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GUEST,George Mann Obit: Utah Phillips (1935-2008) (135* d) RE: Obit: Utah Phillips 5/15/35-5/24/08 28 May 08


So good to see everyone sharing stories of Bruce/Utah (by the way, he once told me "You can call me Bruce or you can call me Utah, either one is fine with me")...

For those out there who did not personally know him or meet him, I hope these stories give you a better sense of the man behind the recorded works.

When Utah and I finally met in 2003, I felt like an "instant friend"-- we spent time talking at the Western Workers Festival and Utah was extremely pleased to finally meet my musical partner, Julius Margolin, who is now 91. Utah ALWAYS took a keen interest in the elder activists; he spent time talking with Julius and asking so many questions about Julius' time in the CIO, National Maritime Union, the blacklist, etc. Utah already knew of our political/labor music and the "Hail to the Thief" anti-Bush CDs we were producing-- he volunteered on the spot, first day I met him, to be part of the series (he was on the second and third CDs, and he was planning to be part of the final one coming out this summer-- I'm hoping he still will be represented).

Two months later, Julius and I found ourselves in Ithaca, NY at Utah's concert-- he had invited us and at the beginnning of his second set, he had us come up on stage and do a song. That's how sweet he could be to people! Julius had never sung solo before 900 people before. We did a new song, my parody of "If I Only Had A Brain," and since it was so new, Julius was holding the lyrics in his hands.... but his hands were shaking so much I couldn't read the sheet and of course, I flubbed one of the lines! Utah just sat there with a great smile on his face.... one of my greatest joys was sitting backstage with him before the show, him holding that big Guild guitar, and talking with him about how he started out.

Folks have mentioned how Utah took an interest in the towns he was performing in, asking in advance for copies of local papers, etc. so that he could talk about local issues from the stage and make the people feel he cared about them. But no one has mentioned another "secret" that Utah shared with me. He'd keep a notebook and after each concert, while things were still fresh in his mind, he'd jot down names of the activists he'd met, notes about the things they were into, their jobs, etc. Then, when he came back, a year, two years or more later, he'd refresh his memory from those notes beforehand. And when he got to the gig, and he met some of those same people again, he could ask them about their families, jobs, and local issues, etc. He told me people were often amazed that he'd remembered such stuff-- to him it was always important to make people feel like they mattered to him-- since it was so clear how much Utah mattered to them!

Finally, he was so generous with his time and encouragement to those of us who were younger and less experienced in the trade. If he believed in the integrity of your work, he could be your biggest supporter and greatest fan. That's what I loved about knowing him.

Keep searching out his music and stories. Keep reading these tributes (especially on Duncan's blog, linked at http://www.utahphillips.org (his son Duncan has a blog with much info and tributes).

We know we've lost a giant of a person and we cannot replace him. But we can treasure his memory, remember what he said (the long memory is the most radical idea and dangerous weapon we have), and put just a little more time into improving this world, your communities, and the relationships you have with those you love. That will make a good and lasting tribute to Utah.


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