Utah Phillips on Life
December 1, 2006
by William P. Meyers

Utah Phillips gave a concert at the Point Arena theater last night and it was a hoot. I have not seen Utah in years. He is funnier than any standup commedian on the circuit today. I was really laughing. Just repeating the stories and punch lines would give you no idea how funny the event was because Utah has developed an exquisite sense of timing.

I first met Utah back when I was active in the IWW, the Industrial Workers of the World, a labor union better known as the Wobblies. I have my own small business now, with myself as my only boss and employee, so I stopped paying dues a couple of years ago. I hear the IWW has picked up steam since I was active, with quite a few new members joining and even some success in forcing recognition and concessions from corporate bosses. The IWW recognizes that there is a class war going on; they aim to change society. "Dump the Bosses Off Your Back," is both a slogan and a famous IWW folksong. But the IWW are also against big government; they want the workers to rule themselves, not be ruled by communist bureaucrats.

I was involved in the IWW when Judi Bari was still alive and we worked with environmentalists including Earth First! to combine protecting people's rights as workers with protecting the environment. Of course here in Mendocino County, California, as we predicted, the corporate machine did pretty much finish cutting every tree big enought to be worth cutting. So we lost both flanks of that battle: the trees are gone and the jobs are gone.

Utah made it clear he is an anarchist and reminded us that anarchists aren't easy to categorize. He learned anarchism from Catholic anarchists back in the 1940s. That seems like quite a contradiction, you would think any Catholic who became an anarchist would say "Dump the Pope off your back" and get out of the church. But I guess they liked something about the Catholic Church.

Years ago the couple of times I saw Utah in concert he was playing to conventions of Wobblies so most of the songs and the talk was about the IWW. Lots of the jokes were at the expense of the AFL-CIO.

Utah said one thing that offended our local audience but pleased me mightily. You have to understand that in some ways the concert was absurd because the tickets were $20 each. That pretty much excludes actual working class folk around here. Utah complained that in his neck of California they have a problem with NARPs. New Age Rural Professionals. They drive SUV's through the woods blasting out New Age music on their stereos and politically are the followers of the former Tibetan ruling class.

Utah is over 70 and not entirely well. If you have never talked to him or seen him perform, and you ever get the chance, do not miss him. No matter what the ticket price.

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