Friday, May 30, 2008

A working class farewell for working class royalty

At 11 p.m. Thursday May 29, we returned my father Bruce "Utah" Phillips to the earth.
I truly wish each and every one of you could have been there. It was the most beautiful and yet endlessly sad event that I ever have seen.

Our family gathered at Pioneer Park in Nevada City were a team of strong, Chestnut hued white footed Pusher horses hitched to a simple black Cassion wagon patiently waited for the arrival of it's cargo.

Dad's wish was to be buried in a simple hand made pine box and thanks to master craftsman Stephen Goodfield he was. The coffin was perfect, unfinished, slightly tapered, six rope handles and sealed by 42 square head nails.

The team of horses flanked by the pallbearers exited the park and paced themselves up the hill for the twenty minute walk to Pine View cemetery . We laid dad to rest in the far North, East corner of the cemetery under a native Black Oak.

The service was short and beautiful. Meghan Cefalu, The minister from dads church the Unitarian Universalist Community Of The Mountains Blessed the site and I followed with this prose from Wendel Berry's Jayber Crow.

Back there at the beginning, as I see now, my life was all time and almost no memory. Tough I knew early on of death, it seems to be something that happened only to other people, and I stood in an unending river of time that would go on making the same changes and the same returns forever.
and now, nearing the end, I see that my life is almost entirely memory and very little time.... I began to understand that whenever death happened it to me. That is knowledge that takes a long time to wear in. Finally it wears in. Finally I realized and fully accepted that one day I would belong entirely to memory, and it would then not be my memory that I belonged to, and I went.

Our good friend, Ben Pearl then followed with an amazing rendition of Sweet Briar.

Sweet Briar

The sweet briar and the aurum brush
With blossoms purple gold and red
Are flames that bloom within the bush
And sacred seems the ground I tread.
The golden bees, the golden bees
Mock Memnon's sweetest melodies,
The golden bees, the golden bees
Mock Memnon's sweetest melodies.

In shadow of the wood I lie
Un-waked by dreams of noisy mart,
Where dust and soot soil not the sky
Nor hammers beat on human heart,
Nor shuttles fleet, not shuttles fleet
Weave life into a winding sheet,
Nor shuttles fleet, nor shuttles fleet
Weave life into a winding sheet.

When the pale axman strikes his stroke
And takes the warm life from my breast,
Plant by my grave a sapling oak
And violets of azure crest.
The oaken staff, the oaken staff
My shaft, the flowers my epitaph,
The oaken staff, the oaken staff
My shaft, the flowers my epitaph.

Utah was then lowered into the earth by the cemetery workers, (I only mention this part because one of the fellow workers was aptly named Harpo), and then we took turns casting hand fulls of dirt into dads grave and saying goodbye each in our own way.

Thank you again for all of the love and well wishes, they are deeply appreciated.

I will post something about the rest of the events tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Service


First, thank you. Each and every e-mail, phone call and letter carries with it the same weight and heart felt significance. We do read and forward on each and every communication.

We will have the funeral service on Thursday May 29, The service will be a small private farewell (family only) followed by a very unprivate memorial on Sunday June 1st. at Pioneer Park in Nevada City Ca. The memorial will begin at 10 a.m and last a couple of hours. Because of my dads love of little league baseball the memorial will be held on home plate at the little league field in Pioneer Park and have a very distinct baseball flavor.

I know that I should write more but .... I can't , I just can't. I hope you understand.
Thank You
My heart goes out to you and your family.
My connection to Utah is through my good old buddy, the late Fred Holstein. I was blessed to play bass with Fred for several years. During that time, I got to meet many writers, performers, actors, singers, etc, among them. Bruce Phillips. It was always a pleasure to see him, especially since he remembered me by name. Months could go by without seeing each other, but when he was in town, he always recognized me by name.
One Saturday afternoon, at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, I asked Utah: "What is it about Fred that makes him so dear a friend to you? He doesn't create his own songs but presents the work of others." Bruce replied: "Norm, there are a lot of songwriters out there who, due to some circumstances, never get heard. People like Fred almost always find these people. They may never write but one song that reaches a certain point in people's consciousness that connects. As a writer myself, I believe that for every songwriter out there, there should be at least 100 interpreters."
These words have inspired me through almost 40 years to soldier on and find those songs that reach me and try and share them with others. It is amazing how many writers there are that are never heard but for the serendipitous efforts of interpreters like Fred Holstein, and hopefully, me as well.
The world is, again, an emptier place with the passing of Bruce Phillips, who joins the likes of Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston, Huddie Ledbetter and Chicago locals Win Stracke, Steve Goodman, Bob Gibson, Fred Holstein, WFMT's Midnight Special host, Ray Nordstrand, one of Utah's big fans, and Tom Dundee, to mention a few. Thanks to recordings and those of us who know the work of these people, their memories will live on for a long time to come.
God bless Bruce "Utah" Phillips.
Norm Siegel
"Those that were seen dancing were thought
to be insane by those who could not hear the music."
Friedrich Nietzsche

Monday, May 26, 2008

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Good morning from Nevada City.
Thank you everyone for your heartfelt , kind words of support and love

The house is filled with family and friends, the deep sense of family and community washes over like a varnish forever binding us together. We spent the day telling stories weeping, telling more stories and weep again.

Dad remains in his bed in a state of rest so family and friends have the opportunity to say goodbye. Myself, I choose not to view him in such a state. The last time I saw and spoke with him in his home before I left to go back to Salt Lake was perfect.

Utah's wish was to not be embalmed and laid to rest in a plain, hand made wooden coffin to expedite his return to the earth, which we will honor. He will be laid to rest in the cemetery down the road from his home in Nevada City .

The tentative date for the funeral is Thursday May 29 with a memorial service on the following Sunday . I will keep you posted when the arrangements are finalized.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A rumination on the passing of U. Utah Phillips, anarchist, wobbly,
hobo, railroader, folksinger, activist, great iconoclast, husband,
father and and all around amazing human being.
> By Ken Sanders, a friend.
> The golden voice of the great southwest, U. Utah Phillips, will sing
and story tell no more. Bruce Phillips passed away at his Nevada City,
California home, last evening, May 23rd, 2008 from heart failure, at
age 73. After a lifetime spent on the road and speaking and singing out
against injustice wherever he found it, one of America's great
iconoclasts is dead. After a lifetime spent helping others, Utah
Phillips had little of wordly goods left over for himself. Eschewing
monetary wealth his entire life, he made a conscious choice not to seek
out a heart transplant that might have prolonged his life; not simply
because he couldn't afford it and had no health insurance, but in part
because of quality of life issues.
> U. Utah Phillips was born in Cleveland, Ohio, May 15th, 1935 during
the great depression and later served his country during the Korean War
in the 1950s, where his political views and anti-establishment stance
were formed. Musically influenced by Woody Guthrie and the emerging
folk protest movements of the 1930s & 40s, he styled his moniker, U.
Utah Phillips, after his musical hero, T. Texas Tyler. He grew up in
Salt Lake City, Utah, and spent many years of his life here and always
had a love/hate affair with his adopted state. It was in Salt Lake
that he met Ammon Hennacy, a Catholic anarchist and fellow wobbly, who
founded the Joe Hill House, which Phillips and Hennacy ran for many
years. A card carrying member of the IWW for most of his life, Utah
Phillips spent his life defending the rights of the working man, the
homeless and the indigent and also had a lifelong passion for trains
and hobos.
> Around this time he first met fellow singer songwriter folksinger
Rosalie Sorrels, who was the first to popularize and record songs by
Phillips. Sorrels and Phillips became lifelong friends and performed
dozens of concerts together over the decades. He ran for the U.S.
Senate from Utah in 1968 on the Peace and Freedom Ticket, garnering
over 2,000 votes in a defeat to long term U.S. Senator, Wallace F.
Bennett. father of current long term Utah Republican senator, Robert F.
Bennett. His first recorded album was Good Though, followed by We Have
Fed You For a Thousand Years, and he gained a whole new audience
through his joint album with Ani DiFranco, Fellow Workers. Many other
musicians (Tom Waits, Emmylou Harris, Ian Tyson, Rosalie Sorrels, Ani
DiFranco & many others) have recorded Utah Phillips songs over the
years, including such classics as "Moose Turd Pie," "Rock Salt & Nails,"
"Green Rolling Hills," " Daddy, What's A Train," and "Goodnight-Loving
> For many years Utah Phillips hosted his own radio show in Nevada
City called "Loafer's Glory: The Hobo Jungle of the Mind" and was a
well known community activist there. His story telling abilities were
legendary and any Utah Phillips performance was likely at least three
quarters stories with a few tunes thrown in. He was an ardent student
of history and had a lifelong passion for trains and hoboes His
passing has rent a huge whole in the fabric of the universe which can't
be mended. He will be missed. Rave On Utah Phillips! RAVE ON!
> I first became aware of Utah Phillips as a youth in the 60s in Salt
Lake through the old Cosmic Aeroplane, back when he was running for the
U. S. Senate. I believe Bruce was also involved in the then campaign to
get the national anthem changed to Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your
Land." Through the Cosmic Aeroplane in the 1970s , I had the honor and
privilege of getting to know Bruce as a friend and was involved in
several concerts back in that day, including an environmental fundraiser
concert with Phillips and the late Edward Abbey, who although they had
never previously met, became friendly after that concert. Abbey tried to
track Utah down the next day to get Bruce to show Ed the exact spot in
the old prison grounds where they shot Joe Hill. Later we sponsored a
concert with Phillips and Rosalie Sorrels at East High through the
Cosmic Aeroplane. Bruce hadn't been back to Utah in a few years, and
prior to the concert, the police dusted off an old outstanding warrant
for his arrest and threw him in jail. We had to bail him out of jail
in order for the concert to proceed that evening. Several years ago,
after losing track of him over the years, our paths crossed at the Gold
Rush Book Fair in Nevada City California where he was the guest of honor
and we renewed our decades old friendship. I last saw Bruce and his
wife Joanne exactly a year ago, at the same Gold Rush Book Fair, where
Utah regaled my daughter Melissa with stories throughout that evening.
Rock salt and nails, amigo, rock salt and nails.
Ken Sanders
Ken Sanders Rare Books, ABAA
268 South 200 East
Salt Lake City UT 84111
(801) 521-3819
Fax: (801) 521-2606
This may be late news for some but for rest i must tell you that shortly before midnight, in his sleep wife his loving wife Joanna by his side my father Bruce "Utah "Phillips passed away.

It should be of great comfort that dad was able to spend his last months at home with friends, family and a community that he deeply loved.

There have been no arrangements made as of yet and as i can I will keep you posted.

I feel a deep loss not just for myself and my family but for the global community as a whole.
Dad meant and represented something different to each of us.
Not much more I can say at this point.
Thank You All

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Saturday Benefit

A Benefit for U. Utah Phillips "The Golden Voice of the Great Southwest"
Saturday May 24th, 4-7 PM at Paonia Town Park Stage
Sponsored by Starr's Guitars and Co-Sponsored by KVNF
FREE Live Music Featuring, Bill Powers and the Silvertone Devils, Russ Chapman, Hard Pressed and Bob and Diana Sukiel (members of The Rose Tattoo--which is the extended family of fellow friends and musicians associated with Utah)

Join us in Celebration of an American treasure-a true eclectic, archivist, historian, activist, musician, songwriter, philosopher, hobo, tramp, member of the IWW and just about everything in between.
Utah Phillips is struggling with health costs associated with his heart condition. All money raised will go to a fund set up to help with his medical expenses.

The music is Free! Donations are encouraged and greatly appreciated. Starr's Guitars has donated a guitar to be auctioned. The Guitar will travel with Larry and Gail Davidson to Nevada City to be signed by Utah and members of The Rose Tatoo at the big "Rendevous" there the following week. The guitar will then be returned to the highest bidder. There will be various other pieces of memorabilia and art to be auctioned as well as a bunch of Utah's CDs available for purchase.

Bring a picnic and enjoy some local roots based music in the shade of Paonia's
beautiful Town Park while you show your support for this Great American living legend. Paonia is on Colorado's western slope--and hour or so from Grand Junction
Also, on Tuesday May 20th, The "Just Us Folks" show on KVNF will feature all things Utah Phillips. We will have a call in from Utah himself and possibly have some live music and interviews in the studio as well. Tune in with Gail from 9:30-12 noon Tuesday, April 20th on KVNF or listen online at
For more info on Utah
For more info on the benefit call 970-527-5112

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Happy B-Day

Today is the day, Dad's 73 rd birthday, what a journey.
I think dad's recent letter said everything that need be said for now. His birthday does remind me of our first few road trips together.

Five or so years ago we reunited after many , many years apart. I would sit in the audience or off the wings of the stage and watch dad's shows. He had the usual stories of Big Bill, Mother Jones, little brother Brendan and Morraigan but then he would say " I traveled here with my oldest son Duncan, he's 43 and lives in Salt Lake" I used to say " what , that's all I get?" But the reality was that although we are father and son at that point in our lives we really didn't know that much about each other. Obviously a lot of water has passed under the trestle. It truly has been an amazing journey and I wouldn't change a thing.
Happy Birthday dad.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Note From Utah

Dear Friends,

Utah here, with a rambling missive pandect and organon regarding my current reality. At no time should you suspect me of complaining (kvetching); I am simply grepsing (Yiddish word for describing the condition of that reality).

First, medical: My heart, which is enlarged and very weak, can’t pump enough blood to keep my body plunging forward at its usual 100 percent. It allows me about 25 to 30 percent, which means I don’t get around very much or very easily anymore. I’m sustained (i.e., kept alive) by a medication called Milrinone, which is contained in a pump that I carry around with me in a shoulder bag. The pump, which runs 24 hours a day, moves the medication through a long tube running into an implanted Groshong catheter that in turn runs directly into my heart. I’ll be keeping this pump for the rest of my life. I also take an extraordinary number of oral medications, of which many are electrolytes.

My body is weak but my will is strong, and I keep my disposition as sunny and humorous as I’m able. It’s hard enough being disabled without being cranky as well. Though I’m eating well, my weight has gone from 175 to 155 pounds. I look like a geriatric Fred Astaire.

We manage to get out a good bit, visiting the Ananda (a local spiritual village and retreat center) flower garden up on the San Juan Ridge and occasionally going to lunch at various places around town. The bag is always with me. Believe me, none of this would be possible without my wife Joanna. She has the deepest, most loving and caring heart one could ever imagine. She’s taken charge of all my medications and makes sure that I’m well fed and don’t fall into the slovenly ways of a derelict. She also has enormous physical beauty—I have never seen a more beautiful woman in my life. She is endowed with intelligence, deep insight, compassion, and a capacity for love that passes all understanding.

Heart disease aside, I find that I have a hernia that needs to be repaired. Someday I suppose I’ll become like Ernie Bierwagen, the old man who owned the orchards outside town. He said to me once, “I know that God wants me to say something, because the only thing I have left that works is my mouth.” But for now, I’m enjoying my life and can think of no good reason not to. Joanna and I both know that the chemical regimen I’m on can’t go on indefinitely. We take things a day at a time, deriving joy and solace from a solid, loving relationship.

I want to share with you something about where we live. If you’re reading this on the Internet, I’ve sent Duncan some photos to show you what it looks like. Our house is on a country lane right off Red Dog Road, about a mile from downtown Nevada City. Nevada City is an old gold-mining town in the Sierra foothills with a population of about 2,800. The old buildings are all still here, including the National Hotel, one of the oldest hotels in the West that’s still doing business. The town is a quirky, mystical sort of place, populated by poets, writers, artists, misfits, and just regular folks. When you drive down Berggren Lane where we live, you come to a brown house with green trim, lap-strake siding, a steel roof, and a high green fence around the front. The steel roof is there because we live in an ancient oak and cedar grove, which includes in the front yard a couple of towering poplar trees. Sometimes the wind coming down from the high Sierra breaks off tree limbs, and if it weren’t for the steel roof, we could well be eating our salad by the roots.

When we first moved in here, the house was tiny. Using her remarkable ingenuity and the prodigious skills of our friend Steven Goodfield, a fine independent carpenter, Joanna has added a hallway and two rooms going up the hill, which gives us a bedroom and bathroom, and me a study. The French doors in our bedroom open out onto a dappled hillside with hawthorns, cedars, pines, wild cherries, and oaks. The lot itself is quite narrow, the result of a bad survey many years ago. The old part of the house was built in 1912. When we bought it, there was a greenhouse along the southern wall. It was rotting out, so we replaced it with a new, insulated and thermo paned greenhouse so that we could remove the interior wall and make it almost part of the living room. Our house is a beautiful, comfortable place to live, absolutely surrounded by greenery.

Looking out the greenhouse windows now, I can see the huge poplars in front, already in full leaf. The front yard is Joanna’s flower garden, a great splash of color amid the green. As I look over my shoulder out the greenhouse door, which is also the front door to the house, I can see the hawthorn trees covered with cascades of white blossoms, as though their limbs were burdened with new snow. There’s a brick patio just outside the greenhouse with a fireplace and a small pond crowned with a bronze frog who emits a stream of water into the pond, which, when the weather is warm, we can hear from the bedroom when we’re going to sleep.

Opposite the greenhouse is the kitchen, with a wonderful early 1930s gas range, one of those with a two-lid firebox on one end. Outside the kitchen window is a railed porch built by our friend Kuddie, which overlooks another flower garden and an old apple tree, still bearing, that was probably planted when the house was built. The lot itself, narrow though it is, goes up the hill quite a way, where it levels off through the cedars and ends at a large open space that was a vegetable garden when I was still able to do that sort of thing.

The cedars are gigantic and quite an anomaly, a patch of forest that was never logged, probably because of the bad survey. It simply got missed. Walking in it now is like walking in the quiet of a much larger forest.

Walking up the hill, you pass three small outbuildings. One, called Marmlebog Hall (Joanna’s children call her Marmle), is where Kuddie ordered and maintained the CDs I used to travel with. It also contains a small labor library. The second building is a small barn on uneven stilts because of the hill. It’s there for storage. Don’t ask me what all is in it, but I do know it would drive an archaeologist mad. Among other things, it houses about 15 collapsing cardboard boxes that contain what academics have characterized as my personal archives, but are in fact a jumble of papers and objects, the detritus of over half a century. The University of California at Davis once said they wanted to accession my archives. I said, okay, if you hire somebody to come and plough through those boxes, because I’m not going to. They never called back.

The third building up there is an old shed, tiny, drafty, but a place where I spent many happy hours making things when I wasn’t traveling: wooden swords, bird feeders, and such. For the past few years the workshop has been a henhouse with a chicken-wire enclosure. Nothing fancy: five hens and a large rooster named Ralph (Rooster-Dooster). Ralph enjoys the good life. You could poke three holes in Ralph and go bowling with him. The hens all have names, but I forget what they are. They give us eggs, which I think was the idea to begin with.

Last winter a bear broke into the chicken yard and tore the door off the henhouse. The hens and Ralph managed to escape by hiding behind an old chest of drawers. The first hen to reappear showed up in our dog Bo’s mouth; she was uninjured, but that condition would not have lasted much longer. The others came out of hiding one at a time. Before our friend Che Greenwood could come over to fix the door, we feared the bear would return, plus a great storm was kicking up. So we set up a round of chicken wire in the greenhouse, which, as I say, is part of the living room, and installed the chickens there. Eventually, the smell was overpowering. How can chickens live with themselves? It was Friday evening and I’d turned on my small portable radio, as at this time the power was out, to listen to a station in Sacramento that broadcasts opera from 8:00 p.m. till midnight. That Friday one of the opera excerpts featured was an aria from Puccini’s Tosca sung by Maria Callas. That’s when Ralph decided he liked opera. As she sang, he began to crow along, so I got Tosca as a duet between Callas and Ralph. That’s when I said, these chickens have got to go back up the hill. I mean, it was Puccini, for God’s sake.

So. That’s domestic life here at our place.

A few words about me and the trade before I wind this up. When I hit a blacklist in Utah in 1969, I realized I had to leave Utah if I was going to make a living at all. I didn’t know anything abut this enormous folk music family spread out all over North America. All I had was an old VW bus, my guitar, $75, and a head full of songs, old- and new-made. Fortunately, at the behest of my old friend Rosalie Sorrels, I landed at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, New York. That seemed to be ground zero for folk music at the time. Lena Spencer, as she did with so many, took me in and taught me the ropes. It took me a solid two years to realize I was no longer an unemployed organizer, but a traveling folk singer and storyteller—which, in Utah at the time, would probably have been regarded as a criminal activity.

I spent a long time finding my way—couches, floors, big towns, small towns, marginal pay (folk wages). But I found that people seemed to like what I was doing. The folk music family took me in, carried me along, and taught me the value of song far beyond making a living. It taught me that I don’t need wealth, I don’t need power, and I don’t need fame. What I need is friends, and that’s what I found—everywhere—and not just among those on the stage, but among those in front of the stage as well.

Now I can no longer travel and perform; overnight our income vanished. But all of those I had sung for, sung with, or boarded with, hearing about my condition, stepped in and rescued us. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to be part of this great caring community that, for the most part, functions close to the ground at a sub-media level, a community that has always cared for its own. We will be forever grateful for your help during this hard time.

The future? I don’t know. But I have songs in a folder I’ve never paid attention to, and songs inside me waiting for me to bring them out. Through all of it, up and down, it’s the song. It’s always been the song.

Love and solidarity,


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A note from Aurora Fox

Hi Everyone !
Thanks so much for helping to make this "healing blanket" for Utah Phillips!

I finished it last night and today we drove up to Nevada City (with
some friends) and gave the blanket toUtah. He was in good spirits,
talkative (as always) but seemed frail and easily tired. We stayed
quite awhile --he told stories, and Larry and Ray Bierl played and
sang a few songs. Utah also talked about some old songs and even sang
us a few. We all had a good time! and he loved the blanket and
admired it....

thanks are due to all the knitters:
Ceci Marker
Ceci's friend Laura (please pass this e-mail on to her Mike)
Kate Brislin
Kerry Parker
Debra Kalmon
Sharon Noel
Susan Weiss
Katie Hambly
Lisa Hubbell
Irene Herrmann
Marnie Potter

Many hugs to you all!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Michigan Benefit

Brad up in Saugatuck MI. is interested in planing a benefit for Utah sometime in June at the Boathouse. If thee is anybody body in the area and you are interested in helping maybe you can contact Brad.
Brad Raffenaud

I know that I have not posted much lately, the truth is my dad and I have been playing phone tag the last couple of weeks. After seeing dad in the hospital during the month of Feb. I know first hand how quickly his health can turn and every time my phone rings my heart skips a beat. So when I don't talk to him for awhile I'm sure he is marching along, it's the old no news is good news thing.

When I do talk with dad on the phone it's some how different now. Our conversations are more meaningful, not in some deep philosophical way it's much more generic than that. In the past we always talked about our next road trip or some song one of the two of us was working. But now we talk at length about everyday boring stuff you know like getting your hair cut, mowing the lawn or the weather, it's odd we talk about stuff we never talked or even cared about before. It dawned on me the other day when I was driving around, we talk just to talk, just to hear each others voice. The truth is if we said nothing at all we would probably still sit there with the phone to our ear, it's the connection between two friends we enjoy. The reality is we linger on for so long because neither of us wants to say goodbye.