When I'm Gone by Phil Ochs.
Old Ben Johnson told scribbling Samuel Pepys, “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” The Coronavirus pandemic and the jarring, ever mounting death statistics likewise give us pause to contemplate our own fragile mortality. Which reminds me of an old Phil Ochs song.
Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan were friendly rivals but rivals none the less. Seen here with Greenwich Village folk scene staple Dave Van Ronk at the 1944 Concert for Chile at the Felt Forum in New York City.
Ochs was second only to Bob Dylan as the composer and troubadour of protest songs during the Great Folk Scare of the early 1960’s. Dylan pretty much abandoned that genre for folk rock and country sounds. Ochs persisted and built an impressive catalog over the next decade. He had a devoted following but never had the huge popular success of Dylan. Some say that contributed to the depression and bouts of heavy drinking that culminated with his suicide in 1976 at the age of just 35.
Ochs's 1966 album ended with When I'm Gone.
Because of that some people assume that Ochs’s song When I’m Gone was a virtual late life suicide note. It was not. It was included on his 1966 Electra album Phil Ochs in Concert and usually the final song on his tour sets.
Chicago folk fans recognize the song as the sign-off every week for WFMT’s long running Midnight Special sung by Tom Paxton and recorded at an Old Town School of Folk Music concert.