May 28th, 2008
The legendary folksinger, activist, and anarchist Bruce “Utah” Phillips, “the Golden Voice of the Great Southwest,” died this week in his sleep. For me this is extremely sad. I first heard Utah in 1970 or 1971. For a number of years I saw him once or twice yearly. I felt like he was a part of the family. It was important for my wife to see him, and my son once had the opportunity. His songs and stories were part of my tradition. They were about ordinary people, loggers and cowboys, and those who needed a little help.The people he talked and sang about came to life, so that, after a few years, I almost believed I personally knew them.
The songs and tales were an amazing mixture of funny and sad, expressing intense longing and the ability to shrug at life and cope. He also emphasized the struggle for a better life and against arbitrary authority. As an anarchist, and IWW [Industrial Workers of the World] member, Utah believed in ecouraging independent thought and personal moral responsibility, combined with social solidarity and community.
In order to remember him, I’ve selected a couple of videos from those on YouTube. These give a sense of his presence and spirit, but, alas, they don’t demonstrate his great guitar playing before arthritis interfered. There are many more there, so, if you too loved him, or if you’ve never heard him before but are enthralled, go check them out.then check out the web site created by friends and listen to his CDs. But, most important, embody his spirit, his love of life, and his call to resist illegitimate authority.
The song of his which has most stuck in my brain. I loved singing it to my son: Daddy What’s A Train?
His funniest story: Moose Turd Pie
And, finally, two parts [#1 & 7] of what appears to be an 8-part full concert performance. The first shows how he started concerts for almost 40 years:
And: Get rid of the bum on the plush! [also includes Hallelujah, I'm a Bum!]
Catch that great boxcar in the sky, Utah. And remember, there’s starlight on the rails!