Around the Bend: On human islands


We recently saw a documentary on singer/social activist Phil Ochs. People, like me, know the name but not much else. Now I know. He was an intense performer and organizer for civil rights and, then, the anti-war movement. He wrote and performed a steady stream of songs related to his intense commitments.

"There but for fortune" his most famous song. He also was utterly sincere about his drive to be famous. A monster ego. Along the way, he bumped into Bob Dylan whom he admired and envied. Bob was not nice to Phil. His intense involvement in causes and self led him to implode in the late 60’s. He spiraled down terribly and killed himself.

Phil now joins a select group of prominent, accomplished people whom I describe as ‘Prisoners of themselves.’ Here are the others: Norman Mailer, William Bennett, Reggie Jackson, Howard Cosell. All very intelligent (the type who know their IQ) but
lacking the humility to realize the limits of their own importance. Not an easy role to play in life.

Brief nutshells: Norman: eg married six times, hard for such an egotist (and womanizer ) to accomodate another person. Much more could be written about this outrageous and dangerous egotist. Bennett: bloated with his sense of his superior intellect. He introduced himself as "I am an intellectual." Williams grad, Phd in Philosophy and Law fro Yale.

Very proud of his encyclopedic knowledge of rock ‘n roll. He patronizingly speaks of being in SDS and doing the VW bug thing back then. You hear him talk and he seems almost burdened with so much intelligence. He has to spell it out…

Jackson: Unlike Mailer, never married but the same dynamic was probably at work. Not enough room for two. As a teammate said: "There is not enough mustard for that hot dog" Moments before a ball game in Baltimore I remember him in the center of the field stretching. He was the only one on the field.

Cosell: Increasingly in life he became unbearable. He made his fame and money as a melodramatic, opinionated sports commentator, but he felt contemptuous of that and really wanted to be a U.S. Senator! He died one embittered and nasty man. That ego never allowed him to see, in effect, what a jerk he was. Ali had no use for him, but
recognized his show biz appeal. Yankee pitcher Jim Bouton would come on his show doing his H.C. imitation and you could tell that Cosell did not know that he was being mocked.

So Phil Ochs joins this club of ego-supremists. His life is the most tragic. GIven his skewed makeup he had no where to turn when things went bad. I would not describe the others as projecting happiness though Reggie, on cameo baseball appearances, still seems pleased with the Reggie Jackson story. Of course, there are many others who could be added to this list, including women. Newt Gingrich has been nominated. Egos like his amaze me. Publicly shamed by his behavior in different ways and, yet, he comes back, unhumbled and thinking he still is the one. Very Nixonian. Now, there is another one!

So I add Phil Ochs