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Saturday, April 09, 2016


by Bill Dixon

on the 40th anniversary of the death of Phil Ochs

It's open mic night at The Sacred Mushroom.
   Phil Ochs tramps
onto the red stage,
and glares at me, some punk kid.

He has a Gibson acoustic guitar under his arm
   and confidence under
his battered leather coat.
He turns toward the crowd in folding metal chairs.

And a jittery 10th grade kid awaiting his turn next.
   That's me in the back row
Wishing that I'd sat closer
to the spotlighted red stage by then.

Walking's the hardest part, up to the stage.
   Then climbing on to it,
carrying my beat-up old Kay 6-string
clenched in my left hand, stepping unsteady steps.

Phil finishes his last protest song,
   with a flourish I still can't do,
and he nods unsmilingly
at the audience of old Beatniks.

They applaud and then pause, as I creep,
   onto the red stage
as slowly as a snail. It seems
the crowd's faces are as old as my father's.

I sing my three songs, sweating under the lights,
   in the January-cold coffee house.
I had done what I could do.
I nodded at the faces, and stepped off stage.

I was not Phil Ochs, but there was applause.
   I thanked the listeners.
I am now a Folk Singer,
and I am now a man. Thanks again, I said.

Author’s note: These events took place at the Sacred Mushroom Coffee House, in Columbus, Ohio in 1960.

Bill Dixon worked his way through the Ohio State University, got an M.A., taught school, did iron work, worked at the Columbus Zoo, tended bar, and worked his way into a CEO position at a Columbus bank. He has written two books, Disorderly Conduct (1960's at OSU) and Guitar Collecting. He writes a regular column "From The Edge" for Dixon lives in Florida and Maine.