Sunday, December 10, 2006

Call it 'Love' or call it 'Reason'

Recently Foolish Owl posted the lyrics to Love Me I'm a Liberal. It's a great song. If you haven't read the lyrics you should go do that now.

Reading the lyrics to 'Love Me I'm a Liberal' made me sad. There was a time in my life I loved Phil Ochs. When I'm Gone was on the short-list of songs I wanted played at my funeral. I still have his live album and it's wonderful.

But I don't listen to his music any more, not since I read a biography of his life. Phil Ochs was a great lyricist, but he was also violent and abusive.

Like most music genres political folk is male dominated, and there's a lot of sexism in it. When the lock-out ended it took me a while to clean out the sexism of Talking Union Blues so I felt comfortable posting it on my blog. The original third verse of Union Maid, is so offensive that it makes me giggle. That doesn't bother me that much. I either listen to the music in its original form, or (more likely) a recent re-recording that has lyrics I like better. The nice things about folk music is that everyone changes the lyrics up sometimes.

It is regrettable, but understandable, that such sexism was acceptable in political movements in the past. But I can overlook that in a way I can't overlook men like Phil Ochs sang for freedom and abused the women around them.

It's particularly political folk music that I have this reaction to. Other forms of art I'm generally less fussy about. I'm not going to stop loving In My Life, because 50% is a conservative estimate of the number of men in the Beatles who were violent and abusive.

But political folk music, at least the stuff I listen to, is music about liberation. Abusing the power society gives you is fundamental incompatible with anyone's liberation. Just like I wouldn't be interested in a brilliant interpretation of When I'm Gone, from someone who didn't mean it. I lost interest in Phil Och's interpretation of 'When I'm Gone' to the extent that he didn't mean it.

I want to emphasise that my reaction is not one of political purity, but my emotional reaction to the disconnect between the song and what I know of the person who wrote it. I'd be interested in how other people feel.


  1. Good luck finding great music made by someone who's not fucked up in some significant way - the two tend to go together. It's also unnecessary - listening to someone's music doesn't constitute an endorsement of every act they've ever carried out.

  2. Your quote at the top of your blog had me laughing out loud. The sad thing is someone actually said that! Oh well!

    As to folk music and agendas and politics and being generally of unsound mind - it's true, we are all a little wierd. But folk music CAN change the world! Hey - we complained about the conditions in coal mining in the UK in folk songs for years and years - now its gone. So now we sing about how sad it is the coal mining is all gone.

  3. PM I think you are misunderstanding a little - I think what Maia is saying is that she feels that Ochs' words of liberation are insincere as he doesn't practice it in his private life. I can understand the sentiment, there are people (ok, men) who I definitely don't want to work with again in left wing circles, as I know now of their abuse and hypocritical nature.

  4. to define Phil Ochs by a biography which may or may not be factual and then to apply it to his song lyrics misses the point. He was suicidal, an alcholic, bitter over his treatment by the media etc. who glorified Dylan and forgot Ochs, etc. etc. His lyrics as all music should stand for themselves. They may in many cases reflect how he was feeling, or his views, however to dismiss him because of his human foibles, well lets just diss everyone, cause the first who is not guilty can cast the first stone as someones son once said.

  5. Anonymous9:15 pm

    eugene is pretty close to the mark. mozart was not a nice guy in many respects, nor was beethoven. oh sorry, you're talking political commentator musos. and you want one that plays the right chords and is funky and also a saint. disneyland might be a place to start your search.