In an era of cynics and pessimists and absolute no good liars, we could use every decent soul we can get. Which makes the passing of Bruce "Utah" Phillips an especially sad thing. He was a national treasure, Grammy nominated and a winner of the Folk Alliance's Lifetime Achievement Award. But more importantly, Utah Phillips was a great American artist who never stopped thinking, laboring, and singing for the hard-working and the long-suffering of the world.
Utah's songs were honest, true, sometimes tragic and often very funny (his first hit single was entitled "Moose Turd Pie.") Like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, he sang the songs of the laborers, the homeless, and the heartbroken. I saw him in Washington D.C. when I was a little boy and I remember being amazed that one man could have that much good humor and warmth. It was the same thing I'd later see in performers like Neil Young, Springsteen, and Tom Waits; his performance had an authenticity, a straight eye to human the human heart, and served as an important reminder that, no matter how low you got, it never hurt to smile.
Mr Phillips passed away in his sleep at his home in Nevada City, California. His family requests memorial donations to the homeless shelter he founded, Hospitality House, P.O. Box 3223, Grass Valley, California 95945 (530) 271-7144.