DJ Sue

DJ Sue
Welcome to my blog. I’m a DJ in Second Life and I find myself discussing the music I’m playing with many of those in attendance at my shows. Unfortunately, when I am busy DJing, I can’t participate and discuss the music as fully as I would like. I’m hoping this blog can help change that. Look here before my set to see if I might be playing something interesting today or maybe after to see if discussion on a topic might continue. You are invited to join in the conversation and leave comments.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Phil Ochs (Tapes from California)



SUE’S SUNDAY SOJOURN: Each week Sue will showcase a particular artist or band during her entire two hour set.  Each week, prior to the set, there will be a blog post where she will write about her memories, favorite stories or share other interesting tidbits about the artist.  The idea here is not to tell the story of the band or play two hours of their greatest hits.  The idea behind Sue’s Sunday Sojourn will be to spend time with Sue, down in her music vault.  As she puts together the set, she will reminisce and share special memories.  “I remember when this came out,” or, “I recall hearing this for the first time and I thought…”  She might share little known facts, favorite memories, fun stories or maybe even some personal experiences. 

The sets will have plenty of the big hits but be ready for a few obscure tunes that may be her personal favorites.  She will probably include a few rarities or possibly unreleased material, along with other assorted curios.  So join her every Sunday night from 7-9 PM SLT as she lets you into her world.

Prologue: This will be my last regular Sue’s Sunday Sojourn.  I wrote this one about the end of February and I saved it because I knew it had to be the last one.  When you read it, you will understand.  I must give credit to my co-author, Phil Ochs, as I have used lyrics from his songs extensively because they seemed to describe what was happening to me.  Please read them as they add to the narrative.  I will wind up with an Epilogue and share with you some interesting events that surround this post.  I will also wrap up the series and give you a peak into the future.

Phil Ochs (Tapes from California)

  

"The voice is spare ... guitar playing is rudimentary, and the melodies of his songs are erratic mixtures of brilliance and mediocrity."
Robert Shelton, The New York Times

Words like “mediocrity,” “rudimentary,” and “second rate,” were often used by critics when discussing Phil Ochs, so why would I being doing a Sojourn on a second rate, rudimentary, mediocre folk singer?  For one thing, he was a big part of my musical world growing up because my brother was so deeply into him.  That is the most obvious reason but if I look more closely beneath the surface, I find possibly the most important reason.  At least to me, Phil Ochs embodied the most important facet of the 60’s, questioning authority.

My generation wasn’t going to kowtow (look it up) to my parents’ generation just because they won World War II.  We were going to think for ourselves, make our own decisions and freely disagree where we wanted to.  The songs of Phil Ochs were full of that sentiment.  Some would say that they carried it in the most eloquent manner possible.  While the critics of the establishment were using words like “mediocre,” people like my brother were describing his lyrics as “pure genius.”

“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 too young to die.”
(from The War is Over, 1968)

My brother was an avid antiwar protester and he was a great fan of the acoustic renderings of Joan Baez, Tom Paxton and of course, Phil Ochs.  I was starting to lean more to the hard rock of Jimi Hendrix, the Doors and the Stones but I was also a fan of my brother’s music and I did believe in what it stood for.  My brother and my father, a World War II veteran, didn’t see eye to eye.  As a result of one major fight, where each said things they would not take back, it was decided that my brother would go to live with Grandma in San Francisco.  The culture in the Bay Area only served to further ignite the hippie war protester within him.

He would come for visits and we would spend a lot of time together.  There was a very special bond between us.  He would play his guitar while I sat and listened and then he would play those familiar opening notes that were so unique.  We would begin to sing together:

“Oh, I marched to the battle of New Orleans
At the end of the early British war.
The young land started growing;
The young blood started flowing
But I ain't marching anymore.”
(from I Ain’t Marching Anymore, 1965)

My parents hated us singing protest songs together but they never forbade us from doing so.  I enjoyed the bonding time but I was worried about what the future held for him and if he might be sent to die in Vietnam.  My brother turned 18 in 1969 and he would eventually be found “unfit for military service” after his physical and would not be sent to Vietnam.  Relief! I did have a second older brother that might have been drafted at the very end of the war but he got a student deferment.  We were not as close as me and my oldest brother, nor was there the shared musical connection, so he plays very little part in my Sojourns.  (This other brother was the one I went on the camping trip with in my ELO Sojourn.)

When my brother moved away in 1966, we began writing to each other.  One day in 1967 instead of a letter, I got a package from him in the mail.  My mother had placed it in my room and it was there when I got home from school.  I opened it and took out a reel of tape.  There was only one place to play it in the house and that was on my brother’s tape machine that was still in his room.  That night, my father found me listening to the tape in my brother’s room.  He chided me for not respecting my brother’s things.  I pointed out that he sent it to me knowing that this was the only way for me to easily listen to it.  He begrudgingly saw my point and left me alone.

My brother was never much for activities that required sitting still like writing a letter, so the tapes started coming instead.  I would still sometimes write back but I soon found myself recording over the tapes he sent me and sending them back to him.  In this way we kept up with each other’s lives and I filled him in on what was going on with mom, dad and our two brothers.  After I got a tape, I would bring the family up to date on my oldest brother, usually over dinner.  It was typical for him to be high as he rambled on the tape and sometimes he was even tripping on acid.  He shared it all with me and I usually had to give the family the censored version.  It made me proud inside that he trusted me with those secrets.

In 1968 I got a rather remarkable tape.  It was not unusual for us to play parts of records for each other on these recordings.  My brother was excited because Phil Ochs had a new album and guess what it was called?  Tape from California!  No shit!  How appropriate!  He played me part of the title cut for me.

“In the corner of the night
He handed me his water pipe.
His eyes were searching deep inside my head.
Here's what he said:

‘Sorry I can't stop and talk now,
I'm in kind of a hurry anyhow,
But I'll send you a tape from California.’”
(from Tape from California, 1968)

Wow!  It was that afternoon that I felt that somehow it was me, my brother and Phil Ochs.  Phil knew of our little tradition and was somehow communicating to us.

I recall one time, and I never learned why, that he sent me a recording on a SoundScriber record.  It was on a cobalt blue floppy record like the ones shown in the picture below.  I tried everything to get it to play on my record player.  My father, after watching me struggle, brought home a SoundScriber dictation machine from his office (they happened to have several) and I was finally able to hear my brother.



The war in Vietnam raged on.  Lyndon Johnson had escalated Vietnam from a police action involving about 23,000 US troops when he took office, to a full scale war involving over 500,000.  He had lied to us on many accounts as he sent more and more troops to Southeast Asia.  Richard Nixon won the election in 1968 by promising to end the war.  Instead, he had lied too, further escalating things not only in Vietnam, but also Laos and Cambodia, countries we were not even at war with.  We had been lied to by “Lyin’ Lyndon” (a democrat) and “Tricky Dick” (a republican).

“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.”
(from The War is Over, 1968)

It was about 1971 or 1972 that I began wearing a POW bracelet.  The idea was that you would wear the name of a POW or MIA soldier in Vietnam so that they were not forgotten.  I was against the war but not against the soldiers fighting it.  I swore not remove it until he came home, which was what everyone who wore one did.  I felt our Government was needlessly wasting their lives in a place where we didn’t belong.  Then there were the horrors they were forced to live through in the service of their country, my country.  Years later, I’d still be wearing it when I learned his story.  The guy whose name I wore was captured on the ground in Laos in 1968.  We were supposedly not involved in Laos.  Lyin’ Lyndon strikes again!

“It's written in the ashes of the village towns we burn.
It's written in the empty bed of the fathers unreturned
And the chocolate in the children’s eyes will never understand,
When you're white boots marching in a yellow land.”
(from White Boots Marching in a Yellow Land, 1968)

Tricky Dick got elected to a second term in 1972 and soon the war did begin to wind down.  The Paris Peace Accords were signed in 1973.  The United States would be withdrawing its troops from Vietnam and peace had been negotiated.  That was the year that saw all of the American POWs returned home who were being held in North and South Vietnam.  Laos and Cambodia were not part of the Paris Peace Accords so the prisoners there were not addressed.  (They remain unaddressed to this day.)  The guy on my wrist was taken in Laos and did not come home.  However, it seemed that the war in Vietnam was over.

“I believe the war is over,
It's over, it's over.”
(from The War is Over, 1968)

Though most of the troops came home, we still had troops there in a non-combat role.  This was all in accord with the treaty.  Eventually, after the majority of our troops were withdrawn, North Vietnam broke the treaty and attacked South Vietnam.  Tricky Dick had promised the South that if North Vietnam ever broke the treaty, he would see to it they were supported with at least air strikes by the United States.  This support would not come because Tricky Dick was caught being tricky.  The Watergate scandal was breaking and in the end, Dick Nixon had more to worry about than Vietnam.  The scandal would cause him the Presidency and he would resign 9 August 1974.  Even though we only had minimal troops involved, the Vietnam War continued.

I still can see him smiling there and waving at the crowd,
As he drove through the music of the band,
And never even knowing no more time would be allowed,
Not for the president and not for the man.
(from That Was the President, 1965)

By this time, my brother was living on his own and had moved out of Grandma’s.  The tapes were more sporadic in their arrival and when I did get to listen to him, I could tell he was tripping on acid more and more.  Often he wouldn’t make sense and I hid this from our parents.

“The flower-power fuller brush man
Is farming out his friends.
I stabbed him with my stem
And then I tapped his toes with my rose.
He crawled around inside himself;
Now he's crawling after me,
Dropping acid in my tea.”
(from Tape from California, 1968)

1975-1976: And It Seems That There Are no More Songs


South Vietnam was not ready to defend itself from the North and no help would be coming from the United States.  Throughout April 1975, the North began taking over the South and was closing in on the ultimate prize, the city of Saigon.  It was on 30 April 1975 that American troops would engage the North Vietnamese for the last time as they fought alongside South Vietnamese soldiers, trying to hold back the advancing forces to buy time for the evacuation.  On that day the last Americans would lose their lives and earn a place on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington DC.  We all sat glued to the TV as the news unfolded.

Armed Forces Radio gave the signal for the evacuation to begin by reporting, “The temperature in Saigon is 105 degrees and rising.”  This was followed by the playing of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, the predetermined signal to begin the evacuation and get to one of the rendezvous points.  (Some even referred to this signal as “Christmas in April.”)  People began swarming to the US Embassy and other predetermined pickup points.  The problem was that everyone wanted out of South Vietnam including the resident Vietnamese.  They all feared what atrocities the North would bring.

The helicopters started ferrying people out from the Embassy and other key locations to the American warships off shore in the South China Sea.  Soon, the carriers and other ships had no more room on their decks and we watched the news footage as they pushed helicopters off the edge to make room for more, one after the other.  Some pilots were ordered to drop off their refugees and then to ditch in the ocean where boats were ready to rescue them from the water.  It was all too surreal. (See video below.)



Funny, I thought that I would be over-joyed the day the war ended.  Now, watching these images, I recall crying tears of sorrow.  My country had lost the war.  We were leaving people behind who were depending on us to protect them.  I thought of the roughly 60,000 Americans that had given their lives and for what?  Did it make a difference?  Did they die for nothing?  I thought about the guy on my wrist.

“The comic and the beauty queen are dancing on the stage.
Raw recruits are lining up like coffins in a cage.
We're fighting in a war we lost before the war began.
We're the white boots marching in a yellow land.”
(from White Boots Marching in a Yellow Land, 1968)

By the time the choppers were being tossed overboard in 1975, Phil Ochs was drinking heavily.  He would rant on about how the FBI had a file on him or about some other paranoid delusion.  For a while, he even took on the persona of John Butler Train, who had supposedly murdered Ochs and took his place.  He soon became destitute and homeless.  In January 1976, he was taken in by his sister, Sonny.  She made sure that he got psychiatric help.

“Hello, hello, hello, is anybody home?
I've only called to say I'm sorry.
The drums are in the dawn,
And all the voice was gone,
And it seems that there are no more songs.”
(from No More Songs, 1970)

My brother disappeared and fell off of the face of the Earth in late 1975.  Before this, his tapes had taken on a darker, more hopeless demeanor.  He was usually tripping on acid and I could no longer make out very much that was intelligible.  I was scared but I dared not say anything to my parents.  Now I wasn’t so sure.  Had I done the right thing being quiet about his drug use all of this time?  The entire family worried, not knowing if he was alive or dead.

In early 1976 we got word that he was in police custody in Marin County, California.  As the days slowly marched on, it was deemed that he was not fit to stand trial.  My father flew out to California to be with his son.  In April of 1976, my brother was committed to the State Hospital at Napa, California and my father was appointed Conservator of his Person by the Court.  I began hearing a term in relation to my brother’s case, “LSD Induced Psychosis.”

“He must have lost his mind.
He should be put away, right away.”
(from Tape from California, 1968)

On 9 April 1976, Sonny came home to find her brother, Phil, hanging by the neck.  In a little under a year, the Vietnam War had ended, my brother was committed to a mental institution and Phil Ochs was dead by his own hand at age 35.  Many have put forth that the song, No More Songs, was really a suicide note.  If so, he had been planning it for five years.  (No More Songs is the source for a couple of the quotes in this section.)  The song is from his 1970 album, Greatest Hits.  The title was a joke and the album contained all new tracks.  The slogan on the back jestingly said, “"Fifty Phil Ochs fans can't be wrong!”   I have often wondered if without a war in Vietnam, life may have lost meaning for Phil.  It seems that I always associated him with it but now he was gone, along with the war.

Once I knew a saint who sang upon a stage.
He told me about the world, his lover,
A ghost with no name
Stands ragged in the rain,
And it seems that there are no more songs.”
(from No More Songs, 1970)

LSD Induced Psychosis


Let me start by saying there is a lot of conflicting information today on this condition and in the mid 70’s things were even more befuddled.  Some will tell you that it is only of limited duration yet others say that it can be permanent, but only if there are predisposing conditions, such as Schizophrenia.  Maybe he had the predisposing condition, or maybe not, but my brother would never come back from his mental Illness.  The doctors back then blamed it on his use of LSD and no one has ever put forth any different explanations.

“He wants to save his soul,
Rock and roll.
One of us must understand
It's not the drug that makes the man.”
(from Tape from California, 1968)

When I would see him, there was recognition in his eyes and he’d lovingly hug me tight.  We remained close throughout his confinement.  At times he was the brother I knew but what was lost was the brother that I could have a conversation with.  He spoke in nonsensical quips.  Eventually, he would be able to live in a halfway house but he was never again free and on his own.

In 1979, I visited him without my father present on the trip.  My brother took me to a nearby park and produced a joint from his pocket.  We shared it there that sunny afternoon and it was the only time we ever got high together.  He still didn’t make much sense but we felt the closest we had in ten years.  I still associate the smell of pot with my brother.  Together, we watched the world go by in a stoned haze.

“Then a poster of a movie star walked by;
He must have been high.”
(from Tape from California, 1968)

More Endings


In 1991, our father died.  After the funeral, I boarded a plane for California.  I needed to tell my brother face to face.  I needed to hold him.  When I got there and shared the news, we held each other and wept together for a long time.

I returned home after a couple of days only to learn that I needed to return to California.  There was to be a court hearing to decide my brother’s future and appoint a new conservator.  My mother would be coming with me and it was obvious that she would be appointed.  I had no clue what the court needed with me.

“Seems like only yesterday I climbed aboard the plane,
Raping distance in the sky, while diving in champagne.”
(from One Way Ticket Home, 1970)

The day of the hearing arrived and the judge started by saying that in the case where a conservator who is a family member dies, the court is wont to take into consideration their wishes in looking to appoint a successor.  It seems my father had written a letter a number of years ago addressing what his wishes were if he were to pass.  As the letter was read, I began to tear up.  My father was talking to us from beyond the grave and he was describing the close and beautiful relationship I had with my brother.  It had never occurred to me that through the years he had seen how close we were and silently celebrated it.  You could hear his relief that his son would always have someone who loved him and would put him ahead of themselves.

The judge asked me if I knew what being a conservator entailed and would I be willing to take the position for my brother.  Through my sobs, I managed to say, “yes.”  Everyone in the room was happy except for one person, my mother.  She was absolutely incensed and she caused a scene in the courtroom.  “How dare you not appoint me?  After all, I’m his mother!”  The judge told her to sit down and be quiet.  Mom countered by saying that she would not and that the judge had no right to appoint me over her.  It was inevitable and I soon saw my mother physically removed from the courtroom.

“Look outside the window, there's a woman being grabbed.”
(from Outside a Small Circle of Friends, 1967)

My mom always needs to be the center of attention.  Not only did she fail to even make it to being a topic of discussion in court, I think she felt betrayed by her husband, my father.  I don’t think he ever discussed it with her and I think she felt betrayed that he would choose me over her.  Maybe there was some jealousy over what I had with my brother that she did not.  Regardless, it started a “below the surface” animosity towards me, which still exists.

I took over my brother’s care and flew out to California four times a year to spend time with him, meet with his doctors and lawyers and see to his care.  Hand in hand with his chronic psychosis came a three pack a day cigarette habit.  Over the years, this eventually led to emphysema.  In the fall of 1995 he became bedridden and on what would be my last visit out to see him I signed a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order.  He was dying.

“The cigarette of doubt,
The candle is blown out.”
(from Pleasures of the Harbor, 1967)

About a week before Christmas, I got a call from the facility.  At first I feared the worst but the voice on the other end told me that my brother wished to speak to me.  This was really odd.  My brother had never called me.  In his state it was always me that initiated the calls.  I had a long talk with him and he was rather lucid.  It was almost like talking to him back in the early 70’s, before the psychosis fully took its hold.  His breathing was labored and you could hear that he was fighting to talk.  As we got towards the end of the conversation, he apologized for all he had put me through.  He told me he loved me.  He ended the conversation with a statement, which at the time I found to be rather cryptic.  “We thought we could change the world.”  Those would be the last words he would ever speak to me.

When I hung up the phone, I was certain that we would speak again.  I expected he had a couple of months to live.  I got a call the following morning informing me that my brother had passed during the night.  I’m convinced that when he reached out to call me the day before, it was because he knew on some level that his end was near and he just needed to say good bye to me.  He called no one else in the family.  I recall sitting there and thinking of his last words to me as I wept.  I recalled singing protest songs with him way back when, like this one…

“It's always the old to lead us to the war.
It's always the young to fall.
Now look at all we've won with the saber and the gun;
Tell me is it worth it all.”
(from I Ain’t Marching Anymore, 1965)

Suddenly, my brother’s last words to me came into focus.  Our generation believed we could change the world but I think he was also implying the big question.  Did we really change anything in the end or were we just like any other generation?  Our parents’ generation was known as the Greatest Generation after winning World War II.  We wanted to show them that we were even greater and we were committed to a world of love and peace.  Just because they had used a nuclear weapon to end a war, did not make them great.

“For I flew the final mission in the Japanese sky,
Set off the mighty mushroom roar.
When I saw the cities burning I knew that I was learning
That I ain't marching anymore.”
(from I Ain’t Marching Anymore, 1965)

My mother finally had her day.  She took over the funeral and she was the center of attention.  She wore a constant, “Woe is me, I lost my son,” attitude to attract attention and sympathy from others.  It was a lavish affair, bordering on the garish and always centering on her.  After the graveside ceremony, I stood over the coffin for a bit, sort of a final farewell.  I thought of his life and how he had turned to drugs, always looking for a greater high.  This need was so great that he took more and more until he just didn’t come back.  Maybe he finally had found that permanent high in his psychosis, a psychosis that got him committed to the State Hospital at 25 years of age, never to be free again.  I wept as I placed a carnation on his casket, quietly singing…

“And now it can be told;
I'm a quarter of a century old,
But I'm half a century high.”
(from Half a Century High, 1968)

At the repast afterwards, my mother once again made herself the center of attention.  She started saying how she was so distraught that her son had died such a horrible death.  She described him struggling to breathe and no one lifting a finger to help him.  And why?  Because someone thought it was simpler to sign a paper denying him care.  My two surviving brothers (one older and one younger) intervened and tried to quiet her down.  Then she dropped the bomb and chastised me publicly.  “You killed your brother.  He’d be alive today if you hadn’t have signed that paper.  I hope you go to your grave with that thought and the thought of him struggling to breathe and no one helping him!”  I broke into tears and ran from the gathering, not to return.

“Look outside the window…
They've dragged her to the bushes and now she's being stabbed.
Maybe we should call the cops and try to stop the pain
But Monopoly is so much fun, I'd hate to blow the game,
And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody
Outside of a small circle of friends.”
(from Outside a Small Circle of Friends, 1967)

We didn’t talk for over two years.

I declare the war is over; it’s over.


The Paris Peace Accords were signed on 27 January 1973.  Many will tell you that the Vietnam War ended 18 days later, on Valentine’s Day, when the American Prisoners being held in Vietnam came home.  Others would say that the war didn’t end until 30 April 1975, when Saigon finally fell to the North Vietnamese. 

It was on that date that a Marine detachment was defending the embassy while the evacuation by the helicopters went on.  The US Ambassador insisted on being the last one out and when he was aboard a helicopter and had taken off in the predawn darkness, the signal was radioed. “The tiger is out.”  That was supposed to mean that the Ambassador was safe and away.  In the confusion, most people took it to mean that all Americans had been evacuated and the airlift had ended.  There would be no more helicopters out of Vietnam.  That final Marine detachment retreated to the roof of the embassy as the sun came up and realized that they had been left behind.  One has been quoted as saying, “It looks like this is our Alamo.”

Trust your leaders where mistakes are almost never made
And they're afraid that I'm afraid.
I'm afraid the war is over.”
(from The War is Over, 1968)

Luckily, someone had spotted them and got word out to the ships off shore.  There were Marines on the embassy roof.  A CH-47 Chinook (helicopter with two rotors overhead) was sent to pick up the Marines.  As they flew away, over the beach and over the South China Sea, the gunners removed their readied fingers from the triggers of the .50 caliber machine guns.  The war was officially over.

But was it over?

Many prisoners didn’t come home on Valentine’s Day back in 1973.  It needs to be remembered that the Paris Peace Accords only negotiated the release of prisoners held in Vietnam and did not address those that might have been held in Cambodia and Laos.  There were also still many MIA’s that had not been accounted for.  For countless families, the Vietnam War continued everyday as they wondered if loved ones were still alive.

While I can’t imagine what those families went through, the war continued daily for me too.  I still wore a bracelet bearing the name and information on a US soldier captured back in 1968.  If he was still alive, he was held in Laos, which was not part of the Paris Treaty.  As time marched on, others who still had POW bracelets bearing names that never came home, took them off assuming that they must be dead at that point.  I was one of the rare few who continued to wear it because I had sworn not to take it off until he came home.  As the 20th century gave way to the 21st, I came to the realization that I would someday be buried wearing it.  I was OK with that.

It was about two years ago that I got an email from someone I knew.  They knew the name I wore on my wrist and their email contained links to several news items they thought I’d love to see.  A unmarked grave had been found in the country of Laos and American investigators had unearthed the skeleton of a Vietnam era US serviceman.  His dog tags, still around his neck, preliminarily identified him as my guy.  DNA comparison with a surviving sibling confirmed it.  Clicking on other links, I got to see his flag-draped casket unloaded with full military honors at Travis AFB in California.  He was home, the first time in over 45 years.  Further clicks of the mouse showed me snippets of his funeral in his hometown and interviews with family.  I sat at there at the computer and sobbed.  I took the POW bracelet from my wrist and tossed it on the desk in front of me, never to wear it again.  My guy had come home.

“Call it, ‘Peace,’ or call it, ‘Treason;’
Call it, ‘Love,’ or call it, ‘Reason,’
But I ain't marching anymore.
No, I ain't marching anymore.”
(from I Ain’t Marching Anymore, 1965)

That gave me a measure of closure but I was still unsettled.  I had worn that bracelet for all but 2-3 years of his absence.  In many ways, it was a part of me and I had worn it most of my life.  I just couldn’t throw it away.  It sat as a silent sentinel on my desk day after day, reminding me of the past.  I had considered a couple of times mailing it to his family but I wasn’t sure that it wouldn’t stir up negative emotions that should best be left alone.  I eventually decided that one day I would visit the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington DC, find his name, visit for a while, and leave the bracelet behind.

I finally got my chance this past weekend.  I attended my very first Rolling Thunder in Washington DC and I went down with a group I have been riding with for a couple of years now and there were several Vietnam Vets among us.  Each year over Memorial Day weekend, several hundred thousand motorcycles descend on Washington as a protest for the still unaccounted for military personnel left behind in Vietnam.

Saturday evening, our group visited Thunder Alley, an area set up for motorcyclists to gather the day before and the Vietnam Wall was a short walk away.  Everyone I was with knew I had the bracelet with me and what I intended to do.  I knew it was time and took my leave of them but before I walked away, one spoke up.  “Would you like a little company?”  I’m a very private person and I had intended to do this alone, but for some reason, almost like someone momentarily took over control of my body, I said, “yes.”  Two of them silently accompanied me on my mission.

The Vietnam Memorial, "The Wall," Washington DC


We walked in silence as I opened my phone.  Now there is even an app to help you find names on the Wall.  When we got to the section, they stood back silently.  They seemed to know not to help me and they were right.  That moment of discovery, when I finally laid eyes on his name carved into the granite, was like that moment when you suddenly recognize a friend in a big crowd.  My companions kept their distance, close enough so I knew they were there supporting me, but far enough away to respect my privacy.  Both were Vietnam vets and both had seen combat in Vietnam.  One had been awarded the Purple Heart.  In so many ways it was appropriate that they were there, bearing witness to what I did.

I placed my hand on my guy’s name on the Wall, the closest I could ever come to hugging him.  I cried as I had a short conversation with him.  After a couple of minutes, I kissed the granite on his name and left my bracelet on the concrete below.  The Vietnam War had finally ended for me this past Saturday, on 27 May 2017.

“I declare the war is over…  It’s over…  It’s over!”
(from The War is Over, 1968)

Fun Fact…


Long after Phil Ochs’ death, it came to light that J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI really did have a file on him.  It is over 500 pages.  Maybe he wasn’t so paranoid.  Who knew?

DJ Sue’s Vault…




Above is my copy of Phil Ochs’ first album, All the News That’s Fit to Sing.  The album was released in 1964.  Ochs coined the term, “singing journalist,” and used it to describe himself and he claimed that he wrote his songs based on what he read in Newsweek.  This title is an obvious twist of the 1896 slogan used by the New York Times, “all the news that’s fit to print.”  This slogan was the brain child of the paper’s owner Adolph Simon Ochs, no relationship to Phil, just an incredible coincidence or possibly a joke on Phil’s part.  The slogan was used by the Times for decades.

Below are the only two tapes that I still have of those my brother sent to me from California between 1967 and 1975.  I have not listened to them in decades since I’ve not had access to a reel to reel tape player.



Conclusion…


Last summer (2016), the Democratic National Convention was held in Philadelphia, PA.  Meanwhile, across the river in my home state of New Jersey, in the city of Camden, Lady Gaga took the stage at what promised to be a highly politically charged concert.  There, before the crowd, she asked a simple question.  “Anybody know who Phil Ochs is?”  She then went into a spirited and moving rendition of the War is Over.  She made it her own but her rendition was true to the spirit of the original in every regard.

Maybe she is on to something and this world could use Phil Ochs today.  In this era of “fake news,” maybe we need the singing journalist to give us the straight story.  My brother once described Ochs as a “modern day prophet, acting as a conscious for the people and guiding them on moral questions.”

If you listen to Phil’s early work, you can’t help but notice a certain naïveté to his demeanor, like he looks at the world through the innocent eyes of a child.  Even in his later works, when he seems a bit more jaded, he still retains that air of childlike reality, like if he just declares that the war is over, it would be true.  Phil Ochs and his wonderment of a child, which I think was shared by much of my generation, thought he could change the world.  We all did.

Join me this Sunday, 7-9 PM at AWT, as we remember Phil Ochs, his music, our innocence and our need to challenge authority.  Together, we can declare the war is over.  Let us remember Phil Ochs in our hearts, always.

Now I think it is fitting to end this post as my brother and I would end so many of our tapes.  “It looks like the tape is running low so I better sign off.  I love you and hope to talk to you soon.”

“Does anybody know my name, or recognize my face?
I must have come from somewhere, but I can't recall the place.
They dropped me at the matinee, they left without a trace.
Ticket home, I want a ticket home.”
(from One Way Ticket Home, 1970)

Epilogue: I didn’t prepare all of the sojourns in the order I presented them.  I wrote this one at the end of February and it seemed to write itself.  I just sat at the keyboard like I was possessed and had no control over what was coming out.  Looking back now, I think I had a need to face certain ghosts from my past and this was a great outlet.  Something deep down inside of me made me share all of this.  Once this one was written, the Sojourns had to become more personal, sharing even more with you so I could lead up to this one.

Just writing this was cathartic and I needed to face these ghosts, especially concerning my older brother, his demons and finally his death.  I never fully grieved him and I think you can see why.  In writing this, I went through the process.  I felt guilty.  What if I had told someone about his drug use and intervened?  Would I have been able to have prevented this?  Instead, I was silent, not wanting to break the trust.  I didn’t realize how much weight I carried with me because of this guilt.

As I wrote this, I became angry at him!  How dare he saddle a child/teenager with these secrets, secrets that have caused me so much guilt?  HOW DARE HE?  Gradually, as I finished this post, reread it, edited it, read it again.  I finally let it go and I forgave him.  In the end, if I had said something, it probably wouldn’t have saved or changed him.  It just would have distanced me from him and I would not be there for him in the end.  Looking back, I have no regrets anymore.

I had planned to finish up the Sojourns the week before leaving for Rolling Thunder.  Losing the internet that one time forced me to push everything back a week.  Originally, this post was written with an ending that shared the plan to leave the bracelet.  That glitch made it possible for me to rewrite the ending to include this past weekend.  Everything from the paragraph starting, “That gave me a measure of closure but I was still unsettled,” to the fun fact was written this morning in reflection of the last few days.  Maybe the unseen forces of the universe caused that internet glitch because I feel that somehow everything happened the way it was supposed to.  Maybe my brother, the guy on my wrist, Phil or maybe all three, had a hand in this.  Maybe Hamlet was right when he said, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

I want to thank you all for sharing this with me.  You have no idea how important you were in this process.  Like the two vets with me at the Wall this weekend, you have all bore witness to my facing the ghosts and lent an air of accountability to the process.  I needed you, the reader, in order to make the healing complete.  I still have many more demons that I may have to face one day but thanks to you, I am free of a couple.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

This is the last regular weekly Sojourn.  There will be others but they will be sporadic and often far apart.  I have one planned for the Fourth of July, or there about, and it will probably not be a full set, just one album.  Look for these in the future.  In the past I have had things like “Two fer Tuesday,” or “Vinyl Siding.”  I’m sure I’ll come up with some more.  I’m not going anyplace and plan to share music with all of you for a long time.

My set this Sunday will not only be dedicated to Phil Ochs, but to my brother and the guy on my wrist too.  Join me at AWT (7-9 pm slt) this Sunday as I remember them fondly.

My Rolling Thunder patch, earned this past weekend. A penny is in the picture for size reference.

Quotes were taken from the following songs (albums in bold):


I Ain’t Marching Anymore (1965)
I Ain’t Marching Anymore
That Was the President

Pleasures of the Harbor (1967)
Outside a Small Circle of Friends
Pleasures of the Harbor

Tape From California (1968)
The War is Over
Tape from California
White Boots Marching in a Yellow Land
Half a Century High

Greatest Hits (1970)
No More Songs
One Way Ticket Home

2 comments:

  1. Well I am sorry and sad to see the Sunday Sojourn go away. But at least you saved the best of the 60's and 70's for the last. Growing up in those years we saw our country change, grow in many ways. The music was our constant companion and kept us going and allowed us all to express our views in many ways. As with most great things, they must come to an end, but I will truly miss the Sunday Sojourn and Sue's great tidbits and slices of our past. Hippies will live on forever! Well done Sue and I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to share your music, knowledge and great times through this.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Maya.... That makes it all worth it for me. And remember there will still be the occasional Sojourn.

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