He caught the westbound.
May 24, 2008 2:06 PM   Subscribe

posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 2:15 PM on May 24, 2008

posted by By The Grace of God at 2:27 PM on May 24, 2008


don't mourn, organize.
posted by graymouser at 2:28 PM on May 24, 2008 [4 favorites]

Whoa, I didn't even know he was still alive. A couple of his songs have found their way into my Pandora playlist and I assumed he was already long gone.

posted by DU at 2:36 PM on May 24, 2008

Because there's so little about Utah Phillips in this post, I want to give a bit of an entry point for those who aren't familiar. I think a good starting point would be his Wikipedia entry. Utah was a folk singer in the Industrial Workers of the World, the grand old One Big Union that is still getting along. He was of a great old tradition stretching back to the original Wobblies, T-Bone Slim and Joe Hill and all, and lived the life of an itinerant folk singer and Wobbly as long as he could.

I don't think you could really know Utah except through his music. I love his album We Have Fed You All For a Thousand Years, a collection of songs from the Little Red Songbook peppered with little anecdotes and stories about the old Wobblies. The Telling Takes Me Home is the best "pure" recording of his own material. The Past Didn't Go Anywhere is mostly a collection of Utah's work as a raconteur, telling stories and relating political points, with occasional background music. The complete songbook is a bit much for most new listeners, but contains valuable anecdotes with each song. There's a warmth in his voice and personality that I think is deeply genuine and a bit hard to find these days.

I never got to meet Utah personally, but I know that he had many friends in and out of the IWW who will be sad to see him gone. The world's a little darker for the lack of him. But as I said earlier — don't mourn, organize! Utah would've wanted no less.
posted by graymouser at 2:54 PM on May 24, 2008 [21 favorites]

posted by eclectist at 2:55 PM on May 24, 2008

posted by scruss at 3:03 PM on May 24, 2008

Thanks for fleshing this out a bit, graymouser. RIP, dear sir.
posted by sleepy pete at 3:10 PM on May 24, 2008

There'll be pie in the sky when you die.
That's a lie!
posted by beerbajay at 3:10 PM on May 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

There's a touching message from Mr. Phillips from earlier this month on the blog his son runs for him. He gives an update on his health and describes his life as he was apparently deeply enjoying the end of it.
posted by mmahaffie at 3:10 PM on May 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

Eep! You'll get...
posted by beerbajay at 3:12 PM on May 24, 2008

Ashamed to say I knew him only for Moose Turd Pie. Interesting fellow, thank you for the post and the filling in.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:15 PM on May 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, damn.

posted by hades at 3:16 PM on May 24, 2008

Utah singing "There Is Power In a Union" (YT w/ photo montage). There are plenty of other videos there as well.
posted by graymouser at 3:28 PM on May 24, 2008

posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:33 PM on May 24, 2008

posted by allen.spaulding at 3:37 PM on May 24, 2008

posted by languagehat at 3:55 PM on May 24, 2008

posted by overglow at 4:01 PM on May 24, 2008

Caught the last train out of town.

posted by Sailormom at 4:03 PM on May 24, 2008


posted by rokusan at 4:16 PM on May 24, 2008

it's fair to say that, while working, at least one of Utah's songs or stories comes around (on random play) and talks to me, every single day.

that man made me understand this place i live in better than anyone ever could. who my people were before they lost track. the power of a song, sung simply, in the old way.

what a teacher! i always felt that one of the most radical acts i ever did in the classroom was playing his songs and stories. how fucked up is that, huh? that the common sense and matter-of-factness of Utah Phillips--that plain old history told as it was can be considered in any way revolutionary.

fearless. wonderful man. thanks for everything.
posted by RedEmma at 4:37 PM on May 24, 2008 [4 favorites]

posted by Nekosoft at 4:49 PM on May 24, 2008

Well said, GrayMouser. I saw Utah in Boulder with Ani DiFranco @ Chautaqua Hall (sp?). Truly one of the last of his kind.
posted by Lukenlogs at 4:58 PM on May 24, 2008

Well shucks. I listened to him in Nevada City CA several times. Another good man passes on.

Requiescat in pace.
posted by elendil71 at 5:00 PM on May 24, 2008

I too had the pleasure of listening to him in a small venue--coffee house on campus. The IWW still has headquarters in Chicago and you can join. But essentially the labor movement has gone into a steep decline. I am reminded of how sad the times have become and changed when watching a show on PBS about FDR and the Depression. FDR wailed away at the corporations and bad they were for Amerian people etc. Imagine any candidate or elected official saying that today? Nader notes this but offers no plan to control them and, if he had one, the Congress would not pass it because ilt is not in their interests to do so.
ps: the turd story is magnificent
posted by Postroad at 5:49 PM on May 24, 2008

posted by ethel at 5:51 PM on May 24, 2008

posted by LobsterMitten at 5:52 PM on May 24, 2008

posted by cookie-k at 5:55 PM on May 24, 2008

posted by horsemuth at 6:07 PM on May 24, 2008

I'll never forget, back in Austin, right after Judy Bari and Darrel Cherney were bombed, I went with some Earth First! friends to see him play at the Cactus Cafe on campus. We showed up early to have a couple or three and chinwag a bit, and there was Utah sitting by himself havin' a cuppa coffee. We just dropped by the table to say hello and thank him for gracing us with his musical gifts and he invited us to sit down and chat - must have talked to him for almost an hour, commiserating on the injury to our comrades and of the darkening skies of the body politic. That is moment that I have always treasured, truly a privilege. What a sweet man - a great soul and deep love for people and the spine to never stop struggling to help them. I know the mouser said the songbook, "Starlight on the Rails," is a bit daunting for new listeners, I just can't recommend it too highly. After listening to this sage for some 20 years, I have learned so much from the stories on that package, it so fleshes out his body of work. We're gonna miss you dear friend.....
posted by Durruti at 6:07 PM on May 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

posted by Smart Dalek at 6:13 PM on May 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think he'd have a good laugh at all this seriousness and sadness. Comes to everyone, and I reckon he had a damn fine run of it. But I guess we're all a little sad about it, and the sympathies and stories do us more good than him right now.
posted by freebird at 6:20 PM on May 24, 2008

Well, damn.

Just yesterday, a co-worker of mine was kvetching about the union dues deducted from his paycheque. Ten minutes later, he was agreeing with me about how Unions were a good, good thing, and how much we owed them. Of course, maybe he just wanted me to stop talking, but never mind.

Thanks for everything, Utah.
posted by jokeefe at 6:37 PM on May 24, 2008

It's good though.

posted by louche mustachio at 6:42 PM on May 24, 2008

It's hard to have good words for what an amazing storyteller he was when his words were so amazing in their own right. Two of my favorites from "The Past Didn't Go Anywhere":

Folk music is boring. "Black fall, the die doe, blow ye winds
high ho," hell, that's boring, but I am a folksinger. This is a folk music
organization. You are ostensibly the folk, nest pas? That means we own this
song together, right? We have thereby incurred certain social obligations
which we will faithfully discharge, right? We're gonna sing this damn song
together, boring or not!

And him, quoting an old miner:

"No matter how new-age you get, old age gonna kick your ass."
posted by Gucky at 6:46 PM on May 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

posted by ZachsMind at 8:23 PM on May 24, 2008

And uh... ditto what IndigoJones said.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:25 PM on May 24, 2008

posted by hap_hazard at 8:45 PM on May 24, 2008

RIP, sir, RIP.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:15 PM on May 24, 2008

I saw him perform in a tiny high school auditorium when I was fairly young. I had no idea who he was, at the time, but it clearly warped my impressionable little brain.

Eight or ten years ago (I think), Utah was going through some financial hardship. I don't know if he asked for any help, but as I recall a friend of his set up a little support fund and asked for donations. I can't imagine how I heard of it, but I did, and I sent him a check -- twenty bucks or so, more than I could afford at the time but not enough, I'm sure, to make an actual dent. Less than a week later, I received a sweet handwritten note in return, reminiscing about travels through Eugene and thanking me for "helping keep this ship afloat". That, too, shaped my understanding of the world in a fundamental way.

He was an incredible storyteller, and a really good person. I hope to honor his memory with some good rabble-rousing and butt-kicking at work next week.

Best wishes to his family.
posted by medialyte at 9:49 PM on May 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am so sad to hear this. The world was so much better off with him in it.

posted by streetdreams at 10:05 PM on May 24, 2008


And thanks for making Victoria Williams' life and music a little greater.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 11:21 PM on May 24, 2008

I am thankful I had the chance to learn from him and to hug him and tell him so. I am sorry for everyone else out there who doesn't even know who he is or about the history he helped carry on.
posted by psylosyren at 11:34 PM on May 24, 2008

I read the family is requesting donations in lieu to go to the Hospitality House shelter for the homeless that Utah helped set up.
posted by Abiezer at 12:19 AM on May 25, 2008

posted by jammy at 4:50 AM on May 25, 2008

posted by hazyspring at 5:24 AM on May 25, 2008

Awww. I've always liked his music and lately I've been listening to The Past Didn't Go Anywhere again, the album that has Utah's stories and backing music [and vocals on one track] by Ani Difranco. It's got some great bits on it, especially the track "Korea" which describes UP's time being a soldier and some of the things he became aware of about power structures and governments and so forth. Because of him, I started to learn about Dorothy Day and Ammon Hennacy.

The Korea song [I uploaded it to Muxtape along with two other songs by him I like that are on that album] ends with a poignant story about UP's father inviting Marian Anderson (the first African-American to perform with the New York Metropolitan Opera) to sing in his town. She wasn't able to stay at the best hotel in town because she was black, and thinking about that, being a solder in Korea and seeing her sing "Oh freedom" in the Korean Student's Association in a bombed out old building (this is all being told as a story to his son, fwiw) and ends on this note.

"I knew that it was all wrong, that it all had to change, and that change had to start with me...."

And it just gives me chills anytime I hear it and sends me out into the world wanting to do better things. Thanks for the extra links, graymouser.
posted by jessamyn at 6:01 AM on May 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

major .
posted by edgeways at 1:21 PM on May 25, 2008

Utah Phillips did everything he could, rest his soul. It's up to us now.
posted by key_of_z at 1:23 PM on May 25, 2008

I would like to personally thank Ani Difranco for introducing me to Utah. If she did nothing else in this world bringing him to new fans will get her into heaven. I just saw on his site that he was podcasting for a while there. I am going to download all of them.
posted by zzazazz at 2:09 PM on May 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

Our world was a better place with him in it. Can you just imagine, though, somewhere on the planet right now may be a scruffy toddler who will grow up through his or her own trials to become their own sweet, strong, fearless, loving, singing version of U. Utah Phillips? It's when I remember that we are still making great people that I lose some of the despair I feel at news like this.
posted by Hobgoblin at 2:40 PM on May 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by crawfishpopsicle at 4:03 PM on May 25, 2008

It's good.

posted by jonp72 at 9:04 PM on May 25, 2008

Utah was one of the nicest, most genuine people I ever met or played with. Whether you were young or old, rich or poor, he would look you in the eye and listen to what you had to say. He was a wonderful performer, and a really nice guy. He will be missed.

posted by TheCoug at 11:46 PM on May 25, 2008

He was definately an asset to the collective.

Will be missed.

posted by asok at 3:02 AM on May 26, 2008

posted by wearyaswater at 7:36 AM on May 26, 2008

what a teacher! i always felt that one of the most radical acts i ever did in the classroom was playing his songs and stories. how fucked up is that, huh? that the common sense and matter-of-factness of Utah Phillips--that plain old history told as it was can be considered in any way revolutionary.

RedEmma -- the head reference librarian at my undergraduate school was a major-league fan and got quite a few of us hooked, too. Me, I love the Billy Bragg version of "There Is Power In A Union," but it's all good...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 12:57 PM on May 26, 2008

Aw, damn. What a huge loss.

posted by susanbeeswax at 4:51 PM on May 26, 2008

The memories and thoughts in this thread are more personal than in any other obit I've seen on Mefi.

I think that says something.
posted by hippugeek at 7:48 PM on May 26, 2008

Rest in peace, man. Thanks for the stories.

posted by lunit at 9:07 PM on May 26, 2008

I have a friend who is a GovDocs librarian but not a MeFite. He sent me a few more worthwhile links.

Check out the interview on democracy now that he did in 2004

You can also get a little taste of this experience from this video of one of his last performances, posted online in eight parts (totaling about an hour) -- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
posted by jessamyn at 12:13 PM on May 27, 2008

The Democracy Now interview was great. I loved him before, but when he said he was an archivist back in the day, my heart skipped a beat.
I spent a marvellous summer driving around Portland, OR, setting gypsy moth traps and listening to lots of Public Radio which luckily included lots of Loafer's Glory.

posted by ikahime at 3:25 PM on May 28, 2008

"time is an enormous long river...the past didn't go anywhere"

I am saddened by his death, yet comforted by the fact that we are both still standing in that river

posted by iamkimiam at 12:25 PM on May 30, 2008

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