How to start? The Decadents is a bizarrely engaging book about ambition, what success looks like when you’re the owner of seventeen “Fry Boy” franchises — which is a lot in the mind of Phil Ochs, but not so much in the eyes of the local Chamber of Commerce that gives a prize he dearly covets to the entrepreneurs who created fake dog testicles for neutered dogs. Here in 2022, I consider it a deep inside joke that many will not fully comprehend that the character in The Decadents Phil Ochs, a dyed in the wool Republican, hates his name. This is because a very famous protest singer songwriter of the sixties and seventies made that name famous. I lustily sang some of his songs and bought the whole collection sometime shortly after the other Phil Ochs died, a suicide, at thirty-five. That Phil Ochs was authentic, issue driven, and a hell of a writer.
Our Phil Ochs in The Decadents is something of a blowhard with no particular moral compass.. His twenty-three year old son, David Samuel, doesn’t appreciate the opportunities he’s had because of his father’s fast food success. He wants to be a taxidermist. He is already a somewhat creepy-crawly poet who illustrates poems about hating his father and leaves them about for him to find. Phil wants David Samuel to do something more conventional with an eye to financial success, finally settling on his becoming a Fry Buddy Store manager. But first, he has to break David Samuel, because this defiant young man persists in his artistic dreams, demanding to be sent to taxidermy school. So Phil pays a star athlete at the high school to beat up his son and then speeds up his progress toward manager in the business. There’s some “make a man out of him” rationale going on there. Soon, Phil’s need for attention/success turns to running in a special election for the state Senate, acquiring an campaign managers that’s actually experienced, but down on his luck, runs a campaign having nothing to do with issues or politics, and from time to time connecting with his wife Lillian, who has always been there for him.
Meanwhile, the campaign manager Eddie Ellis, adds a side story to the questions about success, having long been out the the campaign business and consigned to the freight brokerage business, something of a failure whose wife left him for a female lawyer, taking their daughter along. So they all end up interconnecting, into one heck of an amusing political race, complete with ads by the opponent about all of Phil’s former managers who jumped ship with lots of stories to tell of his abuse. There’s a contest to give Phil a middle name, to rid him of the hated Phil Ochs moniker, interspersed with days spent at Fry Buddy where the Goth-like, odd, David Samuel is suddenly good at what he’s doing. And of course we know something David Samual doesn’t: That he got beaten up by kids hired by his father, something hanging over the campaign. I laughed out loud enough to count this a funny book along with a number of broad smiles and sly smirks. Very satisfying satire.