Phil Ochs: The Chords Of Fame


“If there’s any hope for America, it lies in a revolution, and if there’s any hope for a revolution in America, it lies in getting Elvis Presley to become Che Guevara” ~ Phil Ochs

One of the great unheeded lessons Phil Ochs left behind was to avoid mistaking celebrity fame for political substance. This drove him crazy as he yearned to be as famous as Elvis or Dylan.


“Phil Ochs was the political songwriter Bob Dylan should’ve been” ~ Billy Bragg

Ochs seemed oblivious to the fact that celebrities are ultimately commodities celebrated by fans who place consumerism above other attachments, especially revolution. Most fans have already bought into the system and have relinquished any commitment to fundamentally changing the status quo.


“God help the troubadour who tries to be a star”

By the time a “Presley-Guevara” hybrid emerges, the fan’s priority becomes obtaining a piece of the product, not engaging in any form of social change. In the end, maybe this is what killed Phil Ochs – a fan of both Elvis and John Wayne – the realization that he had been playing the chords of fame, mistaking celebrities for revolutionaries.

“So play the chords of love, my friend
Play the chords of pain
But if you want to keep your song
Don’t, don’t, don’t
Don’t play the chords of fame”

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