The Radicalisation of Phil Ochs, the Radicalisation of the Sixties



Publication Details

Ashbolt, A. (2018). The Radicalisation of Phil Ochs, the Radicalisation of the Sixties. In A. Dillane, M. J. Power, E. Devereux & A. Haynes (Eds.), Songs of Social Protest : International Perspectives (pp. 87-99). London, United Kingdom: Rowman & Littlefield. https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781786601254

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In this chapter, I argue that singer-songwriter and activist Phil Ochs (1940-1976) not only represented, but also shaped the politics of radicalism in the 1960s United States, particularly in the years up to 1968. Issues of civil rights, war and peace, free speech, student power, cultural rebellion, women's and gay liberation, shook American society to the core in the 1960s. To use the words of two former Sixties' radicals and distinguished historians, it was a decade of "civil war" (Isserman and Kazin 2000) and during that time, for many activists like Ochs, a radical commitment both grew and deepened, particularly as the American War in Vietnam intensified. I argue that Ochs was one of the most important of the young, politically committed singer-songwriters of the 1960s and yet comparatively few commentators have highlighted his significant contribution (obvious exceptions include Eliot 1978; Schumacher 1996, 1998; Eyerman and Jamison 1998, 128-30; Kemp 1998; Browser 2010). My aim is in part to rectify this and to illustrate the dialectical relationship between Ochs and the movement. As Ochs became more radical, so did the movement, shifting quickly from reform to resistance and then to revolution as strategies for social change. Yet Ochs did more than chart this course. He helped forge it. Thus this chapter examines Ochs as a key singer-songwriter of the 1960s through songs of his that spoke to, and about, the politics of social upheaval that the civil rights, student new left, antiwar and counter-culture movements were involved with.

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