|Name||Bruce D. "Utah" Phillips|
, Utah , United States
|| May 15, 1935
|Died||May 23, 2008
|Last Modifed||Thomas Walker|
Jun 03, 2008 11:45am
|Info||Folk singer. |
Member of the Industrial Workers of the World for over 40 years.
The Music and Mystique of a Folk Radical, Utah Phillips
by Martin Gorda
A rash of recent articles in the popular media have announced the so-called resurgence of the Left in American politics. According to this sound-bite wisdom, a �New Left� is rising up across the land, revitalized by the Seattle World Trade Organization protests and Ralph Nader�s Green Party Presidential campaign.
For many, however, the Left Wing has long been alive and well. In fact, it�s been our salvation. Instead of languishing, moribund in some media-anointed limbo, the Left helped us endure the Reagan/Bush era. It got us through the �invasion� of Grenada and Desert Storm and Bosnia.
Indeed, the Left has thrived in America for well over a century. The Left killed McCarthyism, brought down Nixon and got America out of Vietnam. It helped organize workers, fought against Jim Crow and opposed American corporate imperialism � from John D. Rockefeller to Bill Gates.
In more recent times, the Left helped identify Gore and George W. as phony, centrist wolves-in-sheep�s-clothing. Voters couldn�t tell the difference between them because there isn�t any.
But now, after a stolen election and a massive transfer of wealth, Big Media suddenly have rediscovered the Left Wing of the American political spectrum. Is this gutsy investigative journalism, or what? There�s just one small problem.
Before we award Pulitzer�s or dole out Emmys, let�s do a little fact checking. Despite the sweeping pronouncements of Dan Rather, Rush Limbaugh or Bill Maher, the Left wing never really disappeared. Whether pointing out Clinton�s many hypocrisies, documenting the CIA/crack epidemic or identifying Iran-Contra conspirators, people like Ralph Nader, Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal and Utah Phillips have been active all along.
Chances are you know Nader, if not from his recent Presidential campaigns, then perhaps as this nation�s preeminent consumer advocate for the past thirty-five years.
You may even have heard of Chomsky, MIT Linguistics professor and an indefatigable critic of U.S. foreign policy and domestic injustice. And the Vidal name might ring a bell if you read the �Nation� or have come across his cogent and biting collected essays.
But who�s this Utah Phillips guy?
He�s been called a �national treasure,� and �a writer of haunting songs, a storyteller of hilarious presence and subtle depth, a union organizer, historian and scholar, a Celtic-Yiddish bard, a Pleistocene bon vivant, a post-modern ne�er-do-well and a heck of a train engineer.� So how come such a multi-talented fellow isn�t more famous?
Utah Phillips is a sort of modern day Woody Guthrie. Like Woody, Utah knows that a song can be a powerful tool in the politics of class struggle. So do others. Phillips� tunes have been recorded by many artists, including Joan Baez, Kate Wolf, Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin.
But even his collaboration with Folk Grrrl, Ani DiFranco hasn�t translated into major mainstream exposure. Their recent CD, Fellow Workers was even nominated for Best Contemporary Folk Album of 2000. So, what gives?
Perhaps it�s the �Folk Music� label � these days not exactly a guarantee of widespread fame or commercial success.
As Utah said himself, �There are no careers in Folk Music. If you want to make a million dollars in Folk Music, then start out with two million.�
Leftist politics and social humanism haven�t exactly endeared Utah Phillips to mainstream pop culture. Singing songs like �Dump the Bosses Off Your Backs,� and �Hallelujah! I�m a Bum,� won�t make you a media darling in our dotcom world. And telling stories about strikes and street protests won�t put you in solid with record company executives or aspiring yuppies, either.
But Utah�s songs of subtle disobedience and his tales of solidarity remind us of a history we aren�t taught in school. They remind us that people just like ourselves once struggled against oppression, fought against imperialism and defeated exploitation. Perhaps we can too.
Back in 1968, Phillips ran for the Senate as a Peace and Freedom Party candidate. During years of �just hoboing� around America, he helped unionize workers from Washington State to the District of Columbia. More recently, he has been the perennial Presidential candidate for the Sloth and Indolence Party.
But now, with Big Media�s renewed interest in all things Leftist, perhaps Utah�s time is at hand. With characteristic wit, Phillips says only that his future plans include �setting up a mail-order tattoo parlor (perhaps on the Internet?) for people with artificial limbs.�
One of Utah�s favorite stories: The Buddha�s students asked him, �Are you a saint?� He said, �No.� After a while they asked him, �Are you an angel?� He said, �No.� �Then what are you?� they asked. The Buddha replied, �I�m awake.�
One of my favorite stories: A printer for the Sacramento Bee once told me about his experience on a picket line. A cop blocked the printer�s path and demanded, �Where�s your permit?� The printer looked at the cop and said quietly, �I think it�s in the Library of Congress; you know, that piece of paper called the Constitution.�
Maybe America is ready to listen once again to ALL of its citizens; not just the rich and powerful. And maybe Big Media, instead of feeding us an endless diet of dotcom riches-to-more-riches stories, is finally ready for Utah Phillips.
Are you awake?
Q: What is Utah's state of health?
A: Well, lets see: In August 2000, Utah spent a day in the hospital, for a case of angina. He was treated, and given a bunch of tests. The good news is that his condition is about the same as it was 5 years ago. It will never be better, but at least its not worse. He is watching what he eats and exercising.
In September 2000 Bruce fell off the back of his truck (It was parked at the time) and broke a rib. He was treated and was a bit stiff for a few weeks. He told me "Don't post that, people will give me a good ribbing over it..."
A: 2003 Utah is doing OK. He has had to start traveling again to make a living, but is trying to take it slow so as to not overtax himself.
Q: When and where was Utah born?
A: Utah's birthday: May 15, 1935 and he was born in Cleveland Ohio.
Q: What does the U. stand for in U. Utah Phillips?
A: It's a mystery of the universe, though you might go ask T. Texas Tyler, if you can find him.
Q: What is Ani Difranco like?
A: She has the most powerful intellect. She knows who she is and what she is about. I would trust her with anything I do.
Q: (Asked at the Children's Music Network) Are you ready to pass the torch?
A: No, I'm not ready to pass the torch, I'm not done with it, and you'll have to go through me to get it. The world does not belong to the young, I was here first. But here is an idea: I'll carry the torch, you carry me.
Q: What are your favorite songs?
A: There are two. Walter Houston's "September Song," and the Carter Family's "Jim Blake's Message."