Monday, May 26, 2008

U. Utah Phillips 1935-2008

Utah Phillips has died and I don't really know what to say. Considering the heart problems he had, the news shouldn't have been as surprising as it is. There was something about the way he roared and rambled that had me half believing he was invincible.

I chanced upon his work years ago when he and Ani DiFranco put out a disc. Since then, I had become an avid fan. He was a perfect combination of entertainer and educator. He was a master storyteller who could spin the wildest yarns with reckless abandon. Of course, more often than not when you stopped laughing, you'd realize he had a point.

He could really make you think. When the first gulf war broke out, he stopped driving his car because he said his car "did not run on blood". He also went into the studio and recorded the album "I've Got To Know" in one take. In song, story and rant, he offered up his reaction to a war he was morally opposed to.

That's what we'll miss without him. Singers of political songs are almost as rare as good storytellers these days. He was both.

One of my favourite Utah Phillips songs is Yellow Ribbon. It came from "I've Got To Know":

Yellow Ribbon
Utah Phillips

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

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