10 December, 2010

Advent Calendar in Song: Ballad of The Carpenter

The American (Political) Folk Factor, Part 2

Phil Ochs was a paradigm of the 1960's protest folk singer. Even as Dylan broadened his appeal, Ochs stuck to his guns, consistently taking aim at injustice and hypocrisy at all levels. There are also some deeply poetic and personal songs, so it's not all banner waving and barricades. His suicide in the mid '70's, put down to his bipolar depression, or the great comedown of post '60's, was particularly sad as we really could have used his intelligence, humour and fervour in the Reagan years to today.

Ballad of the Carpenter is a Ewan MacColl song, which I first heard as covered by Phil Ochs. Ewan MacColl was a singer songerwriter and playwright. He was also a committed socialist, and his song frames the Christ story as if he was a union agitator.

Strangely the only version of this track that I could find on the web, for your delectation, is from a webcast made by the late Tuli Kupferberg a poet and publisher of the beat generation and co founder of the hippie band The Fugs. In the video, he introduces the track which is played off the Phil Ochs LP and instructs the camera man to film a satirical mocked up wanted poster of Christ charged with sedition.

I'm also including this link to a non-seasonal Phil Ochs offering, so you can hear his wit at its most piercing and intense in his honesty. While many of his protest songs were about the usual targets, the racist south, the Vietnam war and Nixon, no one was free from his barbs, as you'll hear.

Phil Ochs - Love Me, I'm A Liberal .mp3
Found at bee mp3 search engine

I'm going to wrap up this instalment with another non-seasonal track, to bring my political folk story full circle, and also to annunciate how the political folk of both America and Britain have had an interesting co-dependence of fellow travelling troubadours. As I noted a few days ago the partial resurrection of Woody Guthrie by british agit-popster Billy Bragg, here's his song A New England as covered by Ewan MacColl's daughter Kirsty. Resexing and altering the lyric she makes it more of a pop ballad of rejection than the Bragg's original of disaffected politically indifferent youth, but both, classics.

A New England - Kirsty MacColl / Billy Bragg

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