Say It's Your Birthday: Phil Ochs

Phil Ochs, born on Dec. 19, 1940, was second only to Bob

Dylan as a writer of razor sharp topical songs in the hothouse Greenwich

Village folk scene of the early '60s. When the singer voluntarily surrendered

his life in a losing battle with the black dog of depression on April 19, 1976,

he was convinced that he was already a relic from another age whose gifts and

talents would have no home in the future. The 19 years since have proven him

tragically wrong. His albums have remained in print somewhere in the world

throughout that time, quietly exerting an influence on a new generation of

socially conscious songwriters like Billy Bragg (whose birthday it happens to

be tomorrow), Joe Strummer and even Bruce Springsteen. Rhino recently reissued

Phil Ochs In Concert, Vanguard is preparing a CD that will collect Ochs

three Newport Folk Festival appearances, and there is talk of a boxed set to

tie in with Hyperion's August '96 publication of a biography by Michael

Schumacher. Michael Ochs, brother of Phil and proprietor of the astounding

Michael Ochs Archives, confirmed an often-repeated piece of street talk when he

told ATN that Sean Penn has expressed more than just an interest in playing

Phil Ochs in a proposed film; the two of them are, in fact, actively pursuing a

deal even as you read this. You only need to look around at the political

landscape today to know that if Ochs had not made his tragic mistake, he'd have

his hands full dealing with the current madness in song. Today is also the

birthday of Alvin Lee (Ten Years After), Maurice White (Earth, Wind and Fire),

Zal Yanovsky (Lovin' Spoonful) and Edith

Piaf.