About Wanderings

Each week I will post my current syndicated newspaper column that focuses upon social issues, the media, pop culture and whatever might be interesting that week. During the week, I'll also post comments (a few words to a few paragraphs) about issues in the news. These are informal postings. Check out http://www.facebook.com/walterbrasch And, please go to http://www.greeleyandstone.com/ to learn about my latest book.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Memorial Day Special Series, Day 6

“They had this amateur stage [at Woodstock] away from everything else, and anyone could perform. Bands and poets and jugglers and people who just wanted to have their say. Well, Joan Baez—can you believe it, Joan Baez!—well, she sees that there are people kinda just hangin’, so she does an hour! A whole hour on an amateur stage! Know what else? She didn’t just go up on that stage. She waited her turn. Must have waited an hour, two hours. No one knew she was waiting, I guess, but she waited her turn, just like everyone else. Was almost late for the main stage.”
—Joyce Katzman, Before the First Snow, by Walter M. Brasch

Today, the sixth day of Memorial Day Week, we honor two more of the important voices of the Movement—Joan Baez and Phil Ochs.

Joan Baez (1941- ) was born in New York City, but lived in Southern California, Boston, and dozens of other cities, a result of her father’s profession. Dr. Albert Baez, born in Mexico, was a professor of mathematics and physics and co-inventor of the X-Ray microscope. Her mother, Joan, for whom she was named, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. Both were active in the peace movement and had become Quakers during the 1940s.

Influenced by the music of Pete Seeger, Joan Baez began singing in Boston area coffeehouses. By the age of 19, she had her first album. That album and the next two went gold.

Joan was active in the Civil Rights and labor movements, standing with Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez. Her beliefs in nonviolent protest for human rights, against the war, and the environment led to arrests.

In 1975, she recorded one of he r most famous songs, “Diamonds and Rust,” the story of a woman looking back to a faded love in the 1960s. That love was Bob Dylan, with whom she often sung duets.

Today, the First Act of the sixth day of Memorial Day Week, is Joan Baez singing Bob Dylan’s song, “With God on Our Side.”

One of Joan Baez’s greatest hits was “There But for Fortune Go I,” written by Phil Ochs (1940-1976).

Phil was the son of Jacob Ochs, a physician, and Gertrude who, like Joan Baez’s mother, was a resident of Edinburgh. There were other inter-tangling similarities—their agent was Albert Grossman, who also managed the careers of Peter, Paul & Mary, Bob Dylan, and Janis Joplin. Like Joan, Phil was influenced by Pete Seeger, as well as the early rockers.

Phil Ochs, a brilliant clarinetist in his teens, later mastered the guitar. Like Joan he began a music career playing at small coffeehouses, which he continued to do long after his success that included Carnegie Hall appearances. And, like Joan Baez and other protest singers, he was at innumerable anti-war, civil rights, and labor rallies, helping to unify and stir up the people to fight for social justice.

Phil, a journalism major at Ohio State, always called himself a “singing journalist” who, he said, wrote topical songs, not folk songs. In a 36-year life, ended by a descent into alcohol and suicide, complicated by untreated bipolar disorder, Phil wrote hundreds of songs, including “White Boots Marching in a Yellow Land,” and the whimsical “Draft Dodger Rag.” His own records never charted, but his music influenced every protest singer since the 1960s.

His powerful anti-war song, “I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore,” covered by almost every protest folksinger of the 1960s, became his signature song.

Please take a few minutes to listen to Phil Ochs tell us something about protest and a moral conscience.


  1. Hey, Walter,thanks much for reminding us of the wonderment of such as Phil Ochs (gone too soon), Joan Baez, and Tom Paxton. These people are American treasures no less than Mark Twain or Robert Frost. Your recollections of the 1960s are always spot on, unlike most mainstream media reminiscences, which invariably get details and specific events a bit "off." I always think of "the 1960s," meaning the era of protest, social conscience, and enlightenment, as being more sort of from 1963 - 1972, after which Watergate and other nasty things killed it off.
    That's my personal recollection, anyhow. but of course we all have our own mental filter.

  2. I have to say that in all the years of having the privilage to read your column, this is by far the most personal and heart felt series I have ever read. It brought back so many good memories of the days of hope and the way we all worked to change the world. Thanks so much for that, and for sharing your stories. I have to admit that there have been times in recent years when I am almost ready to throw in the towel and let what will happen, happen. Thanks for reminding me that we deserve better, that so many friends and loved ones have died to give us better, and to give up now would be an insult to those of us who have gone before and even to our former selves. The music both energized me and made me cry...thank you for that! I was inspired to listen to so many more of the songs that we thought would change the world, and I remembered how I really believed that we would, and you know what? Perhaps we still can...