SONG OF THE WEEK – I AIN’T MARCHING ANYMORE

Sometimes – and usually it only lasts until my wife sets me straight – but too often – I start to think that I am more clever than I really am.  Recently, I thought it might be clever to write something contrasting Jack Dawkins, the Artful Dodger, with Donald Trump, the Deceitful Draft Dodger.  It wasn’t long before I realized that the idea would not go over well because there are just too many people who have attended “schools” like Trump University and who don’t even know who Charles Dickens is – or was.

I also realized it would be disingenuous of me because at about the same time trumpdraftrecordMr. Trump was not serving his country in Vietnam, I was not serving my country there, either.  For a lot of that period of non-service, our excuses were the same:  we were attending college and entitled to student deferments.

My next idea was to post Phil Ochs’ “Draft Dodger Rag” as a Song of the Week.  However, doing so would be unfair because I would still imply that Mr. Trump was just a “draft dodger,” as his critics have said; and not recognize that he may have held strong convictions about the injustice of the Vietnam War and the draft that cycled 18-, 19- and 20-year old boys and men to die by the thousands and accomplish very little.  I had such convictions, and Trump may have, too.

Instead, I decided to post Ochs’ song, “I Ain’t Marching Anymore.”  This piece, first released on the 1965 album of the same name, is thematically similar to compositions like Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Universal Soldier” and “Masters of War” and “With God on Our Side” by Bob Dylan in showing that throughout history the conscript, the foot soldier, the one who had no personal political power at home has been sacrificed to benefit those who did hold power.  “It’s always the old who lead us to the war, always the young to fall,” Ochs sings.  Then he recognizes that the same young men who are being sent to die hold power to stop the killing by simply refusing to participate.  I purposely chose not to participate and perhaps my compadre, Donald, did the same.

While he was attending Ohio State University, Phil Ochs’ roommate, Jim Glover, taught him to play guitar and introduced him to folk music and leftist politics.  Ochs was a sergeant in the ROTC at the time, but he learned well and quickly.  He dropped out of college after his junior year and moved to Greenwich Village where he wrote “protest songs” and performed in the coffee houses.

He was a good songwriter and delivered his message with such passion that he soon became a leading spokesman for the anti-war movement.  He had moderate commercial success for a few years, while continuing his political involvement through things like his performing for the protesters at the 1968 Democratic Convention and then testifying (and reciting the words to “I Ain’t Marching Anymore”) at the trial of the Chicago Seven.

However, throughout his whole career he seemed to be in the shadow of Bob Dylan.  From what I have read, Phil Ochs idolized Dylan; but Dylan “toyed with that idolatry and kept Ochs at arms length,” as one commentator has said.  Nevertheless, he did perform several times with Dylan, and was a part of Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Review in 1974.

By the mid-1970s, Ochs had begun to exhibit some serious mental and emotional problems.  The quality of his song writing declined, he began performing dressed as an Elivis imitator, he suffered permanent vocal damage from a mugging in Tanzania, and he tragically took his own life in 1976.

There is so much more that could be said about Phil Ochs, but this is not the right post for that.  A good, succinct remembrance by Richie Unterberger is available at allmusic.com.

My own memory of him goes back to August of 1966.  During my very first week at the University of Colorado, Phil Ochs played a free concert on campus.  It was a pretty informal setting, and I remember Phil walked out in front of the small crowd and began tuning his guitar.  He did it magnificently.  He was playing riffs that impressed me no end while turning the tuning pegs a bit here and there.  I was just a kid.  At that point I had never heard Jimi Hendrix or Mark Knopfler or Rudy Spano.  Still, I had heard good guitarists before and knew how to play F, C, G and Am chords myself; and I could tell the guy had talent.  He had a clear, melodious voice and he delivered his singing journalism with such conviction that I had to agree that I wasn’t marching anymore – and I had been in marching band throughout high school, so I knew about marching.

You know, there is probably much more that could be said about Donald Trump, too.  I could even try to say something else nice about him, but no one would believe me.  So, Donald, if you read this, I ain’t goose stepping any more.  You have toadies for that.

 

I Ain’t Marching Anymore
By Phil Ochs

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

For I’ve killed my share of Indians
In a thousand different fights
I was there at the Little Big Horn
I heard many men lying, I saw many more dying
But I ain’t marching anymore

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

For I stole California from the Mexican land
Fought in the bloody Civil War
Yes, I even killed my brothers
And so many others
But I ain’t marching anymore

For I marched to the battles of the German trench
In a war that was bound to end all wars
Oh, I must have killed a million men
And now they want me back again
But I ain’t marching anymore

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

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

Now the labor leader’s screamin’
When they close the missile plants
United Fruit screams at the Cuban shore
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

© UNIVERSAL MUSIC PUBLISHING GROUP

8 thoughts on “SONG OF THE WEEK – I AIN’T MARCHING ANYMORE

  1. After all these years I still get a little anxious frisson in my gut when I recall the mid to late 60’s. I do know Charles Dickens, and his words describe that era for me perfectly:

    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”

    I seriously doubt that Donald Trump had conscientious or even conscious objections to the Viet Nam war. He may have had poses to rationalize his own self-interests. Pfffft. He’s beneath consideration when discussing that era.

    Now we’re old and we know two things: it is the same as it ever was, and we can only do our best to support good and oppose evil in the world, wherever we are in time.

    • I was influenced here by Darcy. She told me that if there is to be civility among us humans, we need to start trying to find some good in everyone. “Think about Donald Trump,” she counseled, “and say something positive. He is always expelling hot air, so he must provide a lot of carbon dioxide for the world’s plants. He brings in those foreign wives because there are some jobs that Americans just won’t do. Think of something good to say.” I looked up the information about Trump’s draft status and expected to find that his 4-F classification was due to that form of narcissistic personality disorder I call Attention Seeking Syndrome (“ASS”). I learned, though, that he mostly had student deferments and then, apparently, a bone spur in his foot. I thought that sounded good – “I’m only 18, I’ve got a ruptured spleen and I always carry a purse; I’ve got eyes like a bad and my feet are flat and my asthma’s getting worse . . .”

      Darcy also told me that it is not proper to denigrate those who have chosen to support Trump. I respect that advice. By the way, for any of you who do support him, “denigrate” means to speak ill of, in a derogatory way. And “derogatory” means showing a lack of respect for someone.

      I agree that Dickens was an astute observer (in a non-physical way) of the 1960s. He tells us: “That was a memorable [time] to me, for it made great changes in me. But it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day [in that memorable time.”

  2. Laughed out loud at the first two paragraphs – especially the second one – and then got thoughtful after the third… You’re hitting your stride, Louis! Pleasure to be here…

    • This is another comment that, after what I wrote about denigrating Trump supporters, I need to emphasize that I am not making it up. On Monday, Stephen Hawking said that Donald Trump is “a demagogue who seems to appeal to the lowest common denominator.” Google reported that there has been a spike in searches for “demagogue” and “denominator.” Those in Trump’s base of support are trying to understand whether Hawking was for Trump or against him.

      Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, said, “If Professor Hawking wants to do some damage, maybe he should try talking in English next time.” Stephen Hawking then explained his remark by telling a reporter, “Trump bad man. Real bad man.”

  3. Lou, I enjoyed, as I usually do, reading your latest post.
    I too rode the student deferment train after hight school. In about 1967 I filed for Conscientious Objector status. Then Uncle Sam instituted the draft lottery and I won with a number like 270 something. The draft board sent me a letter, which I still have somewhere, saying my application for CO was on hold as my chances of being drafted were so low.
    “Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats too noble to neglect
    Deceived me into thinking I had something to protect
    Good and bad, I defined these terms quite clear, no doubt, somehow
    Ah but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”
    Phil Ochs wrote a good song, but imho, it’s clear he patterned the lyrics after Dylan’s “With God on Our Side”, again , imho, a much better song.
    Finally, I saw Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival, I’ve seen and heard Mark Knopfler on CD and the internet, heck, I’ve even seen Doc Watson play Columbus Stockade Blues at the Denver Folklore Center, but who is this guitarist Rudy Spano that you allude to?
    PS. I am not really up on my Victorian era literature and at times that just hurts like the Dickens.

    • I agree that “With God on Our Side” was the inspiration for “I Ain’t Marching Anymore,” and that “With God on Our Side” is a better song. Phil Ochs was a talented guy, but he often came off as a Dylan wannabe. These two songs are only one example. When Dylan went electric, Ochs did the same, and put out the album Pleasures of the Harbor. Dylan wrote a song, “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” that was three times longer than the typical pop song, so Ochs followed that by having half the songs on Pleasures of the Harbor” last for more than eight minutes. Some of them were good songs, but it seemed that he was just trying to show that he could do it, too.

      That being said, we all know that “With God on Our Side” was also derivative. The ideas that war is bad and that it is often engaged in for less than honorable reasons is not new. It is the subject of many songs, poems, stories and novels. However, the way Bob Dylan expressed those ideas was by stealing the tune from “Patriot Game,” an earlier song by Dominic Behan, the brother of famed Irish playwright Brendan Behan. “Patriot Game” begins, “Come all ye young rebels, and list while I sing,/For the love of one’s country is a terrible thing./It banishes fear with the speed of a flame,/and it makes us all part of the patriot game.” That is essentially the theme of songs like “With God on Our Side” and “I Ain’t Marching Anymore.”

      Behan then writes, “”My name is O’Hanlon, and I’ve just turned sixteen,/My home is in Monaghan …” Thus, he sets the scene for a story about a particular incident in the ongoing British/Irish violence. In “With God on Our Side,” Dylan says, “Oh, my name it is nothin’, my age it means less,/The country I come from is called the Midwest …” Thus, he recognizes that he is copying Behan, but letting us know that he intends to sing of something more universal than one isolated bit of violence.

      According to Wikipedia, ” Behan, who was unequivocal in the defence of his copyright, publicly accused Bob Dylan of plagiarizing ‘The Patriot Game’ in writing his own ‘With God on Our Side.'” That is understandable, but it overlooks the fact that Behan did not write the tune of “Patriot Game.” Rather, he simply put his words to the tune of an old English folksong.

      With respect to the draft (which sort of started this whole conversation), my draft number was 300. I wrote a lot about that in an old post, and since this comment is already too long, I won’t say anymore about it here. I am just thankful that I had the high number, which made a lot of decisions much easier for me. I understand that Donald Trump’s number was even higher, so who cares about his supposed bone spur?

      As to that last musician to whom I alluded, you may know him as Chitarrista Misterioso.

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