RIP, Fellow Worker Bruce "U. Utah" Phillips

Bruce “U. Utah” Phillips has passed, dying of the congestive heart failure that had plagued him for nearly a decade, and which had destroyed his ability to tour and make a living. For a guy who works on death for a living, and writes obituaries for ‘fun,’ you might imagine I would deal better with the passing of Utah Phillips than I have.

It’s true, I haven’t broken down in tears, or called all my friends, but losing the Golden Voice of the American Southwest and a fifty-year member of my union, the IWW – which Utah claimed was the only organization he’d ever encountered that “never broke faith with its elders;” something I’m particularly proud of. I believe he was the only individual ever issued a ‘lifetime membership card’ in the One Big Union. Utah also met with a number of our local members here in the Twin Cities about a year ago, when he performed at a benefit. I was, unfortunately, not among them

As a folk singer (he started out playing the Hawaiian ‘traditional’ music popular during his youth), he has been tremendously influential. It is possible that bigger names – Pete Seeger, etc. – had more influence on an individual generation, but it would be difficult to find a person whose influence passed more effectively to the current generation.

His most famous song is one of his funniest – “Moose Turd Pie,” which you can hear on youtube.

One of the best introductions to who Utah was as a political person and a human being was rebroadcast on DemocracyNow! today, which dedicated nearly its entire hour to remembering Utah.

Want to learn more about his music? Buy a copy of Starlight On The Rails, which is not only a nearly comprehensive catalog of his music, but includes a spoken introduction to each and every song on the album, in true folksinger style.

Utah is survived by his family, to whom I send my condolences and best wishes that humanity will soon realize the dream of peace, freedom, and true democracy – anarchy – to which Utah dedicated his life. I’m deeply grateful to Utah, and miss him already.

Utah’s official website

Utah’s Last Public Letter

Here is the family’s obituary (after the jump…) Continue reading