Facebook made a minor change in how its interface worked, if that is even the right terminology. I went into a minor fit, immediately e-mailing a techie friend for help, in my momentary panic, because it seemed my Facebook “Wall” was gone! My friend was unavailable and after a little while of searching around on my profile and my “page,” I was able to figure it out and all was again well with the world.
I realized how my parents felt when they were trying to learn to program their VCR and never could master what seemed like such a simple thing to me. How such a minor change on Facebook could panic me and result in my kids looking at me cross-eyed like I was a simpleton (well, my kids do that all the time) was almost comical.
All of this made me think of how change affects us all. With technology, it happens quicker, obviously, but we all get set in our ways starting with territorialism in homeroom, at least that is what it was called when we boomers went to school. If someone dared to sit in my homeroom seat, there would be hell to pay.
I felt the same when my Facebook “Wall” was “missing.” And, many of us feel the same when we have to move, which is why it’s up there on the list of things that cause the most disruption in our psyches along with the death of a loved one, divorce, loss of a job, etc. Change is difficult and with technology it can be really hard, especially for boomers where we’re still adjusting to learning some of the basics.
As I like to wax nostalgic, I am going to reflect on a song and an artist from the sixties, long forgotten to most but well remembered by me–Phil Ochs. He was an American protest singer (or, as he preferred to be called, a topical singer) and songwriter who was known for his sharp wit, sardonic humor, political activism, insightful lyrics, and haunting voice. He wrote hundreds of songs in the 1960s and released several albums. He never became the star he hoped to be, but was a contemporary of Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, and Tom Paxton.
Ochs performed at many political events, including anti-Vietnam War and Civil Rights rallies, and student events, in addition to many concert appearances at such venues as Carnegie Hall. Politically, Ochs described himself as a “left social democrat,” who became an “early revolutionary” after the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago led to a police riot, which had a profound effect on his state of mind.
Ochs’s mental stability declined in the 1970s. He eventually succumbed to a number of problems including bipolar disorder and alcoholism, and took his own life in 1976 at the age of just 35.
I was an early and earnest fan. When I describe his voice as “haunting” I really mean it. In fact, my single personal encounter with him and his later death had a truly “haunting” effect on me.
It took place in the early 1970s, when I was attending UCLA, where he was performing. I stayed late at school to attend his performance and walked across campus when a beat-up VW bug pulled over beside me. The passenger rolled down his window, and leaned out and asked me, “Hey man, where is Schoenberg Hall?” As it was dark, I leaned in and began giving directions to, as it turned out, Phil Ochs himself. He couldn’t follow me, and opened the door and motioned me to get into the cluttered back seat.
I was an amateur folk singer of my own and I noticed the Phil Ochs songbook beside me, in the back seat of the Bug. I directed him and what turned out to be his brother, Michael Ochs, to the parking lot adjacent to Schoenberg Hall. Along the way, I asked Phil Ochs if he would sing one of my favorite songs of his.
When we got out of the car, he asked me to hand him his songbook. I looked at him, puzzled, and asked, “Heck, why do you need it, you wrote all the songs?” to which he replied, “Sometimes the words don’t come to me anymore.”
He was in his early thirties at the time. In the hall, I got a good seat up close. He performed, as he usually did, without any back up, just his voice and his own accompaniment on acoustic guitar. In fact, I knew the words to his songs better than he did. At one point, he motioned towards me and said, “This one goes to my friend Bruce” and sang the song I requested.”
A couple of years later he hung himself.
Here are some lyrics from his song, “Changes,” one of his few songs that were non-political:
Green leaves of summer turn red in the fall
To brown and to yellow they fade.
And then they have to die, trapped within
the circle time parade of changes.
And, here is a “live” performance of Phil Ochs from the long defunct television show, “Midnight Special,” for your enlightenment.
How does all this relate to “Change Is Good?” Well, it doesn’t directly, of course. But, it does remind us that our lives will always face changes. Our choice is to face them, deal with them, learn from them, and confront them, and certainly to teach our children how to deal with changes both by how we model how we deal with changes and how to direct them in dealing with the changes they face.
Some will be simple, like the Facebook change that I mentioned at the beginning of this column. Others are harder, like when we try to change personal habits or learn new technologies.
There’s one thing I’ve learned in life, and I’ve learned from Phil Ochs. The only thing you can’t change is giving up. So, don’t. Get help with whatever you’re stuck on, whether it is a simple tech issue like I got stuck with momentarily on Facebook, or a life problem that requires bigger help. Just don’t give up! And realize that change is good.
Get Bruce’s new book and Limited Edition (of 500) Poster, A Dad’s Point-of-View: We ARE Half the Equation at Amazon, iTunes, BN.com, or The Store here on our web site.