Phil Ochs

Rehearsals for Retirement

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On Rehearsals for Retirement, Ochs retained his poetic sense, but his songs were imbued with the conflicts of the times. The leadoff track, "Pretty Smart on My Part," the hardest-rocking number Ochs had yet recorded, is sung in the persona of a violent right-wing extremist who fantasizes about running over hitchhikers, whipping women, and finally assassinating the president and taking over the government. Similarly, "I Kill Therefore I Am," a twangy rocker, is sung in the voice of a policeman who hates long-hairs, blacks, students, and homosexuals and plans to spray them with mace, beat them, and shoot them. Specifically combining the poetical with the political, the gentle waltz-time piano ballad "William Butler Yeats Visits Lincoln Park and Escapes Unscathed" is a haunting depiction of the confrontation between demonstrators and police in Chicago, quickly followed by a dancehall ditty that sends up its somber reflections without relieving the tragic tone. The result of the convention and the subsequent election of Richard Nixon as president represents, in the songwriter's judgment, the dawn of "Another Age," and a terrible one. That declaration is as positive as things get on Rehearsals for Retirement. For much of the album, Ochs expresses despair rather than anger. "My Life," another attractive piano ballad laced with strings, traces his personal disillusionment, while "The Scorpion Departs but Never Returns," actually a topical song about a nuclear submarine that sank in 1968, evokes familiar Ochs references to sailors, who, here, all drown. The plaintive "Doesn't Lenny Live Here Anymore" concerns the drug overdose death of comedian Lenny Bruce. In retrospect, especially because of Ochs' suicide seven years later, it is impossible not to see the evidence of the songwriter's personal anguish in Rehearsals for Retirement.

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