Phil Ochs:The Journalism Behind the Man

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This week I chose to take a deeper look at the Phil Ochs song “Here’s to the State of Mississippi.” I wrote a Wikipedia article about the song, but it wasn’t enough to cover the deeply rooted motivations behind its lyrics, aside from his personal experience in the state. Ochs—the singing journalist, has undoubtedly covered many important civil rights issues in the song. Layers and layers of information are coming from the lines, revealing the depth of his knowledge. The meaning of the message is clear, however the stories behind the meanings go much deeper. For instance, when he states, “…and the speeches of the governor are the ravings of a clown,” it’s likely he’s referencing former Mississippi governor Ross Barnett’s “I love Mississippi” speech. A speech that is said to have fueled the motivation for the riot at the University of Mississippi Oxford campus, following the admission of its first black student. Annotating Phil Ochs’ lyrics allowed me to clearly see his journalism-based song writing method. It allowed me to connect his journalism background to his music. And overall, it’s allowed me to gain a deeper appreciation for Ochs as a journalist—something I’ve known about him, but never really understood until now.

Check out my annotations here!

To The Woody Guthrie Center We Go

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Photo Credit: WordShore

Phil Ochs fashioned his gold lamé suit after this one worn by Elvis.

I’m excited to visit the Woody Guthrie Center in downtown Tulsa, Oklahomafor this project. By reviewing the Phil Ochs Papers, donated by daughter Meegan Ochs, I expect to see materials that will result in a greater understanding of Ochs’ art and the man behind it. Additionally, I expect the Michael Ochs Collection will provide the same.

It was interesting to review the list of content included in the collection at the Woody Guthrie Center’s website. Some items I found intriguing included basic personal records such as, an application to the Diner’s Club, a prescription, and receipts for electric and gas bills. It’s pretty cool to see things that make Ochs a little more relatable, and show the ‘everyday’ aspect of his life. I’m also interested in Ochs’ journals and personal correspondences, something that displays his demeanor in his personal life beyond the music career.

My expectations for the visit are to take a tour of the archives and to learn more about the process of obtaining and preparing the collection. I also expect to learn more about this collection and other collections the museum is working on. I hope that we all gain more understanding about Phil Ochs, and that we all get to see the gold lamé suite.

We read a bit about the archiving process in an article called, What Do Archivists Do All Day? I found the article fascinating, and I’m wondering if I made the right career choice. Archiving seems like an interesting and rewarding career. I think I would enjoy caring and sorting through precious gems of history day to day. I hadn’t given much thought to all of the work that goes into archiving, and I certainly applaud those who do this.  I’m curious to know how long it took the Woody Guthrie team to asses and organize the collection, and how many took part in the process. I would also like to know if there’s anything in particular that the archivists were intrigued by during the process? What did they learn that they found interesting? What do they hope people will gain from this collection?