On despair

felix's picture

I watched a good documentary last night on an artist I'd never heard of before. Phil Ochs. 
I came across his name in one of those tangential references that often lead to the best information. Billy Bragg is back in Brisbane, you see. Last time I saw him I was 17, I'd never used, I was utterly naive and idealistic, and I had a poster on my bedroom wall with Billy and a big Red Star. My sister's reaction to that a few years later was to give me a copy of Das Kapital, perhaps hoping to bore me out of a future in Communism. Or perhaps I'm being mean, perhaps she just wanted me to understand what she thought  I was supporting.
Having the same gene-set and up-bringing as I, she couldn't do something as simple as ask me if I wanted to be a Communist. It was all done like spies, with hidden messages in birthday presents. Even this month, twenty years later, my father and I puzzle over the meaning of one line in an email - does it mean her husband has left her?
The idea of asking her outright is not discussed. That's just not done. My sister can semaphore us the information over several years, letting us piece together a message haphazardly froma variety of sources. And the end result, often as not, is correct, as this emotionless cryptography is what we excel at.Billy Bragg in concert
So Billy sat on my wall expressing perhaps Communistic fervour, or, more likely, a reaction to a bad system that I'd grown up under. Joh was still PM when I first heard Billy Bragg, and I knew that everything Billy stood for was everything Joh and his cabal undermined.
With Bragg's concert just a week away and sold out, I glutted myself on his torrented back material (I have bought his music, indeed Back to Basics is one of the few CDs that S has broken by sitting on in the old MR2. She's usually a lot more careful....
One song I heard - 'I dreamed I saw  Phil Ochs last night' caught my attention. Which then wavered....But a few days later I was googling for documentaries on Bragg, I was keen to stuff more Bragg-info into my head. And what came up but 'There but for fortune', a doco on Phil Ochs. Two references in a week. Bragg appears in the doco briefly, hence the search results.
So I downloaded, and watched. As I stated, I knew nothing of Ochs before the doco. And I can't say any of his songs seemed more than just averagely familiar. But his story, that of the idealistic youth falling into despair as his enemies endured and metamorphosed, was  great. 
I remember when Joh went, people said ZZZ would die, having lost its biggest enemy. And in a way, the Zed that was around then did die. The ability to run a station purely on volunteers with staff happy to turn to crime to enable them to keep working there, those days seem long gone. 
But like Bragg said of Phil, he either had to compromise or break himself against the forces he fought. He didn't compromise, and thus his name took forty years to percolate into my consciousness, unlike his compatriots who did bend with the times and whose careers continued, enabling their names to infect another generation and more.
But I respect him for the chance he took, that chance of being utterly forgotten because he wouldn't change. He stayed who he was and ended up lost and wild-eyed and broken. And my heart goes out to those almost forgotten who died wild-eyed.
 
 

Comments

sayarsan's picture

Is lined with broken dreams, could be a quote on a desk calendar, perhaps it is. Phil Ochs would have had a heap of dreams in his funny head after spending time with the Chilean marxists after Allende gained power. I can envision a government composed of gronks and slavers with everyone's favorite uncle in the hot seat and the radical folksy scene in New york doting on them in true patronising style, a struggle on their doorstep- how convenient.
 
Poor Phil made a huge mistake by getting too close, going to the mines and tasting grass roots union stuff would have affected him deeply and filled him with an enthusiasm bordering on zeal. It would have infected a helluva lot more if the coup hadn't occured and that is a huge shame, especially on the U.S. interests who clearly had a hand in it.
 
I have barely heard of him either because he was a bit before my time but we all know Bob so the music industry wasn't much of a home to him and the more he pursued that line the further he got from the ideas. It seems to be the way with people who try to straddle a line between comfort and committment, their head in one camp, the heart in another is bad enough but when complicated by a pre-existing mental condition and a carreer in music, positively fatal.
 
So a man like Phil, hatched into a world where all must work,consume,die the example of his counterpart in Chile provided him with the best role model he had ever known. The role model was martyred by troops under Pinochet while Phil, hatched into a different culture and unable to connect, was spat out by the changing times.

sayarsan's picture

It wasn't with glee that I read this piece pertaining to the fate of just one admirable project, instigated by a loving couple who shared their love with the world by putting their life's work into the betterment of us all with simple and honest intentions  but railroaded by a pathological ego so lacking in substance it can function only in an environment where the norms are honesty, selflessness, solidarity and a reluctance to involve the state. The actual function such a character performs is, by definition, ego-centric, serving the ego-maniac never the people it feeds off in the times when their hopes are clouding their judgements, when someone is telling them exactly what they want to hear but is doing something which is never disclosed openly and usually ends in sadness and loss for the communtiy. The gronks and slavers, referred to in the 'Road to Despair' as the sort of backroom boys in a Marxist government who are equally distasteful as their fascist counterparts depending only on what colour flag they wave.
 
Brisbane anarchism has been preyed upon from the very start by this archetype and so typical of a dozy Banana Republic it seems comical in retrospect. I played my part and got shat on from a great height by the same posturing born of laziness while swimming upstream trying to understand why all these projects were so flimsy and bound for ruin.
 
The anti-war days when Vietnam was a war and not a burgeoning economy provided a huge market for the radical literature that fed the heads of intelligent and active minds eager to see an end to a world where a military industrial complex can  turn a paradise into hell in less than a week and leave it crippled and suffering for decades afterwards. Several bookstores serviced this market; The East Wind Bookshop provided the Marxist-Leninist/Bolshevik scriptures from the People's Republic of China, The Peoples' Bookshop offered up the Bolshevik line as espoused by the Communist Party(ML) of Australia, While the Trotskyists (Bolsheviks following the lead of the man who formed the secret police after the Russian Revolution but lost out to Stalin when Lenin died) had a shop in New Farm called Resistance as I recall, but by far the most profitable was the Red and the Black Bookshop located in lovely Elizabeth Arcade where a passing trade in porn was passed off as a strike against censorship until feminism became popular enough to end the deception. 
 
The Red and the Black Bookshop began as an organ of student radicals from UQ and was a vibrant place for discussion and a central meeting spot especially when it took up a bigger premises across the arcade. One conscientious worker who had been a stalwart was unceremoniously dropped, then ridiculed, because he failed to make an idealogical leap of faith from Bolshevik to Libertarian (anarchist). As the heat from the anti-war movement died after Australia quit the debacle, interest dropped off as did trade but there were still a few youngsters eager for their opportunity to seek a better world and these were fished with apostolic zeal by the comrades as they euphemistically called friends. Exploited as cheap, audacious, and faithful grunts they were used to steal paper from the students union and carry out similar sorties as required but demonised for smoking pot by a chardonnay swilling shopkeeper with a wife and three kids. The young males were lured by references to a Military Cell armed with unseen weapons until we were taken to the family's country retreat at Brookfield where the noxious weeds were cleared by the juniors and the seniors shot off a few rounds from a shotgun over after lunch drinks. The slaver getting a hard on as he coached his wife on the finer points of the scatter gun.The armoury was expanded, we were told, by the gift of a pistol from a Jewish jeweller from a shop opposite The Red and the Black, who witnessed a noisy intrusion by a uniformed Nazi, (Ross 'The Skull' May) into the bookshop. We never saw the pistol which is material evidence in a Jewish/Communist conspiracy! I queried the slaver some years later "was it a standard issue Colt .45 Revolver (a la Gen. Patton) from the US Army in WW2 Europe?" The answer was yes but the truth is that the standard issue pistol to the US Army in WW2 was a Colt .45 Automatic, a thoroughly different tool to the one using it, or looking at it. The truth is always in the detail.

This less than imposing brute The Skull a notorious self-styled Nazi whose mere presence instilled a renewed terror of Fascism which inspired the local jeweller, a Jew, to part with his pistol, registered in his own name of course, to a prancing young ratbag spruiking world revolution. Believe it or Not.
 
Such a ridiculous sham can't last for long and despite constant and unwavering insistence that a lifelong, monogamous and heterosexual relationship was the only viable lifestyle for human adults while his wife and mother of three was having an affair with one of the staunchest comrades, and financial stress at the bookshop loomed the whole group imploded into an ego battle between gronk and the slaver. Just like mitosis vastly magnified the group split into two identical versions, neither of which went anywhere except deeper into the imaginations of the would be leaders. Leaders in anarchist organisations where the two protagonists maintained a lifelong alliance in an attempt to make a life for number one by browbeating those too young, too naive, too hopeful for the future to carefully criticise their learned seniors. For a more detailed account, if you have the patience is in the piece; Brisbane Anarchism
 
I stayed in town long enough to have my fun playin at what th' poor boy do and when the warrants built up I made my way to Sydney where Anarchism has a very different style with a much larger millieu and far more opportunities for radical activity of all sorts. This after being told for years by the slaver that Sydney's anarchists were a bunch of hopeless individualists when he has been a one man circus all his life except of course while he was tagging along with the family star on the international tennis circuit, based in Florida, probably as similar to Queensland as they have in the U.S.A. Rod is no longer with us unfortunately since his loss precipitated the return to Brisbane of his dillletante ne're do well relative who then fancied himself as a tennis coach which earned him pin money from the local primary school.
 
Worse still he assumed the role of community leader complete with quarto propoganda sheets under the masthead 'Neighbourhood News' where he gave ample space to every issue open to discussion on West End's Boundary Street, the gossip strip. He went on to mismanage the annual Boundary Street Festival, Emma's Bookshop was his libertarian stronghold  incorporating the Institute of Social Ecology and with such an admirable name roped in another crop of young hopefuls but failed to thrive under his domineering posture while militants decades his senior were patronised and kept in the dark. Maybe it was something they put in the water in Florida or perhaps it was congenital but his aspirations were well stripped of meat when he got back to Australia and began casting around for a niche in Brisbane's small number of respectable leftists. He even slandered Drew Hutton for "doing deals with the National Party" which was a blatant untruth and when I reminded him of this I was called a liar. Small wonder the only anarchist from Brisbane to make an impression was a young medical student who made his way to Melbourne after finishing his studies. An astute man he would have returned from the National Anarchist Conference in 1975 with a notion that a free exchange of ideas could not take place in a fishbowl dominated by one fish feeding on its guppies.
 
For the decade or so that I was living in Sydney I came north regularly for family reasons and often took the opportunity to visit Brisbane but anarchism was always tarred with the same brush which was dipped in the festering double talk and outright lies I recalled from the start and my time was generally spent on excursions to the Bunya Mountains as a geurilla farmer, another silly fantasy to feed my own delusion that I was doing something to undermine the seedy racketeers whether black or white market, just as I had been doing for years in my bathroom and kitchen down south. Not only Jonesy but also Faustus were far too close for comfort and fortunately I twigged in time and took an adaptive step. Anarchism in Sydney had established itself in the squatting movement from the start and I found a perfect place to accomodate me while I studied for years, trying unsuccessfully to convince the faculty that this addict could be a nurse instead. The anarchists in Brisbane had predicted that I would poison myself some years previously but failed to find any evidence while one had the gall to show up at my drug free squat expecting me to drop my studies and go back to the Faustian bargain which seemed to appeal to him far more than it ever did to me. Pretty soon Jonesy had him in his sights too and he bailed out in a few weeks, trooper to the end of a free ride and nothing more. Ask the sly with self respect what the market rate would be for all the Crown Corning Quick-Fit glassware and highly detailed recipe alone is worth to the average operator.
 
Enough! This is gravitating towards despair under the influence of alcohol and I probably should give it a rest but first I must provide the salient point; The Road to Despair and Back. Since I have never traced the Road to Despair the salient point can wait but I am of the opinion that it largely boils down to lasting long enough to see those who have made a mockery of hope simply come to their own ignominious and, unless they managed to cache considerable wealth, predictably lonely end. If I find out you'll be the first to know.

felix's picture

he's got the shits. the poops. The nurly-giggles and the nubble-wallops. He's trapped, knowing he can never be anywhere but where he is right now, and this fact is driving him crazy.

sayarsan's picture

The above might seem more relevant describing the Tao but shit fits in any commentary about events on the left in this town. The slaver had an air of hysteria as he juggled the tasks involved in his biggest campaign of his career. Bigger than the guided tour of Prague, bigger even than the high school campaign a local faire hot on the heels of his campaign for Lord Mayor and his self appointed job as adjudicator at public meetings, one could be forgiven for thinking that a new bunker in the former Commonwealth Bank in Boundary Street finally gave him room to really exercise his imagination beyond all bounds. The excitement was palpable as the slaver handled phone calls with the competition booze outlet he had let a stall to while there was already a pub licensed in the confines of the event, gambling is as good a word for the game he was playing all by himself in his 'self managed world'.
He screwed up storing the beer, the cardboard sweated until it dissolved and the beer was unreturnable, "oh my fuckin god!" We battled for an hour moving all the beer on sale or return was unsalable and unreturnable and guess where the money comes from at all such functions? We all drank it for free at the slaver's insistence no doubt making us all complicit in this gross mismanagement. Not bad for a would be Lord Mayor he kept up his facade of expertise long enough to fleece a working coup[le out of their life savings and pulling Ahimsa the house of peace, down around his ears. I presume this might be around the time that gronk and the greenpill found less and less attraction in a scene where they had been ace sycophants for the slaver since the start.
It strikes me as ironic but I doubt it has any restorative effect on the working people he had fleeced at Ahimsa. Let's just hope they will be the last to fall for his game and I count my blessings I ignored his pleas for me to invest my inheritance with him, he probably saw it as rightfully his. It's his capacity for delusional thought makes me wonder what foul plot he has in mind right now. He could fashion a sad excuse for a uniform and hook up with his adversary The Skull, they have plenty in common beneath the pose.
 
I worked as librarian at the Institute for Social Ecology and remarked on the limited range of titles, most were from his private library dating back to the 60's and 70's. Penguin books about Che Guevara etc, all compulsory reading for the new revolutionary in those days but hopelessly outdated in the new millennium. I was castigated for negativity just as I would be when I raised the question of refrigerating the booze. The notion that things take care of themselves is the common route to failure, adopted by those with no skills and even less sense but a malicious tendency to fleece the hopeful while preaching a philosophy of Do It Yourself is always bound to end up in a ditch, or rut, which is why a grant is such a sweetener for these enemies of the state who can't live without one.
 
A close parallel to Jimbo who turned his college union project where the students created the first non-ABC FM radio station in Australia. A job well done by all involved over the decades when just as the station was taking up a home of its own, independent of the campus, along came Our Great Leader from day one along with his sidekick the pathological junkie to rid the station of the evil influence as he perceived it. Why he was accompanied by someone who spent more time chasing junk than doing news is anyone's guess but the imprint of deceit, delusion and a messianic zeal is a perfect match for the gang of 3 at the Anarchist H.Q. right down to an election campaign which should have been fairly easy pickings for the Greens at Byron Bay. Amazing what happens when they find themselves out of the bowl and into the river. After spending their lives playing with guppies it must be a rude shock.

sayarsan's picture

It's hard to put oneself in the mind space of despair, something to be avoided when possible but such things are rarely so much within the realm of personal choice. In the case of war, which must rate as a major source of despair, there are countless tales which can provide a glimpse poor in detail but close in magnitude. The efforts of the British and the US.. in the South Asian theatre of the second world war brings us an excellent example of an omen to displace despair if not rid one entirely. It would never work here but the chance of war coming to Australia is ludicrous since it has been up for grabs until the British found it and they've been financially embarrassed over the last century so it's cheaper to just buy it.
 
Cut to a different place in a different time (courtesy of Bert Lintner from just one of his definitive works about the region; 'Burma in Revolt') where the British and US. Militaries in their combined enthusiasm set about building a road, the Ledo Road, from Assam in India, across the top of Burma and coming out at Kunming in China. One of the laborers described:
Chinese, Chins, Kachins, Indians, Nepalese, Nagas, Garos slashed hauled and piled. Negroes drove machines. Black, brown, yellow and white men toiled shoulder-deep in the streams, belt-deep in red mud. In one camp, 2,000 laborers spoke 200 different dialects.
I wonder what conditions were like for the Japanese and their allies amongst the Burmans was like but presumably they were something similar however the big slice of credit for the completion of the road is due to support from local tribesmen, mostly Kachins, who operated under Detachment 101. According to Charles M. Simpson:
Detachment,ent 101 organized and led an irregular force of Kachin tribesmen that ultimately numbered about 11,000 men. They operated deep in the jungle as individual agents, in small groups, or in battalion strength. They kept the Japanese under surveillance, raided, ambushed and harassed without cease. The high command in the theatre credited almost 90% of its intelligence to Detachment 101, 85% of the Tenth Air Force's targets were designated by them.. Detachment 101 counted 5,428 Japanese known killed, and a fair estimate of the real total is closer to 10,000. Once General Stilwell asked the leader of a successful Kachin unit how they could be be so sure of the large and exact number of Japanese killed in a particular engagement. The Kachin opened a bamboo tube and dumped a pile of dry ears on the table. "Divide by two", he told the General.
 
Now we have some more insight into what Colonel Kurtz was talking about from his encampment in Kampuchea. Any sane society has inherent methods of dissipating despair however huge. More importantly it is worth paying some respect to the unnamed individuals, tribes, and even countries which go forgotten while Australians get drunk and reminisce about a war that in many cases didn't involve anything more despairing than an office job complete with a trinket to prove their metal. Countries untouched by war shouldn't make such a deal of them, those which have provide ample cases of despair while those who have it as a component of their lifestyle whether by choice or not will have the best systems for dealing with despair.