 14 Common Features of Fascism“, Open Culture, 22nd November 2016.

 

Revolutionary Love and Shaggy Dog Stories: the Best of Cosmo

Cosmo: I want to do a greatest hits album- except of course I don’t have any hits! What would be your track listing, just off the top of your head?

Me: Top of my head? I think not. Now I have the prefect excuse to listen to your whole output- again.

I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of it. I have had enormous fun putting my ideal “Best of Cosmo” compilation together. Here it is, feel free to argue about it with me. Oh, they are in no particular order, I leave arrangement to the expert, ie you.

PS: I haven’t listed any songs from Hiraeth, deliberately. Besides the fact that it’s your latest and should be marketed as such, I think it’s a complete album in itself and people should listen to it all the way through. Oh, and keeping the choices to a dozen is REALLY difficult.

CD1: Love, Innit?
Anarchic Romance from Cosmo

Evelyn
The Family
Issues and Tissues
Fling
My! You Go On
Julia
I Could Play You a Million Love Songs
That’s Style
Revolutionary Love
Jack’s-A-Daddie!
No Man’s Possession
Deep Cover

CD2: Street Songs and Shaggy Dog Stories
The Best of Cosmo

Strike! Occupy! Resist!
Clash Of Civilisations/George Bush RIP
Climate Change is Comin’
Making a Killing
Tarry No More By the Cross
Flip the Script
Oh to Be in England
The Butcher’s Apron
No Gods, No Masters
Music Hall War!
These Chains Won’t Ever Hold Me
Jubilee
We’re All Angry Now
Dream a Different Dream

Song, Struggle and Sorrow: Phil Ochs and Victor Jara

On May 9th, 1974, Phil Ochs organised a concert at Madison Square Garden. “An Evening with Salvador Allende” was a tribute to Chile’s peacefully elected socialist president, and a protest against the brutal military coup that had instituted a dictatorship the previous September.

Ochs had a personal reason for organising this concert. In the immediate aftermath of the coup, soldiers poured through Santiago, imprisoning thousands of Chileans in the local boxing stadium. They turned that stadium into a death camp. One of the people they arrested was the folksinger and activist Victor Jara, already a legend in Chile and a consistent supporter of the socialist government.

“Victor Jara was a friend of mine,” Phil Ochs told Harry Hampstead after Jara’s death. Jara had introduced himself to Ochs when the latter visited Chile in August of 1971. “Why don’t you come with me and sing to the workers up in the copper mines?,” he asked Ochs, and a friendship was born. (No doubt Ochs sang “Hazard, Kentucky“, one of the songs he wrote for striking coal miners back home).
Ochs described Jara as “the Pete Seeger of Chile,” which is precise.

There are several versions of  the details of Victor Jara’s last days. The decades long attempt to find and charge the guards who tortured and murdered him has also provided new testimony.

It remains clear though that Jara was deliberately singled out by the officers guarding the stadium. He was not hard to spot, since he continued to do what he always did, circulating amongst the prisoners who had been arrested and taken to the boxing stadium, singing with them, encouraging them, helping out where he could.

When found, Jara’s body showed that he had been brutally beaten, his hands smashed, and that he had been shot to pieces.

Phil Ochs: “They threw his body with the other corpses. Just another dead body. His wife found him a week later. When that happened, I said, ‘All right, that’s the end of Phil Ochs.'”

As I wrote here, Jara’s death contributed noticeably to Ochs’ decline. Yet he struggled on, paying tribute to his friend as best he could, organising the concert and persuading Bob Dylan to join the lineup in order to boost ticket sales.

It was at this concert that the ballad “Victor Jara” was born. Just beforehand, Arlo Guthrie composed a tune for the poem written by Adrian Mitchell, and performed it during his set. The version below is sung by the inestimable Irish singer Christy Moore.

Insurge, “Political Prisoners”

Slavery is alive and well in the prison system, but by the end of this year, it won’t be anymore. This is a call to end slavery in America. This call goes directly to the slaves themselves. We are not making demands or requests of our captors, we are calling ourselves to action. To every prisoner in every state and federal institution across this land, we call on you to stop being a slave, to let the crops rot in the plantation fields, to go on strike and cease reproducing the institutions of your confinement.
Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, “Announcement of Nationally Co-ordinated Prisoner Work Stoppage.”

Lyrics:

This song is for all the political prisoners, both here and around the world, for the people incarcerated for fraud, stealing, and larceny, and all other crimes involving property, for it’s nothing but the state protecting the rich from the poor, ever since we lost our common ground, that’s what the law’s been for.

Chorus

Yeah, I see no criminals, i see before me political prisoners.
I see no criminals, i see before me political prisoners.

This song is for all my friends, for those inside for drug offences, does the state really care about your own misguided will? – no. They’re protecting the profits of the pharmaceutical and tobacco corporations.
and you must suffer, for the oligopoly of the few.

This song is for all the political prisoners, for anyone who wants to live, and live like they know they should, the indigenous, minorities, the mentally ill,the passionate few, as we’re fighting for justice, they may take away our freedom to walk, they’ll never take away our freedom to dream!

“Political Prisoners”, by iNsuRge. Track #4 from the album Power to the Poison People, released in 1996.