Protest singer-songwriter Phil Ochs, with just a guitar and a vibrato tenor, found the sources for his lyrics in daily and weekly periodicals, titling his 1964 debut album All the News That’s Fit to Sing. Rich in archival material, Kenneth Bowser’s documentary traces his subject from handsome, skittishly affable troubadour in a turtleneck to a mentally ill ranter puffy from too much drink and irrevocably broken after the Chicago ’68 riots (Ochs hanged himself in 1976, at age 35). Fans Christopher Hitchens and Sean Penn praise the sting of Ochs’s songs like “Love Me, I’m a Liberal” (particularly when compared with the anodyne offerings of folkies like Peter, Paul, and Mary), but the more illuminating anecdotes come from those who knew and worked with the performer closely. Gaslight Café manager Sam Hood dismisses Bob Dylan, with whom Ochs had a friendly rivalry if pathological attachment, as a “prick”; journalist Lucian Truscott IV recalls of the assassinations of JFK, MLK, and RFK, “I think Phil was a big enough egomaniac to take it all personally.” Though hewing to a too-conventional structure, Bowser’s film is densely researched enough to yield insights not just into its overlooked subject, but also into his overly analyzed era.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 5, 2011