Most people my age have never heard of Phil Ochs, a singer-songwriter of the 1960s who, for a brief time at least, was as prominent in the folk music world as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Ochs's early work was mostly very topical (his first album was titled All the News That's Fit to Sing), and his later, less-topical songs never really caught on beyond Ochs's already-established audience, many of whom wanted him to return to recording songs with only an acoustic guitar for accompaniment. His later years were marred by alcoholism and mental illness, and by the time he hanged himself in 1976, at age 35, he was remembered -- if he was remembered at all -- as a relic of the previous decade.
But when I was growing up, Ochs was famous in our house. As a radio DJ in Massachusetts in the mid-60s, my father almost lost his job because of an Ochs song called "The Ballad of William Worthy". My father was no bomb-throwing radical -- he always voted for Republicans, including Nixon, and moved on from radio work to owning a gun shop. But he was fiercely anti-authoritarian, and I expect what appealed to him about protest music was what had appealed to him about early rocknroll: it annoyed and frightened people of his parents' age.
"The Ballad of William Worthy" tells the story of a reporter who defied the U.S. State Department's travel bans on China and Cuba. Worthy's case was an important early one for famed civil rights lawyer William Kunstler, and was in the headlines long enough to grab Ochs's attention. The song included this chorus:
William Worthy isn't worthy to enter our door
Went down to Cuba, he's not American anymore.
But somehow it is strange to hear the State Department say
You are living in the free world, in the free world you must stay.
It's a fun, catchy tune, and one day my father played it on the radio. A lot of listeners were upset, and expressed their distress to the station in letters and phone calls. I expect some advertisers were none too pleased, either. My father promised not to do it again.