Thursday, July 05, 2007
Phil Ochs, American
It says something about the mass of media out there -- and my ever-diminishing attention span -- that I didn't realize that almost all Phil Ochs' A&M albums had finally become available for download. (The most recent CD versions, from the Collectors' Choice label, date back to 2000; I can't find any sign that they've been re-released on CD in conjunction with the downloads, though please let me know if I'm mistaken.)

The albums are a mixed bag, to be sure: "Pleasures of the Harbor," which contains one of Ochs' best-known songs, "Outside a Small Circle of Friends"; the sometimes over-produced "Tape from California"; the stark "Rehearsals for Retirement"; "Greatest Hits," with its deliberately cheeky and misleading title; and "Gunfight at Carnegie Hall," in which Ochs attempted to perform his own songs and rock 'n' roll classics clad in a gold lame suit. His audience generally didn't get the joke.

The standout, for me, is "Rehearsals for Retirement." Ochs, ardently antiwar, was a founder of the Yippies and was in Chicago for the 1968 Democratic convention, an event marred by violence in an already tumultuous year. Ochs left Chicago severely disillusioned with -- well, pretty much everything. He poured out his heart in 1969's "Rehearsals."

The album leads off with the brash "Pretty Smart on My Part," a sprightly ditty told from the point of view of an angry extremist. (The attitude is reiterated later, on "I Kill Therefore I Am.") There are moving songs about Chicago ("William Butler Yates Visits Lincoln Park and Leaves Unscathed") and the tragedy of the USS Scorpion ("The Scorpion Departs but Never Returns").

Above all, there's "My Life," which closed Side 1 on the original LP. "So I turned to the land/Where I'm so out of place/Throw a curse on the plan/In return for the grace/To know where I stand/Take everything I own/Take your tap from my phone/And leave my life alone/My life alone." Add to that a cover shot of a gravestone engraved "Phil Ochs (American)," and you have a history lesson on the dark side of the '60s. (The grave eerily foreshadowed Ochs' own death, of suicide in 1976.)

Ochs had a troubled life. He was forever chasing his friend Bob Dylan, a colleague in the Village folk scene, and his A&M work showcased his struggle to find a place in the ever-changing late-'60s music scene. But his best songs -- "Small Circle of Friends," "Crucifixion," "Chords of Fame," "Rehearsals" -- stand the test of time. Indeed, in our times, they're often all too resonant.
Monday, July 02, 2007
Paris Hilton truth squad
The more that I digest Paris Hilton's interview with Larry King, the more I get indigestion. That's what happens when you try to absorb something that is hard to swallow.

The basic problem is that so many of Paris' answers hurt my eyebrows because I kept raising them so high in disbelief. Two of the biggest points of contention: her answers to questions Larry asked about her reported drug use and her self-proclaimed, newly heightened awareness of God and religion.

First, the drugs. Larry asked her straight out if she had ever taken drugs. Paris' answer? A flat-out "No." So Larry, his BS meter clearly setting off internal alarms, asked again: "Never taken drugs?" And Paris' response was, again, a flat-out "No."

The day after the interview, Larry told "Showbiz Tonight's" A.J. Hammer, "I was surprised by her answer on never taking drugs. ... Most people are telling me that they think that in past she probably had a drug problem. And saying she never took drugs, people didn't believe that."

Of course, we have to be careful here and not accuse anyone of anything without seeing some proof to the contrary. But there's the pesky matter of tapes of Paris posted on thesmokinggun.com that were taken from a collection of Paris home videos shot of her in Amsterdam. This wasn't "1 Night In Paris." It could have been called "Paris Goes To Pot," because we see Paris toking away on a pipe that is commonly used to engage in the practice of smoking the ganja. In fact, we hear Paris audibly say, "I’m smoking pot."

Now, of course, it could be that Paris is really into grinding up kitchenware for a toke or two. We must leave open that possibility because, hey, ya never know.

So how then do we explain the part of the tape where we hear Paris say, "Smoke some [expletive] herb." Well, could be that Paris is really into the fine art of inhaling parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Again, just leaving open the possibility.

Oh, lord.

Speaking of which, Paris took great pains before, during and after jail to let us know she has been newly imbued with a sense of purpose through God. In fact, before she checked into the Chateau Lockup, she made sure the paparazzi photographed her holding the Bible.

So imagine King's surprise when he asked Paris, "What is your favorite Bible passage?" and -- after a contemplative pause -- she said, "Um, I don't have a favorite." Larry would later tell A.J. Hammer on "Showbiz Tonight," "It came to me that most people -- most people who read the Bible -- have a favorite passage. So it came to me the thought that maybe she didn't read the Bible. That was a long pause."

Not a pause that refreshes. More like a pause that depresses.

If Paris decides to give any more interviews on her jailhouse not-so-rock, here's a little advice. In the end, the truth will always win out. But it seems that in this case, she couldn't handle the truth.
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