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Phil Ochs: A primer for 'There but for Fortune'

Phil Ochs at Carnegie Hall

Phil Ochs at Carnegie Hall Credit: Handout

For whatever strange reason, the late American protest singer Phil Ochs always has been overshadowed by Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and other contemporaries.

Now, more than 30 years after Ochs took his own life, that unfortunate truth should start to change. The singer of “Draft Dodger Rag,” “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” and other standards finally gets the documentary tribute he deserves in Kenneth Bowser’s “Phil Ochs: There but for Fortune,” which opens at the IFC Center tomorrow.

amNewYork gets you up to speed on the underappreciated songwriting genius:

Greenwich Village scene
Ochs, like so many of his peers, got his start in the Village during the 1960s, performing at many folk hotspots and at the annual Newport festival. His first few albums were so influential that Bob Dylan once famously said, “I just can’t keep up with Phil.”

‘Singing journalist’
Ochs disputed the label of “protest singer” and preferred to be referred to as a “singing journalist,” seeing his songs as outlets for exploring news stories. His work centered on such varied subjects as President John F. Kennedy, labor unions and the murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens.

Ochs suffered in his later career as he failed to shift away from his characteristic acoustic style, succumbed to alcohol and drug addictions, and struggled with bipolar disorder. He took his own life in 1976, at the age of 35. Yet, with his songs covered by countless artists and his life now featured in Bowser’s documentary, his legacy remains intact.

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