Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Utah Phillips, 1935-2008

U. Utah Phillips, The Golden Voice of the Great Southwest, folksinger, storyteller, labor & social activist, and anarchist, passed away May 23 in Nevada City, California, which passes for 'the big city' at the other end of my county.

I did a post on this fine old gent just before the 2004 presidential election when he realized that corporate fascism had taken us over to the point where he felt it was necessary to compromise his vow to never participate in systemic politics and vote for the first time. He urged progressives to set aside their differences, vote against the Bush regime, and get back to fighting amongst themselves after the danger had passed. Which it hasn't yet, of course, but he was right.

From my local paper, the Sierra Sun:

“Phillips died at home, in bed, in his sleep, next to his wife,” according to his family, which was in seclusion Sunday at his home about a mile from downtown Nevada City.

Pretty good way to go, although I don't know if I'd want to surprise Mrs. G like that.

The folk musician’s remarkable career included international acclaim for the stories and songs he wrote about social and labor issues, as well as his career as a hobo who ran the rails as a young man. He also once ran for the U.S. Senate.

Phillips’ musical career stretched over 38 years and his songs were performed by Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings and Joan Baez. He earned a Grammy nomination for an album he recorded with Ani DiFranco.

He once told The Union that “folk music is the glue that holds the community together,” as people gather to share food, music and to dance.

From the EssEffChron:

Mr. Phillips rose to prominence on the folk scene with the single "Moose Turd Pie," a song from his 1973 debut album "Good Though!" That song was about serving moose feces to fellow laborers during the time Mr. Phillips worked as a cook in a railroad gang.

I think I've had that. I live in a big railroad town. It's all in the spicing...

While an irrepressible comedian onstage, Mr. Phillips took his social commitments seriously. A brief stint in the Army that included a tour of Korea in 1956 inspired his work with the peace movement. For a while, Mr. Phillips was a railroad tramp, drinking heavily and ending up in a homeless shelter in Salt Lake City operated by an anarchist.

The son of labor organizers, he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate from Utah on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket in 1968. He also made a run for the presidency in 1976. Later, he founded the Peace and Justice Center in Nevada City and helped start the Hospitality House, a local homeless shelter.

Last night, Democracy Now ran a previously un-aired 2004 interview with Mr. Phillips. This is the first interview with him I've ever seen. Entertaining as all get out, and some words of wisdom we'll not again hear the likes of. I highly recommend watching it. A transcript as well.

A selection of videos of his work here.

This old gent put the 'left' in 'progressive'. He was the epitome of the 'left wing commie pinko liberal', a title coined by the rabid right to describe anyone who doesn't agree with them and one I am proud to claim even though I'm not.

Utah Phillips walked the walk. His passing is a huge loss. One of his signature songs is 'Railroading on the Great Divide'. See ya on the other side of the great divide, Utah.

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