Phil Ochs and the unspeakable (MUST-READ)
by Edward Curtin / November 16th, 2018
They say they can’t believe it, it’s a sacrilegious shame
Now, who would want to hurt such a hero of the game?
But you know I predicted it; I knew he had to fall
How did it happen? I hope his suffering was small.
Tell me every detail, I’ve got to know it all,
And do you have a picture of the pain?
— Phil Ochs, “The Crucifixion”
You are aware of only one unrest;
Oh, never learn to know the other!
Two souls, alas, are dwelling in my breast,
And one is striving to forsake its brother.
— Goethe, Faust
President John Kennedy was assassinated by the U.S. national-security state, led by the C.I.A., on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. That is a fact beyond dispute, except for those who wish to engage in pseudo-debates to deny the obvious. I prefer not to, since there is nothing to debate.
But there is everything to mourn, even after fifty-five years, first, of course, for the man himself, then for those who have suffered and died for bearing witness to the truth about his assassination, and finally for the consequences of his murder, because it cut savagely into any pretense of American innocence and set the stage for the nihilistic tragedies that have followed, including the murders of Malcolm X, MLK, RFK, the September 11, 2001 attacks, and the ongoing “war on terror.”
Today, JFK’s killers have tightened their choke-hold on the country and on the throats of those wishing to tell the truth. Their penetration of the corporate mass media is wide and deep, and the narratives they spin can make an innocent soul’s head spin. Everything is twisted to serve their interests. With a click of a finger, truth and falsehood rotate like spokes on a rapidly turning wheel – spooks turning spokes in a game of hide and seek meant to confuse and derange the public. Constant befuddlement is the name of this racket.
It’s a melancholy task to contemplate the parts played, consciously or unconsciously, by various actors in this deadly game, not least because one’s own naiveté prompts one sometimes to question or abandon those one once admired and to dive deeply into the twisted minds and hearts of fellow humans. What follows concerns one such man’s strange story as told by another man, whose story is perhaps stranger, and what their relationships with U.S. intelligence, if any, might suggest about our situation today.
Oh I am just a student, Sir, and only want to learn
But it’s hard to read through the risin’ smoke of the books that you like to burn
So I’d like to make a promise and I’d like to make a vow
That when I got something to say, Sir, I’m gonna say it now
Those are the words of the folk singer, Phil Ochs, from his 1966 song “I’m Going To Say It Now.” Ochs wrote and performed passionate protest songs during the 1960s that inspired many to speak and act in opposition to the Vietnam War and many other injustices. He was a fiery, sardonic activist whose music, such as “I Ain’t Marching Any More” induced many to refuse military induction and to burn their draft cards. He, not Bob Dylan, was the committed voice of the 1960s radical anti-war folk music world, singing at events and rallies across the country, culminating at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago when the Chicago police rioted and savagely beat anti-war protesters, and Yippies and Hippies gathered in Lincoln Park to listen to Ochs sing defiant songs to keep up their spirits. But Ochs’s own spirit was broken that terrible year of so many deaths, which started his long descent into alcoholism and mental chaos that ended with his suicide in 1976.
I was one of those who was inspired by his music. I still am. Soulful and satiric, biting and beautiful, stirring and inspiriting, it has a power few can equal. But I have come to a point where I feel compelled to broach a mysterious story involving Ochs, something that when I first heard it in passing shocked me terribly. No, I thought, that can’t be true; it’s impossible.
But the more I have researched it, the truer it seems – with emphasis on the word “seems” – for there is only one source for the story, a source I don’t doubt but can’t confirm.