Sunday, June 8, 2008

Memorial Service Last Sunday

The memorial service for dad was held at the little league baseball field in Nevada City Ca. Dad had a great love for little league baseball, he admired the pure and simple way kids played ball. He attended most every game and even traveled a couple of times with the team to away games, I can only imagine the conversation on the road with the kids. Dad's favorite team growing up was the Cleveland Indians. the Indians is also the name of the little league team in Nevada City.

It was a perfect day for a memorial, bright blue sky, mid seventies and almost no wind.
The ball field in rimed by towering pines with a dirt infield and the typical signs adorn the out filed fence. The memorial had a very distinct baseball flavor. The base lines were freshly chalked the home team Indians dressed in uniform passed out the programs for the memorial and latter when it got warm they passed out water to the crowd that numbered 800 0r more that filled the out filed and bleachers of the ball park, the concession stand was open and the most popular item was the" Utah Special", a chili dog and a warm bottle of water a close second was the Hobo Special, a bowl of chili and a warm bottle of water, dad preferred his beverages warm.

There was a small eight foot riser just behind home plate for the speakers. It was nicely decorated by Amigo Bob with pine tree branches
I had the honor to MC the event which began with the singing of the peoples national anthem. For those who don't know the peoples national anthem is.... everyone sings his or her favorite song at the same time. Then the Indians hurler Zach White threw out the first pitch to his trusted catcher Michael Skerak. It was a perfect pitch, high and tight in the strike zone. Then the announcement was ball!

My little brother Brendan spoke to dads love of base ball. My little sister Morrigan spoke and read a lovely Wendel Beery poem. John Mccutcheon delivered a eloquent tribute and sang so Long It's Been good to know Ya. Some of the other speakers were John cloud, John spoke about dads vast knowledge. Tony Rohrieg from the Salt Lake branch of the I.W.W. and Mark Ross talked about dads union involvement. Dads Dr. Doctor Lang and cardiac Robin wright talked about dads heart condition. Poet molly Fisk read a poem and spoke of dads love of poetry. Joanna's son Ian Durfee read a beautiful passage and talked about Bruce the adventurer. Librarian Mary Ann Trigg spoke about dads love of books and how he used to hide his library card at the library in a book he knew know one would ever check out. Dad's booking agent and long time friend Jim Fleming spoke about Utah the performer and Steve baker and Mikhail Graham spoke about dads involvement in community radio and his radio show , Loafers Glory the Hobo Jungle of the Mind. Dear friends Brack, Bob, and Kuddie from the Rose Tattoo reflected on riding the rails and dads tramping days. Dads sister Deborah Cohen Lead the seventh inning Kvetch, we played take me out to the ball game and launched a model rocket into the summer sky. Actually the first attempt at launching the rocket was not so smooth in fact in didn't launch at all. I think it was one of the little leaguers, with a little prodding from his friends that fixed the problem. The second attempt was a success and the rocket soared into the air and believe int or not when the chute deployed the rocket dropped to the infield next to home plate. After the seventh inning Kvetch Joanna's other son Nicholas Tomb touched on dad's impeccable style. Nory Fussell talked about the towns peace center and dad's hand in it's beginning and sang a song. Janice O'Brien spoke about Hospitality House Shelter . The shelter dad and Joanna along with the help and support from many, many wonderful people in Nevada City and Grass Valley shelters about forty people a night. Dad's dear wife Joanna Robinson reflected on their life together and Brendan closed the show with dad's Hymn song.

I know I am missing some details but the whole thing was and still is kind of a blur. It was sad, touching, funny and beautiful. It was a fitting memorial to a truly remarkable man, a man that I am honored to say was my father.
If some of you read this and have more to contribute about the tribute please do post it or send me an e-mail and I will post if for you.
A pot luck at the Foundry followed the memorial maybe one of you can touch on pot luck. The whole day was overwhelming to say the least. I am still trying to process the whole thing.
Thank you, everyone , for the help and support it was an amazing event that could not have happened with out you, it was a real community effort and dad would have been proud of his home town Nevada City.


1 comment:

markin said...

Tribune Commentary

I have just received word that the legendary folksinger/ union organizer and old-fashioned Wobblie Utah Phillips has died out in California. Apparently he died on Saturday May 24th. Ironically, given some of my comments below regarding a review of his last CD, Starlight on the Rails, that date is also Bob Dylan's birthday. I have reposted commentaries that I have done over the last couple of years on Utah. Adieu, old class warrior


I have just received this communication about Utah Phillips from a local folksong society newsletter. I would add that I saw Utah playing at a club in Cambridge last spring (2007) and he looked a little off then. I have reposted below a CD Review of his anthology Starlight On The Trail from 2006 for those unfamiliar with his music and his politics. We differ on the politics but please help this old class warrior. I have added a link to his website here.

I have also added a link to the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, Wobblies) website.

Utah Phillips needs help

Unions Passing Resolutions to Honor, Assist Folksinger/Storyteller Bruce "Utah" Phillips

The great folksinger and storyteller Utah Phillips has had to retire from performing due to chronic and serious heart problems that have plagued him for years. In recognition of his great love for and work on behalf of the union movement and working people of the United States, several union locals have passed resolutions honoring Phillips and attaching donations for his "retirement fund." Unable to travel or stand the rigors of performing a two-hour concert, Phillips has seen his main source of income vanish just when his medical problems are demanding more money for treatment and medications.

In response, Local 1180 of the Communications Workers of America (NYC), and both the Detroit and the James Connolly (Upstate New York) Branches of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) have recently passed the following resolution:

Bruce "Utah" Phillips is a truly unique American treasure. Not just a great folksong writer and interpreter, not just a great storyteller, Utah has preserved and presented the history of our nation's working people and union movement for audiences throughout the world. His recorded work keeps these songs and stories alive. He has spoken up against the injustices of boss-dominated capitalism and worked for peace and justice for more than 40 years.

Now Utah finds himself unable to continue performing due to severe heart problems. We wish to honor and recognize his great talent, spirit and love for the working people and the union movement of the United States. Therefore, we move to pass this resolution in gratitude for all he has done and will continue to do in his
work and life. We also wish to contribute to Utah Phillips in appreciation and in solidarity as he and his wife, Joanna Robinson, deal with his health and the loss of his ability to work.

This news is being released with the hope that other unions, anti-war and labor-affiliated organizations will respond in kind by passing this or similar resolutions in appreciation for all Utah Phillips has done for the cause of unions and peace.

Another way that organizations and individuals can help is by purchasing some or all of Utah's vast catalog of songs and stories. All of his CDs and more information are available at his website,, and Utah has begun posting pod casts up there that you can download and listen to! You can also order his CDs online (credit card sales) through but be advised that prices are cheaper and more of that money will go into Utah's hands if you order directly from him. More info on his website.

Here's the address for CD orders and to send a donation: U. Utah Phillips, No Guff Records, P.O. Box 1235, Nevada City, CA 95959, (530) 265-2476

Utah has given so much of himself to the labor and peace movements. It is great news that some unions and many have chosen to give something back to him, to allow him and his wife, Joanna Robinson, to rest easy, work on his long-term health, and not have to worry about where money will come for the medicine and bills he has to pay.

In Solidarity, George Mann




Although this space is mainly dedicated to reviewing political books and commenting on past and current political issues as a way to orient today’s alienated radical youth on the lessons of the past literary output is hardly the only form of political creation. Occasionally in the history of the American and international left musicians, artists and playwrights have given voice or provided visual reminders to the face of political struggle. With that thought in mind, every once in a while I will use this space to review those kinds of political expression.

My musical tastes were formed, as were many of those of the generation of 1968, by ‘Rock and Roll’ music exemplified by the Rolling Stones and Beatles and by the blues revival, both Delta and Chicago style. However, those forms as much as they gave pleasure were only marginally political at best. In short, these were entertainers performing material that spoke to us. In the most general sense that is all one should expect of a performer. Thus, for the most part that music need not be reviewed here. Those who thought that a new musical sensibility laid the foundations for a cultural or political revolution have long ago been proven wrong.

That said, in the early 1960’s there nevertheless was another form of musical sensibility that was directly tied to radical political expression- the folk revival. This entailed a search for roots and relevancy in musical expression. While not all forms of folk music lent themselves to radical politics it is hard to see the 1960’s cultural rebellion without giving a nod to such figures as Dave Van Ronk, the early Bob Dylan, Utah Phillips, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and others. Whatever entertainment value these performers provided they also spoke to and prodded our political development. They did have a message and an agenda and we responded as such. That these musicians’ respective agendas proved inadequate and/or short-lived does not negate their affect on the times.

My leftist political consciousness, painfully fought for in my youth coincided with an expansion of my musical tastes under the influence of the great blues and folk revivals of the 1960’s. Unfortunately my exposure to the blues greats was mainly on records as many of them had been forgotten, retired or were dead. Not so with the folk revival which was created mainly by those who were close contemporaries. Alas, they too are now mainly forgotten, retired or dead. It therefore is with special pleasure that I review Utah Phillips Songbook while he is very much alive.

Many of the folksingers of the 1960’s attempted to use their music to become troubadours for social change. The most famous example, the early Bob Dylan, can be fairly described as the voice of his generation at that time. However, he fairly quickly moved on to other concepts of himself and his music. Bob Dylan’s work became more informed by the influences of Rimbaud and Verlaine and the French Symbolists of the late 1800’s and thus moved away to a more urban, sophisticated vision. From the start and consistently throughout his long career Utah has acted as a medium giving voice to the troubles of ordinary people and the simpler ethos of a more rural, Western-oriented gone by day in the American experience. He evokes in song the spirit of the people Walt Whitman paid homage to in poetic form and John Dos Passos and John Steinbeck gave in prose. He sits comfortably in very fast company. Therefore, Utah Phillips can justly claim the title of a people’s troubadour.

A word about politics. Generally, one rates music without reference to politics. However, Utah has introduced the political element by the way he structured the Songbook. Each song is introduced by him as to its significance heavily weighted to his political experiences, observations and vision. Thus, political comment is fairly in play here. Utah is a long time anarchist and unrepentant supporter of the Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World, hereafter IWW). Every militant cherishes the memory of the class battles led by the IWW like the famous Lawrence strike of 1912 and honors the heroes of those battles like Big Bill Haywood and Vincent St. John and the militants they recruited to the cause of the working class in the first part of the 20th century. They paved the way for the later successful organization drives of the 1930’s.

Nevertheless, while Utah and I would both most definitely agree that some old-fashioned class struggle by working people in today’s one-sided class war would be a very good thing we as definitely differ on the way to insure a permanent victory for working people in order to create a decent society. In short, Utah’s prescriptions of good moral character, increased self-knowledge and the creation of small intentional communities are not enough. Under modern conditions it is necessary to take and safeguard political power against those who would quite consciously deny that victory. History has been cruel in some of the bitter lessons working people have had to endure for not dealing with the question of taking state power to protect their interests. But, enough said. I am more than willing to forgive the old curmudgeon his anarchist sins if he’ll sing ‘I Remember Loving You’ the next time he tours the Boston area.