October 7, 2005

by Reb Yudel
There but for Fortune....

Ron Rosenbaum chooses Phil Ochs over Abbie Hoffman.

I know there’s a lot of Dylan in the air these days, and I’m happy about that. But after seeing Scorsese’s No Direction Home, I found myself thinking about someone else, an almost-forgotten contemporary of Dylan: Phil Ochs.

The key pre-Yom Kippur lines, however, come much further down, as he quotes Ochs:
Show me an alley, show me a train,
Show me a hobo who sleeps out in the rain,
And I’ll show you a young man with so many reasons why,
And there but for fortune may go you or I ….

You have to hear it, of course; you have to hear its aching Blakean simplicity and urgency. In a way, it has a classical purity—and when I say “classical,” I mean a going back to basics, back to Sophocles and the role that fortune and character play in man’s fate. As a song, it’s a sentiment that serves as a kind of Rorschach test, a defining revelation about how one views the unfortunate of the world. And the panhandler in front of you.

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