Marianne Dissard Commemorates Heroism and Duplicity with a Phil Ochs Classic
[Editor’s note: the underlying alarmist tone of this piece reflects the uncertainty of the time it was written, before studies confirming that at least 83% of all humans are either immune or have natural resistance to COVID-19 were readily available]
In 1968, the submarine USS Scorpion sank in the Atlantic, enroute to the Mediterranean, It was the second time in five years that the Navy had lost a sub to conditions other than wartime (the USS Thresher had sunk under similarly mysterious circumstances off the coast of Massachusetts in 1963).
Despite knowing that the Scorpion needed repairs, Navy brass decided to keep the ship in the water for an upcoming NATO exercise. Whistleblower Dan Rogers, a crew member, refused to go on the mission. He would be the only surviving member of the original crew of one hundred.
Fast forward to 2020: Captain Brett Crozier of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, his crew stricken by coronavirus, sounds the alarm. The Navy’s response? Recently departed Navy Secretary Thomas Modly calls Crozier “too naive or too stupid,” relieves him of duty and admonishes the crew for their appreciation of his support for his troops.
On his classic 1968 album Rehearsals for Retirement, Phil Ochs commemorated that first tragedy with an elegant, corrosively cynical piano ballad, The Scorpion Departs But Never Returns. Now, inspired by Captain Crozier’s heroism and the top brass’ harsh response, Marianne Dissard has released a hauntingly atmospheric cover of the song, streaming at Bandcamp.
Dissard pulled a band together remotely, with all the instrumentalists – bassist Thøger Lund, violinist Vicki Brown, and flutist Marco Rosano in Tucson, and guitarist Raphael Mann in the UK – sending in their contributions over the web. The French-born Dissard rarely sings in English, but this is one of her most hauntingly evocative vocals, ever, more unselfconsciously elegaic than Ochs’ version. A smoky swirl of guitars lingers, pizzicato violin pops up, the bass drones, and it’s Dissard’s pause at the song’s cruelly climactic moment that packs the biggest wallop of all. If this is typical of Dissard’s long-awaited, forthcoming album, it’ll be the best thing she’s ever done.