Saturday, January 3, 2009

In Memoriam: Utah Phillips

To properly represent the career of Utah Phillips, I feel that I should present a train song, a story, and a political or union song. The last two are here. For train song, follow the link later in this post.

Utah Phillips: Moose Turd Pie


Utah Phillips: There is Power in the Union


I never met Utah Phillips, or even saw him perform. But, as I was starting to learn about folk music, his name would come up from time to time. A friend would say that this was somebody I would probably like. A song would come on the radio on a folk show, and it would be him, but by the time the show ended, his would one of a crowd of names I would try to remember. So how did I get to the point of writing a tribute to him?

It happened because I needed a snow song a few weeks ago. and I found the song “Phoebe Snow“. At that point, I learned that Utah Phillips was not only a musician I should have known about sooner, he was also a man I would have loved to hang out with.

Think about that. How many times have you heard a musician, loved what they did, but found out that they were the worst company imaginable? Not Phillips. He was a storyteller. He told tales of hobos in his songs with obvious affection. And, personally, I would have felt right at home talking politics with him. This is important, because the subject would certainly have come up.

What tied all of this together was Phillips’ belief that a man had the right to live by his own rules. Whether it was the hobo, who chose his route and answered to no one, or the union worker, who organized and struck when necessary, rather than submit to the whims of the bosses, these were the people Phillips sang and told of. These were the people he championed and fought for all his life. And now, the fight is left for others to continue. Perhaps to the tune of one of Phillips’ songs.

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