Monday, May 26, 2008

Utah Phillips

Sun, 25 May 2008 07:08:05 -0400
"David Rovics"

I was watching my baby daughter sleep in her carseat outside of the Sacramento airport about ten hours ago when I noticed a missed call from Brendan Phillips. He's in a band called Fast Rattler with several friends of mine, two of whom live in my new hometown of Portland, Oregon, one of whom needed a ride home from the Greyhound station. I called back, and soon thereafter heard the news from Brendan that his father had died the night before in his sleep, when his heart stopped beating.
I wouldn't want to elevate anybody to inappropriately high heights, but for me, Utah Phillips was a legend.I first became familiar with the Utah Phillips phenomenon in the late 80's, when I was in my early twenties, working part-time as a prep cook at Morningtown in Seattle. I had recently read Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, and had been particularly enthralled by the early 20th Century section, the stories of the Industrial Workers of the World. So it was with great interest that I first discovered a greasy cassette there in the kitchen by the stereo, Utah Phillips Sings the Songs and Tells the Stories of the Industrial Workers of the World.
As a young radical, I had heard lots about the 1960's. There were (and are) plenty of veterans of the struggles of the 60's alive and well today. But the wildly tumultuous era of the first two decades of the 20th century is now (and pretty well was then) a thing entirely of history, with no one living anymore to tell the stories. And while long after the 60's there will be millions of hours of audio and video recorded for posterity, of the massive turn-of-the-century movement of the industrial working class there will be virtually none of that.To hear Utah tell the stories of the strikes and the free speech fights, recounting hilariously the day-to-day tribulations of life in the hobo jungles and logging camps, singing about the humanity of historical figures such as Big Bill Haywood, Joe Hill or Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, was to bring alive an era that at that point only seemed to exist on paper, not in the reality of the senses. But Utah didn't feel like someone who was just telling stories from a bygone era -- it was more like he was a bridge to that era.Hearing these songs and stories brought to life by him, I became infected by the idea that if people just knew this history in all it's beauty and grandeur, they would find the same hope for humanity and for the possibility for radical social change that I had just found through Utah.
Thus, I became a Wobbly singer, too. I began to stand on a street corner on University Way with a sign beside me that read, "Songs of the Seattle General Strike of 1919." I mostly sang songs I learned from listening to Utah's cassette, plus some other IWW songs I found in various obscure collections of folk music that I came across.It was a couple years later that I first really discovered Utah Phillips, the songwriter. I had by this time immersed myself with great enthusiasm in the work of many contemporary performers in what gets called the folk music scene, and had developed a keen appreciation for the varied and brilliant songwriting of Jim Page and others. Then, in 1991, I came across Utah's new cassette, I've Got To Know, and soon thereafter heard a copy of a much earlier recording, Good Though.
Whether he's recounting stories from his own experiences or those of others doesn't matter. There is no need to know, for in the many hours Utah spent in his troubled youth talking with old, long-dead veterans of the rails and the IWW campaigns, a bridge from now to then was formed in this person, in his pen and in his deep, resonant voice. In Good Though I heard the distant past breathing and full of life in Utah's own compositions, just as they breathed in his renditions of older songs.
In I've Got To Know I heard an eloquent and current voice of opposition to the American Empire and the bombing of Iraq, rolled together seamlessly with the voices of deserters, draft dodgers and tax resisters of the previous century.In reference to the power of lying propaganda, a friend of mine used to say it takes ten minutes of truth to counteract 24 hours of lies. But upon first hearing Utah's song, "Yellow Ribbon," it seemed to me that perhaps that ratio didn't give the power of truth enough credit. It seemed to me that if the modern soldiers of the empire would have a chance to hear Utah's monologues there about his anguish after his time in the Army in Korea, or the breathtakingly simple depiction of life under the junta in El Salvador in his song "Rice and Beans," they would just have to quit the military.
Utah made it clear in word and in deed that steeping yourself in the tradition was required of any good practitioner of the craft, and I did my best to follow in his footsteps and do just that. I learned lots of Utah's songs as well as the old songs he was playing. Making a living busking in the Boston subways for years, I ran into other folks who were doing just that, as well as writing great songs, such as Nathan Phillips (no relation). Nathan was from West Virginia, and did haunting versions of "The Green Rolling Hills of West Virginia," "Larimer Street," "All Used Up," and other songs. In different T stops at the same time, Nathan and I could often be found both singing the songs of Utah Phillips for the passersby.
Traveling around the US in the 1990's and since then, it seemed that Utah's music had, on a musical level, had the same kind of impact that Zinn's People's History or somewhat earlier works such as Jeremy Brecher's book, Strike!, had had in written form -- bringing alive vital history that had been all but forgotten. With Ani DiFranco's collaboration with Utah, this became doubly true, seemingly overnight, and this man who had had a loyal cult following before suddenly had, if not what might be called popularity, at least a loyal cult following that was now twice as big as it had been in the pre-Ani era.
I had had the pleasure of hearing Utah live in concert only once in the early 90's, doing a show with another great songwriter, Charlie King, in the Boston area. I was looking forward to hearing him play again around there in 1995, but what was to be a Utah Phillips concert turned into a benefit for Utah's medical expenses, when he had to suddenly drastically cut down on his touring, due to heart problems. I think there were about twenty different performers doing renditions of Utah Phillips' songs at Club Passim that night. I did "Yellow Ribbon."Traveling in the same circles and putting out CDs on the same record label, it was fairly inevitable that we'd meet eventually. The first time was several years ago, if memory serves me, behind the stage at the annual protest against the School of the Americas in Columbus, Georgia. I think I successfully avoided seeming too painfully star-struck. Utah was complaining to me earnestly about how he didn't know what to do at these protests, didn't feel like he had good protest material. I think he did just fine, though I can't recall what he did.
Utah lived in Nevada City, and the last time I was there he came to the community radio station while I was appearing on a show. This was soon after Katrina, and I remember singing my song, "New Orleans," and Utah saying embarrassingly nice things. I was on a little tour with Norman Solomon speaking and me singing, and we had done an event the night before in town, which Utah was too tired to attend, if I recall.
Me, Utah, Norman, and my companion, Reiko, went over to a nice breakfast place after the radio show, talked and ate breakfast. Utah did most of the talking, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that his use of mysterious hobo colloquialisms and frequent references to obscure historical characters in twentieth-century American anarchist history was something he did off stage as well as on.
I've passed near enough to that part of California many times since then. Called once when I was nearby and he was out of town, doing a show in Boston. Otherwise I just thought about calling and dropping by, but didn't take the time. Life was happening, and taking a day or two off in Nevada City was always something that I never quite seemed to find the time for. Always figured next time I'll have more time, I'll call him then. It had been thirteen years since he found out about his heart problems, and he hadn't kicked the bucket yet...
Of course, now I wish I had taken the time when I had the chance, and I'm sure there are many other people who feel the same way.In any case, for those of us who knew his music, whether from recordings or concerts, for those of us who knew Utah from his stories on or off the stage, whether we knew him as that human bridge to the radical labor movement of yesterday, or as the voice of the modern-day hobos, or as that funky old guy that Ani (DiFranco) did a couple of CDs with, Utah Phillips will be remembered and treasured by many.
He was undeniably a sort of musical-political-historical institution in his own day. He said he was a rumor in his own time. No question, one man's rumor is another man's legend, but who cares, it's just words anyway.

Dave Rovics

(Listen to Dave sing some of Utah's songs, like Yellow Ribbon at:

Yellow Ribbon

I've traveled through this country
And I'll tell you what I've seen
A million yellow ribbons
And I wonder what they mean
It's love and hope and sympathy
For those who've gone to fight
But still I know that none of them
Can make the killing right
When we see two children fighting
Don't we try to come between
Get 'em both to talk
Instead of acting rough and mean
We give 'em love and limits
Say now try to get along
Then we tell 'em it's alright to kill
To prove that killing's wrong
Sometimes your yellow ribbon
Tries to make me feel ashamed
Tells me I'm a traitor
That somehow it's me to blame
But I can't hide behind it
Just to prove that I belong
And I won't be an accomplice
To a thing I know is wrong
But I'd wear a yellow ribbon
For the peace that's in my heart
I'd wear it for the loved ones
That should never have to part
I'd wear it for the wasted lives
No matter friend or foe
And I'd wear it for the children
If they never had to go
Yes, I've seen your yellow ribbons
Hanging up all over town
But I don't think they'll ever buy
The peace we've never found
Oh, the guns will all be silent
And the battle flags all furled
When we tie a yellow ribbon
'Round the world
Yes, the guns will all be silent
And the battle flags all furled
When we tie a yellow ribbon
'Round the world

U. Utah Phillips performing at the Spring 2007 Strawberry Music Festival:

Friday, May 23, 2008

Litchfield Event

On Wednesday, May 28th, MoveOn members in Litchfield are asking people on the street to take The Bush-McCain Challenge. It works like the old Pepsi-Coke Challenge—we'll set up a sidewalk table and ask passersby to guess whether a quote or position is Bush's or McCain's. It's surprisingly hard to tell the difference!
Another MoveOn member is already hosting an event near you. Can you come by to help set up and ask quiz questions in Litchfield?
Here's the closest event to you:
Host: Sanna J.—fellow MoveOn member Where: Litchfield Green (in Litchfield) When: Wednesday, May 28, 2008, at 12:00 PMHere's the link to RSVP:
Polling shows voters will reject John McCain if they realize how similar he is to George Bush.

The Bush-Challenge is a persuasive way to make this point.

Memorial Day

From Code Pink:

"This Memorial Day, as we mourn those who have been killed during wartime, we are inspired to work even harder to bring our troops home and stop the next war now."

From Natural Wisdom

I came by this quote at Ji Hyang's blog:

Martin Luther King encouraged us to "Hew, out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope."

I say that if we all pile up our little stones, we can build a mountain of hope...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Summertime, and It's Time for a Peace T-Shirt Sale!

Please share this message as widely as possible.
Dear Tim ,
Just in time to help you look cool and stay cool this summer, we are putting some of our most popular peace t-shirts on sale!Click on the following links for substantial savings (10%-60% off!) on our "5 Years Too Many," "Peace Doesn't Grow on Trees," and "We Will Not Be Silent" t-shirts, while supplies last. Discounts on books, buttons, posters, stickers and more are also available. Summer is also yard-sign season ... especially during this election year. Amid the sea of campaign slogans, keep the real issues in the forefront with our "End the War!" yard signs.
(Discounts available for bulk orders.)
Our new sticker design highlights the connection between our troubled economy and the staggering financial costs of the war. Make this connection visible in your community with our "It's the War Economy, Stupid!" stickers, available in two sizes (and as a t-shirt too!). Other new items include our "US Out of Iraq" leaflet, which doubles as a poster, perfect for wheatpasting.More t-shirts, buttons, stickers and more are available through our friends at
And, if you received an economic stimulus check, please consider investing all or part of it in the peace and justice movement! For donations of $50 or more, you will receive a copy of War With No End or a 5 Years Too Many t-shirt as a thank-you gift! Click here for our secure online donation page.
Yours, for peace and justice,
Susan Chenelle
UFPJ Internet Coordinator

Thursday, May 8, 2008

From Code Pink

Trip to Jordan and Syria to Research Plight of Iraqi Refugees
by Medea Benjamin

Day One ~ April 29, Amman, Jordan
"It was an amazingly full first day in Jordan. Asma Al-Haidari, a brilliant Iraqi woman who lives in Amman and works with political as well as humanitarian groups, picked me up at 8am from the Toledo Hotel. Our first stop was the office of UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees), where a group of about 40 Iraqis was waiting on line to register with the agency or ask for some type of assistance. We started talking to the people on line. One woman, who was completely covered in a black abaya except for her eyes, had a disabled son she was trying to get medical help for. Another woman had a child with a tumor who needed an operation. All had fled the violence in Iraq and were living in Jordan without funds and in legal limbo…"

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

From The Declaration of Peace Website

May 7, 2008:
to Stop $178 Billion War Funding Bill
Phone calls and e-mails to your Congressional Representatives
are needed now!

“Vote NO on any more Iraq War funding.”

A huge $178 billion war funding bill is expected to be brought to the House floor on Thursday (May 8, 2008).

(Click here to see the May 6, 2008 N.Y. Times article.)

Please CALL or E-MAIL your members of Congress on Wednesday.
Contact information for all U.S. Representatives and Senators can be found at:
The Congressional Switchboard number is: (202) 224-3121
Toll-free number for Congress: 1-800-828-0498
Ask to be connected to your Representative’s office.
Our message to members of Congress is simple:
Vote NO on any more Iraq War funding.
End the war!
Now is the time to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
Bring the troops home now!
The best way to support the troops is to bring them home ALIVE and INTACT NOW!
The only effective way to end the war and bring the troops home is to
It is critically important that we encourage everyone to call their U.S. Representative on Wednesday to tell them to …
Vote NO on any more funding for continuing U.S. military operations in Iraq.
Thank you!
Timothy Baer
Campaign Coordinator, The Declaration of Peace
Organizer, Bloomington Peace Action Coalition

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Bush & Kissenger & Kent CT & Kent Ohio

I Saw Marine One Fly By, Heading Toward Kent CT:
I was working, driving through Torrington, CT when I saw the helicopters fly by on April 25th, 2008. My camera was on the seat behind me, driving through traffic, and couldn’t easily reach it to take a photo of the four choppers in the sky, two military escorts and two identical others exactly alike, the decoy and Marine One… I lifted this picture from somewhere.

I had been thinking about the following Dave Rovics song ever since I'd heard about the visit and would have gone to Kent with “3,904 Miles to Nuremberg” printed on a sign, if I had been able to:

(Dave writes at his website: “YouTube Music videos from my DVD that Chris Chandler did and many other videos can be found there.)

Kent Ohio: The end of April and the beginning of May always make me think of Kent State in 1970:

I can’t imbed this:
“May 4th 1970, Kent State University: National Guard killed 4 students and wounded 9. Some of them who did not take part in any action at a 100 yds range.Start and end sequence of a 1 hr documentary special by Germany's WDR TV. Coverage originating from major U.S. networks. TV Teams of NBC, ABC and CBS had been present. Where has their material gone?
But you can watch it here:

The tragic events of May 4, 1970 from the University website with links:

Monday, May 5, 2008

Trap Rock Peace Center

Yesterday was the first Sunday of May 2008, so starting at Noon we were there on the Green in Bethlehem, CT.
The sun came out from behind the clouds during the hour and we stayed talking for about forty minutes with someone who came by and stood with us for the first time.

Time flies when you talk about Peace and all the related issues; a wiser man than I once said, "Peace is much more than just the absense of war," or something like that...

I always intended to include a link to the Traprock Peace Center website, and I find it changed, but with a link to their "Archives." There is so much information available there that is hard to come by on your television.

Especially regarding so-called Depleted Uranium (The question was asked, as we stood talking by the side of the road, "Are you afraid of Nuclear War?" By using Depleted Uranium (DU), the United States of America may already be waging a Nuclear War).

Anyway, here's what I found this morning:

"November 5, 2007: This website is an archive of the former website,, which was created 10 years ago by Charles Jenks. It became one of the most popular grassroots peace sites in the US, and its content remains as an important resource on the antiwar movement, student activism, 'depleted' uranium and other topics. Jenks authored virtually all of its web pages and multimedia content (photographs, audio, video, and pdf files. As the author and registered owner of that site, his purpose here is to preserve an important slice of the history of the grassroots peace movement in the US over the past decade. He is maintaining this historical archive as a service to the greater peace movement, and to the many friends of Traprock Peace Center. Blogs have been consolidated and the calendar has been archived for security reasons; all other links remain the same, and virtually all blog content remains intact.
THIS SITE DOES NOT REFLECT THE CURRENT AND ONGOING WORK OF TRAPROCK PEACE CENTER, which has reorganized its board and moved to Greenfield, Mass. To contact Traprock Peace Center, call 413-773-7427 or email. We'll post a link to its new website when it goes online. Charles Jenks is posting new material to, a multimedia blog and resource center. You may contact him by email."

As a post script, I'll add a video I found on the new site:

And since that's Holly Near singing, I'll add this quote too:

“It is our apathy, fear, indifference, silence, and hopelessness that is a gift to those who wish to dominate. The greatest gift we can give ourselves and the world is to not let them have that silence.”
Holly Near (

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Let's Pretend!

Still No 'Mission Accomplished'
By Paul Reynolds

World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

"President Bush did not say "Mission Accomplished" on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln off San Diego on 1 May five years ago. But the banner above him did.
And the picture of those two words said more than the 1,829 words of his speech.
What the president said, among a lot of other things, was: "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country."
But the message from the banner said it simpler - mission accomplished. It was all over...

Afghanistan, too
...Mr Rumsfeld himself said, on the same day as the Abraham Lincoln event, that major combat in Afghanistan had also ended.
He declared in Kabul: "We're at a point where we clearly have moved from major combat activity to a period of stability and stabilisation and reconstruction activities. The bulk of this country today is permissive, it's secure."

There is not much optimism about Iraq these days
The story of the banner would have made a good episode of the US television series The West Wing..."

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.


But let's listen to this and "Let's Pretend!"