Ted Nugent or Bruce Springsteen? Red or Blue? Love it or leave it? Forget about all that. We’re about purple-state unity and a seemingly archaic belief that patriotism fuels hearts on both sides of the aisle. That’s why we’re not going to stoke the fire by talking up two songs — a great patriotic anthem and a great protest song — and set up an all-out grudge-match between, say, “The Fighting Side Of Me” by Merle Haggard and “The Immigrant” by, um, Merle Haggard. We don’t want to contribute to the shouting matches. Thankfully, we have Phil Ochs.
Ochs is best known as a protest singer and a Greenwich Village contemporary of Bob Dylan, but that description doesn’t do him justice. Think of him more as a bridge between Woody Guthrie and Joe Strummer — an artist who wielded his guitar as a weapon and used the stage as a soapbox. Through his music, Ochs protested, provoked and pissed off the right-wing establishment with anti-war songs like “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” but then pissed off his left-wing supporters by proudly proclaiming himself a patriot when anti-establishment protesters were burning American flags.
But his patriotism was real: Phil Ochs was so in love with America that he wrote “Power And Glory” to create “a song that promotes a way of life that America symbolized to the world.” Its verses could be hung up in congress. Sung by schoolchildren after the Pledge Of Allegiance. Tattooed on Toby Keith’s chest. It’s a song that celebrates America’s beauty and its ideals, yet reminds us that we’re only as great as our ability to live up to those ideals. “She’s only as rich as the poorest of the poor, only as free as the padlocked prison door.” It’s a great irony, but also a testament to the deep sincerity of Ochs’ song, that this devout leftist’s love-letter to America would be covered by, among others, conservative icon Anita Bryant and the U.S. Army Soldier’s Chorus.