Obituary in the New York Times The Long Memory Utah’s CD’s on Amazon Utah Phillips was a folk singer, raconteur, pacifist, poet and tireless fighter for social justice. His view of unions and politics was shaped by his parents, especially his mother, who was a labor organizer for the CIO. He toured the country playing his music and telling stories about the labor struggles of the past and of all those who have been “blown up out there on the no-man’s land of 20th century industrial society.” Phillips was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on May 15, 1935. After a brief tour in the army that included time in Korea he returned in 1959 feeling angry, used and lost. He traveled the country as a tramp, drinking heavily, hopping freight trains and listening to people who had been “spit out” by corporate America. Over the years he collected their stories and slowly began to see another country. “I got a vision of who I really was and where I came from, something I never got in school.” The turning point in Phillips’ life came at the Joe Hill House in Salt Lake City, Utah where he met Ammon Hennacy, an Irish American pacifist, Christian anarchist, social activist, member of the Catholic Worker Movement and of the International Workers of the World commonly known as Wobblies. Utah became a lifelong member of the IWW as well and took pride in being a Wobbly. Hennacy espoused the principles of both nonviolence and anarchy and showed Phillips how to channel all his rage and anger. Phillips worked at the Joe Hill House for the eight years and then ran for the U.S. Senate as a candidate of Utah's Peace and Freedom Party in 1968. He received 2,019 votes (0.5%) in an election won by Republican Wallace F. Bennett. He ran for president of the United States in 1976 for the Do-Nothing Party. It was a lost cause, Phillips acknowledged. After all, how can you win an election with supporters committed to that cause? After his aborted presidential run, Phillips became persona non grata in Utah and moved to Saratoga Springs, New York on the advice of his friend, Rosalie Sorrells. He turned the stories of all those forgotten men and women he had met in his travels into poetry and music and became a folk singer. He adopted the stage name “U. Utah Phillips” after T. Texas Tyler and joined what he called “the great folk music scare of the 1960s.” His first appearances were at the Café Lena in Saratoga Springs where he became a regular for several years. As his fame grew, Phillips started traveling again, taking his stories and songs to all parts of the country. He became an elder statesman for the folk music community, and a keeper of stories and songs that might otherwise have passed into obscurity. He recorded his first albums for the Philo label and later recorded for Red House, including an album of duets with Rosalie, “The Long Memory,” in 1996. He praised the “long memory” and called it the most radical idea in America. When asked why he thought it so important, Phillips answered: "I have a good friend in the East who comes to my shows and says, you sing a lot about the past, you can't live in the past, you know. I say to him, I can go outside and pick up a rock that's older than the oldest song you know, and bring it back in here and drop it on your foot. Now the past didn't go anywhere, did it? It's right here, right now. I always thought that anybody who told me I couldn't live in the past was trying to get me to forget something that if I remembered it would get them in serious trouble." Phillips retained his membership in the great Traveling Nation, the community of hobos and railroad tramps that populated the Midwestern United States along the rail lines. An annual hobo gathering that began in 1900 is still held in Britt, Iowa in August every year and Utah was a frequent participant. Phillips became a folk circuit favorite and mentor to songwriter Kate Wolf. He recorded songs and stories with his friend, Rosalie Sorrels and was nominated for a Grammy Award for his work with Ani DiFranco on the CD “The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere.” His "Green Rolling Hills" was made into a country hit by Emmylou Harris, and "The Goodnight-Loving Trail" and “The Telling Takes Me Home” became classics as well, being recorded by Ian Tyson, Tom Waits, Ed Trickett and many others. In 1995, Phillips was diagnosed with a heart condition and was forced to cancel all future concerts. He moved to Nevada City, California and started a radio show called “Loafer’s Glory: The Hobo Jungle of the Mind.” Phillips at one point contemplated converting his '53 Chevy pickup, "Red Emma" (after American Communist Emma Goldman, of course), into a mobile five-watt radio station, KDBR (Kinetic Drive By Radio), "so I can drive around my country and broadcast stuff the other stations miss." The plan didn’t materialize but Phillips did host the radio show from his home for several years and it can be heard on The Long Memory. In 1997 Phillips received both a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Folk Alliance and a Lifetime Service to Labor Award from the American Federation of Musicians, Traveling Musicians Local 1000. Utah Phillips died May 23, 2008 in Nevada City, California, from complications of heart disease, at the age of 73. His lifelong mission was to offer levity to lift our souls, compassion to join our hands, and honesty to help us see how we must act. Utah Phillips in his own words. On the value of honest labor: "Frying-Pan Jack said to me he'd been tramping since 1927, 'I told myself in '27, if I cannot dictate the conditions of my labor, I will henceforth cease to work.' You don't have to go to college to figure these things out, no sir. He said, 'I learned when I was young that the only true life I had was the life of my brain. But if it's true that the only real life I had was the life of my brain, what sense does it make to hand that brain to someone for eight hours a day, for their particular use, on the presumption that at the end of the day they will give it back in an unmutilated condition? Fat chance!" On how our national resources are sold away: “We the American people are enormously wealthy, you know that?… Who owns all of those trees in the national forests? This is not a rhetorical question… We do… Who owns all of that off- shore oil you read about in the newspaper? We do… Who owns all of those minerals under the federal lands? We do… It’s public property, you know… But we elect people to go to Washington…they lease off what we own, public property, to private companies to sell us back our own stuff for the sake of a greasy buck… That’s dumb…” From a speech to a graduating high school class: "You are about to be told one more time that you are America's most valuable natural resource. Have you seen what they do to valuable natural resources?! Have you seen a strip mine? Have you seen a clear cut in the forest? Have you seen a polluted river? Don't ever let them call you a valuable natural resource! They're going to strip mine your soul. They're going to clear cut your best thoughts for the sake of profit unless you learn to resist." On the importance of the labor movement: “Kids don’t have a little brother working in the coal mine, they don’t have a little sister coughing her lungs out in the looms of the big mill towns of the Northeast. Why? Because we organized; we broke the back of the sweatshops in this country; we have child labor laws. Those were not benevolent gifts from enlightened management. They were fought for, they were bled for, they were died for by working people, by people like us. Kids ought to know that. That’s why I sing these songs. That’s why I tell these stories, dammit. No root, no fruit!” On history and the past: “As I have said so often before, the long memory is the most radical idea in America.” For every dollar somebody worked for but didn’t get there is somebody who got a dollar they didn’t earn. William D. “Big Bill” Haywood Links to related sites: