“Changes”

March 26, 2015 • 6:39 am

Here’s another great song from Gordon Lightfoot’s 1966 album, “Lightfoot!” It’s one of three (out of 14 total) on the album not written by Lightfoot himself: it was composed by Phil Ochs (1940-1976). (Does anybody remember Ochs and his involvement in the protests of the 60s? Remember “I ain’t marching anymore“—an anthem for those opposed to the Vietnam War?) Somewhere along the line, Ochs produced this gorgeous ballad (you can hear his version here). There are several covers, including one by Neil Young (it starts at 2:10 on the video), but Lightfoot’s is by far the best. (He’s left out some of Ochs’s verses.)

And somehow this song encapsulates all the romance that pervaded the ferment of that time—at least for me.

31 thoughts on ““Changes”

  1. Good song.

    I’m old enough to remember the folk music subculture. It strikes me now as a strange, innocent, and naive movement and I’ve come to associate it with liberal religion for some reason.

    1. I had thought The Carpenters were an Xtian group, because if the name and also probably for the same reason you make the association: the Jesus freaks held onto that sound long after everyone else had moved on.

      Lots of things from that time seem quaint and innocent now, not least among them faith in democracy and the American Dream&trade.

      1. At least on the West Coast, theistic religion sank pretty much out of sight, but eastern mysticism soared, due partly to hallucinogens, and also thanks to the Zen “evangelism” of Alan Watts and groups like Esalen in Big Sur. Watts had a weekly radio talk that I still remember fondly. His “woo” was more humanistic than mystical and he had a calm, gentle demeanor. He rarely said anything that didn’t make sense.

        1. A bunch of his lectures are available as podcasts. I still love listening to him. I doubt there is an Asian academic out there who can hold forth on Western modes of living with quite the same love and humor: Jesus is dull dull dull compared to Lao Tsu.

    2. Well, I was there, and let me assure you–there wasn’t any religion. There were a few cults, like Manson’s and Sri Rajneesh, and some churches tried to get with the times by having folk masses with guitars, but I don’t recall any religion. (Of course nuns and priests like the Berrigan brothers were part of the protests.)

      1. I remember lots of folk music gatherings at churches. Catholics were prominent… you mention the Berrigan brothers.. we had Father Groppi up here in Milwaukee, too.

        But my point was that folk music remained popular with religious types long after the rest of us were listening to Subterranean Homesick Blues, Street-fighting Man, and Purple Haze. And dodging tear gas canisters.

        Folks music died with Another Side of Bob Dylan, except in churches. (Yeah… I oversimplify a bit. But in general…)

        1. I agree with JAC–no churchy connotations for me. Reminds me that there was a time we could all sit around the campfire playing guitars & singing the songs the famous groups & soloists were writing & playing. Its idealism was sincere, not hokey, and while I fit right in with the cynicism and hedonism on it’s heels I’ll always revere folk. I wish my kids could have gone through a similar era of humanistic music and peaceful protest.

  2. Saw Phil Ochs live, at a Chicago protest demonstration, sometime late August 1968, around the time of what has come to be known as the Chicago Police Department Riot. He was performing inside for a group of maybe 200 protestors. At least four males made a big show of burning their draft cards during the performance. Had never heard of Ochs before, and thought he was outstanding, and bought all his CD’s. Sadly, he committed suicide in 1976.

      1. True. And back then, there were many women who figured a draft should include *both sexes.* With no exception for anyone.

    1. I can remember how sad I was when I read about his suicide in the middle of ’76; I think it had happened a few months earlier.

      I since read that Ochs had had his vocal chords destroyed from being almost strangled and that had depressed because he could no longer sing.

      George

  3. Lightfoot has said that he was living in the same house as Ochs at this time, and can recall Ochs sitting at the kitchen table wtiting Changes.

  4. I did not know of Ochs. Probably did not pay that much attention to the folk music until he was pretty well finished. Kind of a sad ending.

    His song I ain’t marching anymore, is a very good one.

    Crazier stuff like Country Joe and the Fish I remember.

  5. Any Canadians remember the Riverboat Cafe on Yorkville Ave in Toronto in the 60s?
    Gord was a fixture there…. cover charge was $1 back then…. almost an hour wage for a student.

  6. Tom Paxton wrote a song about Ochs’suicide. I recall the lines “I looked at the paper/There was your picture/Gone, gone gone by your own hand.”

  7. “We are here to make a better world.

    No amount of rationalization or blaming can preempt the moment of choice each of us brings to our situation here on this planet. The lesson of the 60’s is that people who cared enough to do right could change history.

    We didn’t end racism but we ended legal segregation.

    We ended the idea that you could send half-a-million soldiers around the world to fight a war that people do not support.

    We ended the idea that women are second-class citizens.

    We made the environment an issue that couldn’t be avoided.

    The big battles that we won cannot be reversed. We were young, self-righteous, reckless, hypocritical, brave,silly, headstrong and scared half to death.

    And we were right.”

    – Abbie Hoffman

  8. I had three of Och’s albums. I think the first was “All the News that’s Fit to Sing.” He wrote mostly protest songs, not folk music per se. His voice always had this odd staccato characteristic. Perhaps that was due to being strangled – I had not heard about that. I believe his father worked for the N.Y. Times, which probably had something to do with the title of his first album. “There But for Fortune” was one of his songs, which I knew only from Joan Baez’s version.

    Show me the prison, show me the jail,
    Show me the prisoner, whose life has gone stale,
    And I’ll show you a young man, with so many reasons why,
    There but for fortune, go you or I, you or I.

    To me, that speaks not of religion, per se, as some here might think, but of our need to be concerned with the plight of others. We are an immensely social species: our ability to cooperate and care for others is a critical element in our nature and our evolution, but it needs experiential input to fully flower. If Jesus said “when [I was] in prison, you visited me,” he spoke more to that concern for others than of anything theological.

    1. “He wrote mostly protest songs, not folk music per se.”

      Don’t tell that to Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, not that you could now, anyway, but you get the idea.

      Very nice last paragraph, but I see no need to bring Jesus into it. 🙂

      1. Much of folk, protest, etc. music, while not being particularly religious, has references to biblical sayings in it. Just as does literature (e.g. ‘slouching towards Bethlehem’). Early Dylan – pre-Xian years – is jam-packed with them. “There but for fortune” calls to mind the older “there but for the grace of god, go I.” If you know these sayings, references to them are everywhere. I was merely pointing the prison/prisoner one out. The bible, for good or ill, has long been a major – perhaps THE major – source of artistic inspiration in Western civilization.

  9. I’m too young to remember Ochs directly (I was born the year he took his own life) but in college I became fascinated by him and read all I could about him. The idea of someone so dedicated to the idea of change– that this nation could be improved- was very inspirational. I became enameled of the idea, promoted in some bios, that the chaos of 1968, especially the Chicago convention, crushed his optimism and led to his suicide. Realistically, he suffered most likely from bipolar disorder and alcoholism. He was mugged and severely beaten in Africa in the early 70s, that’s when his voice was ruined, but his career had largely petered out by then. He tried to segue from protest songs to the sort of epic rambling poetry of Dylan, but he was hampered by terrible production and mediocre songwriting. But he wrote some great songs early in his career– “here’s to the state of Mississippi” is a good one, “crucifixion” (the live acoustic version), “draft dodger rag”, etc.

  10. I recall Phil Ochs’s laugh-out-loud Draft-Dodger Rag wherein a would-be conscript recounts all the potential grounds for his draft deferment to a Sergeant at his induction physical. According to the chorus:

    Sarge, I’m only eighteen, I got a ruptured spleen
    And I always carry a purse
    I got eyes like a bat, and my feet are flat
    My asthma’s getting worse

    Consider my career, my sweetheart dear
    My poor old invalid aunt
    Besides, I ain’t no fool, and I’m goin’ to school
    And I’m workin’ in a defense plant

    1. And on THAT note, I’d like to recommend “1001 Ways to Beat the Draft,” by Robert Bashlow and Tuli Kupferberg. Kupferberg was a member of the late ’60’s musical group (folk?, folk-rock?, avant-garde?, poetry-rock?, just plain weird?) THE FUGS.

      My favorite draft dodge from the book: Tattooing “fuck you” along the edge of your saluting hand. 2nd favorite: Tattooing “Welcome all U.S. armed forces” around your anus. As someone who went through the army induction physical in 1970, I’m sure that would be a real shocker-roo to the army doctor in charge of inspecting that particular region.

      Favorite line from The Fugs: “Wounded galaxies tap on the window.”

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