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


Anonymous said...

Bruce was one of the best.
I'll miss him.
Last time I got to see him was 1may07 out in Milwaukee.
I think (at least as of last april)the mke wobbs are planning
a tribute concert which was going to be him and everyone who's ever worked with him type thing there at the Pabst Theater. I'm waiting to find out if that's still on.

marco said...

Bruce was one of the best.
I'll miss him.
Last time I got to see him was 1may07 out in Milwaukee.
I think (at least as of last april)the mke wobbs are planning
a tribute concert which was going to be him and everyone who's ever worked with him type thing there at the Pabst Theater. I'm waiting to find out if that's still on.

Anonymous said...

It is a sad day for me indeed!!! Makes the words "hug em while you have them" hit home. God Speed Utah My thoughts are with you all. Keith Bednar

Melani said...

Dear Duncan,

I was so saddened to hear about your father's death. May he rest in peace. I'm sure that many good things will grow out of the furrow he traced.
My father also passed away in May, on Tuesday it will be exactly a year and I'll never get used to that. But I always carry his wisdom with me. So I know you will too.
I keep you and your family in my thoughts.



Anonymous said...

I ran Steve Bakers obit on KWMD, ran a bunch of Phillips music and related tunes, and shed so many tears I left for a drink (I hardly ever drink).

-Jeremy Lansman once of KFAT, Gilroy

Historelli said...

Utah's voice will resonate through the ages, that gives me comfort

Anonymous said...

Oh Utah -- you are finally on the ride of your life. Thank you for decades of vision and caring. We saw you at The Iron Horse in Northampton MA recently. It was so good to see you in person after so many years of loving your music.

Rest in Peace.


Anonymous said...

My condolences to the entire family, blood and otherwise. Utah means a lot to me and played a crucial role in my upbringing through his stories and songs coming at me through my stereo. I had the pleasure of meeting him in 2006 and it still is one of my fondest memories. Good luck and take care of one another.

Nate said...

Utah was a great man with a great vision of the world. His words and music have affected me from a lifetime. I am very grieved to here the news. My regards go out to his family and friends. He will be greatly missed by all and always remembered wherever there is struggle for a better world.

M Bryan Tom said...

Thank Dog Utah was here.

Good remembrance, Ken.

_M Bryan Tom Thompson, SLC

F. Sofield said...

Your father will be sorely missed, you and your family are in my thoughts. Utah Rest in Peace.

All my best,

Heather said...

Dear Duncan,
I am very sad to hear that he has left heart aches. A truly great man!!! I will miss him dearly. As time passes I can tell you from expierence....the pain never goes away but it does get better. I loved your father for who he was, and what he believed. My thoughts are with your family! with love, Heather Allen N calif

BarryF said...

I was at Strawberry Music Festival this weekend when I (and thousands of others) heard the sad news. It was hard to find the feelings among the crowd - many of whom had witnessed Utah and his absolute mastery over song and audience exactly one year earlier on the main stage at Strawberry.

Oh what a night that was as he held that audience with quiet stories and touching songs.

The next morning he was in the much more intimate amphitheater with a few other performers 'holding court' with stories of trains, hobos, and history.

I live a few miles from Utah (yeah, present tense - he's always going to be here) and often saw him at restaurants, shows, out on the streets at a peace rally, or out geocaching. His calm voice was always music to my ears.

I had the honor of interviewing him on our local non-profit telethon Day of Giving and like any interviewer with 1/2 a brain, I opened the door and stayed out of his way - enjoying every twist and turn he took.

I will always use the messages of Love and Acceptance and Goodness to light my path. Thank you, Utah.