Phil Ochs Tribute Concert: Odradeks Café 17 December 2015

by Carene Lydia Lopez on December 23, 2015

Fifty years ago, Phil Ochs performed at the Interlude Café in Kew Gardens, Queens, NYC. Now the café is called Odradeks and an SRO crowd gathered together to celebrate Phil’s birthday. December 19 would have been Phil’s 75th birthday and in celebration there were concerts performed all over the US, Canada, and the UK.

Phil was a contemporary of Bob Dylan’s. Known as a topical songwriter, one of his albums was called All the News That’s Fit to Sing. If there was a benefit, Phil was there with his guitar. He was there at the start of the Yippies and testified at the Chicago 8 7 trial. Pete Seeger called Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan the two greatest songwriters of their generation. There was also a romantic side to Phil and some of his later albums contained beautiful orchestrations. But Phil suffered from manic depression and he self-medicated with alcohol. His last years weren’t pretty and he was a suicide at 35yo.

I’ve been a fan for a long time. My end of year project for my Politics and the Counterculture class in college was an audio project with interviews about the life of Phil Ochs interspersed with his songs about the rise and fall of the Sixties counterculture as evidenced by Phil’s life.

If you want to find out more about Phil there are two great biographies and the American Masters episode, “Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune,” which will be available online for free viewing for another month.

The evening was filled with Phil’s songs and stories about Phil. One woman (Carol) told the most amusing story about trying to meet Phil and leaving messages for him at his hotel, only to run into him on the street and having a great conversation with him.

Joel Landy, who put the evening together, opened with “I Ain’t Marching Anymore.” The story I read is that during the Chicago 7 trial, Phil recited the song (not being allowed to play it with his guitar) and when he got to the line – “It’s always the old who lead us to the war; It’s always the young to fall” – Phil looked directly at Judge Hoffman.

David Massengill performed “Crucifixion,” which Phil sang for Robert F. Kennedy. During the song RFK realized the song was about his brother and started to cry. Then Massengill sang Dave Van Ronk’s “He was a Friend of Mine,” which Van Ronk sang at the memorial concert for Phil Ochs (broadcast on PBS).

Ann Price, who sounds a lot like Joan Baez, performed Baez’s version of “There But for Fortune.” She then sang Ewan MacColl’s “The Ballad of the Carpenter,” which Phil had recorded.

Landy returned with “Too Many Martyrs,” and Landy added a verse about Trayvon Martin.

Lydia Adams Davis sang “Small Circle of Friends.” The first verse is about the Kitty Genovese murder and, coincidentally, the café was on the same block where Genovese’s apartment was and where she was killed. She would have passed the café after the initial stabbing on the way to her apartment. Next Davis sang “Jim Dean of Indiana,” which has a beautiful melody.

Richard Benson sang one of the best songs ever written about the US and one that rivals Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” When playing “Power and the Glory” on the guitar, his sister asked him what the song was. Phil answered that it would be the best song he ever wrote. The re-recording was a fife and drum version that was the B-side to “Here’s to the State of Richard Nixon” (a re-working of “Here’s to the State of Mississippi”) that was Phil’s last single and his bicentennial gift to the nation. Benson then sang “Draft Dodger Rag.” Phil had a great sense of humor as you can tell from that song or “Love Me, I’m a Liberal.”

Steve Vitoff was wearing a Walt Whitman t-shirt and pointed out how Whitman wanted to end the Civil War with poetry like Phil wanted to end the Vietnam War with song. Vitoff performed “What’s That I Hear?” and “Pleasures of the Harbor,” which he said was about a one-night stand.

Next was Ben Silver on guitar and vocals and Barry Kornhauser on cello. The performed “Is There Anybody Here?” and “One More Parade.”

Then everyone returned to the stage (actually a small space marked out on the café floor) and sang “When I’m Gone,” which I think is the song that every celebration of Phil Ochs ended with.

There’s no place in this world where I’ll belong when I’m gone
And I won’t know the right from the wrong when I’m gone
And you won’t find me singin’ on this song when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

And I won’t feel the flowing of the time when I’m gone
All the pleasures of love will not be mine when I’m gone
My pen won’t pour out a lyric line when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

And I won’t breathe the bracing air when I’m gone
And I can’t even worry ’bout my cares when I’m gone
Won’t be asked to do my share when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

And I won’t be running from the rain when I’m gone
And I can’t even suffer from the pain when I’m gone
Can’t say who’s to praise and who’s to blame when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

Won’t see the golden of the sun when I’m gone
And the evenings and the mornings will be one when I’m gone
Can’t be singing louder than the guns when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

All my days won’t be dances of delight when I’m gone
And the sands will be shifting from my sight when I’m gone
Can’t add my name into the fight while I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

And I won’t be laughing at the lies when I’m gone
And I can’t question how or when or why when I’m gone
Can’t live proud enough to die when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

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