The Ghost of Phil Ochs

by David Paul Behrens

When you see homeless people on the street,
When you see people, with no food to eat,
You can thank your lucky stars, it’s not you.
The luck of the draw, it has pulled you through.
There but for fortune, go you or go I,
As the ghost of Phil Ochs goes walking by.

Whenever you see the floodwaters come,
The tsunami beats down, just like a drum,
Upon a house made of sticks and not bricks,
At the mercy of the wild water’s tricks.
There but for fortune, go you or go I,
As the ghost of Phil Ochs goes floating by.

Whenever a drone attacks a brother,
Fast asleep in the arms of his mother,
While the sister hides, deep inside a hole,
Death wreaks havoc upon her very soul.
There but for fortune, go you or go I,
As the ghost of Phil Ochs goes flying by.

Whenever you see a child getting beat,
He cries and he hangs his head in defeat.
Whenever you see an old man abused,
Or an innocent man, falsely accused,
There but for fortune, go you or go I,
As the ghost of Phil Ochs goes limping by.

When you see all the massive poverty,
Without much hope for owning property;
The tragedies of the hungry and poor,
The refugees of genocide and war,
There but for fortune, go you or go I,
As the ghost of Phil Ochs goes drifting by.

When you watch, as the starving baby dies,
His stomach is swollen, his mother cries,
Too weak to swat all the flies from his eyes,
While the rich man turns away and he sighs,
There but for fortune, go you or go I,
As the ghost of Phil Ochs goes crawling by.

So when you see the homeless on the street,
When you see people, with no food to eat,
You can thank your lucky stars, it’s not you.
The luck of the draw, it has pulled you through.
There but for fortune, go you or go I,
As the ghost of Phil Ochs goes walking by.


A Response to ‘The Ghost of Phil Ochs’

by Evan Mantyk

When you see homeless who live on the street,
When you see people with no food to eat,
Then you can thank all the stars, it’s not you.
Virtue this life, or a past, pulled you through.
Thus, but for virtue, go you or go I—
“Peace” to the ghost of Phil Ochs and “goodbye.”

When you see floodwaters rise up and come,
See the tsunami beat down like a drum
Onto a house made of bricks and not sticks,
Thank all the sweat you put in to lay bricks.
Thus, but for hard work, go you or go I—
“Peace” to the ghost of Phil Ochs and “goodbye.”

When there’s a drone that attacks a young boy,
Who once was sleeping all nestled in joy,
What savage law, we must ask, led to this?
What kind of nation has led him amiss?
Thus, but for freedom, go you or go I—
“Peace” to the ghost of Phil Ochs and “goodbye.”

When there’s a boy who’s done wrong getting beat,
Crying and hanging his head in defeat.
Give him a talk and a smile so he learns
Though we’re both friends, doing wrong surely burns.
Thus, with good balance, go you or go I—
“Peace” to the ghost of Phil Ochs and “goodbye.”

When you see massive amounts of despair
Poverty, hunger, and all seems unfair,
Know you can reach your soft hand out to them;
But you can’t know whence their plights all do stem.
Thus, with compassion, go you or go I—
“Peace” to the ghost of Phil Ochs and “goodbye.”

Pointing the finger, collecting more tax,
Giving handouts that make people too lax,
Impotent socialism draining our blood,
Running up debt and yet doing no good;
Out of this pit we must crawl and then fly—
“Join us” I say to the ghost who stands by.

“Bring down the statues and smash them to bits
Lenin and Engels and Marx where he sits,
Put them on trials now long overdue
Many dead millions all call out to you.
Thus, with true justice, go you and go I—
Sing! of this justice, Phil Ochs, as we fly!”



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15 Responses

  1. Joseph Tessitore

    Powerful stuff – well done to you both!

    My own thoughts – you won’t stop gang warfare by joining a gang; neither will you stop ideological warfare by asserting an ideology.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      No, you can’t kill an ideology. But as William Buckley said, you can kill an ideologist, and that’s frequently just as good.

      • Joseph Tessitore

        This is the first time one of these responses had me laughing out loud – well done, Dr. Salemi (and William Buckley)!

  2. C.B. Anderson


    Thank you for elevating the idea of individual responsibility. I’m tired of group-think and the notion that “society,” a fallacious hypostasization, is to blame for everything.

  3. Charlie Bauer


    Thank you both very much! These poems together make the powerful observations that life is full of suffering and we are called to be servants; where the line becomes blurred is trying to determine whether we are serving others or enabling them.

    With respect and admiration,


      • Joe Tessitore

        Conservatism and liberalism are not God and the devil.

      • Charlie Bauer

        I think we agree and allow that you may say definitely not; I am definitely conservative and also make a distinction between liberalism and leftism. The conservative commentator Dennis Prager says it much better than I can:

        Hope that clarifies my thoughts!

        Best wishes,


  4. David Paul Behrens

    Dear Evan Mantyk,

    Thank you for publishing these poems. I am honored that you would take an interest and the time to formulate a poetic response to my poem. Including a video of Phil Ochs and related material was an excellent idea.

    Thank you,

    David Paul Behrens

  5. David Paul Behrens

    I do not wish to engage in a back and forth argument, but the Bob Dylan quote was merely a reference to Charlie Bauer’s comment, “we are called to be servants.” His comment reminded me of a song, and that’s all there was to it. Evan’s response poem may have an ideological slant to it, but the poem I wrote says nothing about liberalism, conservatism, God or the devil and is based upon a song written by Phil Ochs. The poem I wrote, as well as the song it was based upon, is an expression of compassion towards those less fortunate, or the least among us, so to speak.

    My only ideology involves the teachings of Jesus Christ, as expressed in The New Testament, specifically the parts which usually appear in red ink, indicating words spoken by Jesus. I think many people calling themselves Christians do not measure up, which is why I don’t call myself one. I believe in Jesus, but not necessarily in the religions which claim the same. I believe that could be considered an extremely conservative viewpoint.

    Sometimes “group-think” can be a good thing, sometimes it is a bad thing, which is the dualistic nature of our universe. The success of any society relies upon group-think as a necessary tool to survive. The alternative would be anarchy. As a group, we all must agree to stop on red and proceed on green, slow down or speed up when the light is yellow. Religions are major proponents of group-think. Speaking in the same language in order to communicate is an example of good group-think. If not for group-think,
    the entire world would be in complete chaos and civilization itself may not even exist.

    When one goes to a library, it exists as a result of group-think. It is not even possible to have any thought, which is not, to some degree, a result of the influence of group-think, because all thoughts are words and we must, as a group, agree upon the definitions of those words, in order to communicate. The dictionary itself is a perfect example of group-think. No original thought could exist without the existence of group-think, because all the words used to create that original thought are words which have been agreed upon by the group.

    It is up to us, as a group, to determine what is good or bad, right or wrong, just or unjust, and group-think is a determining factor in the success of any society, especially in a democratic one. Our democracy is based upon group-think, which we call the majority. The Declaration of Independence and The U.S. Constitution are manifestations of group-think. If you have faith in the basic goodness of each individual, group-think is a necessary component of the success and development of all mankind. In a free society, even dissent and disagreement are direct results of thinking as a group, in that we, as a group, agree we are all entitled to our individual opinions.

    Of course, in a totalitarian society, the group is required (at least openly) to think whatever the dictator tells them to think. In some circumstances, such as a communist dictatorship, forced group-think is detrimental to the individual spirit, individual thoughts and opinions, entrepreneurship and personal responsibility.

    So it depends on what you mean by “group-think.” Like anything else under the sun, some group-think is a good thing, while at the same, it can be a bad thing. Sometimes there is a thin line between the two. If you are tired of group-think, you need to move to another planet, perhaps in another solar system or galaxy. Maybe we could call the planet Anarchy and the galaxy Chaos. Have a nice trip, and I hope you will not be going all alone. In fact, you should consider travelling in a group.

  6. James Sale

    Two very enjoyable poems and they made me curious about Phil Ochs whom I had totally forgotten about, though I was there in the 60s. It proves, of course, that simply writing protest songs and commenting on the ‘but for fortunes’ of other people does not render one immune oneself from those twists of fate: Dylan’s (Och’s contemporary and rival) fortune turned one way, and his went in exactly the opposite direction. His life, perhaps, more of a lesson than his songs.

    • David Paul Behrens

      Well said, James. In the seventies I saw Phil Ochs perform at a benefit concert in NYC along with Dylan, Pete Seeger and many other folk singers. Ochs was the MC and was embarrassingly drunk. Committing suicide about a year later, jealousy towards Dylan’s career contributed to Ochs’ demise. He wrote some good songs though.

  7. Dave Whippman

    Well-written piece, mentioning a too-often forgotten singer/songwriter.


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