U. Utah Phillips died yesterday. As news of his passing spreads across the world, those of us who have been moved by his music and tickled by his outrageously funny story telling pause to remember a favourite song, or performance.
My all time favourite expresses Utah’s unconditional affirmation of working people and his uncompromising critique of bankers, bosses and associated social parasites.
WE HAVE FED YOU ALL A THOUSAND YEARS
(WRITTEN BY `AN UNKNOWN PROLETARIAN,’ MUSIC BY VON LIEBICH)
(FIRST LISTED PRINTING, INDUSTRIAL UNION BULLETIN, APRIL 18, 1908)
We have fed you all for a thousand years
And you hail us still unfed,
Though there’s never a dollar of all your wealth
But marks the workers’ dead.
We have yielded our best to give you rest
And you lie on crimson wool.
Then if blood be the price of all your wealth,
Good God! We have paid it in full!
There is never a mine blown skyward now
But we’re buried alive for you.
There’s never a wreck drifts shoreward now
But we are its ghastly crew.
Go reckon our dead by the forges red
And the factories where we spin.
If blood be the price of your cursed wealth,
Good God! We have paid it in!
We have fed you all a thousand years-
For that was our doom, you know,
From the days when you chained us in your fields
To the strike a week ago.
You have taken our lives, and our babies and wives,
And we’re told it’s your legal share,
But if blood be the price of your lawful wealth,
Good God! We bought it fair!
By all accounts, Utah led a good and a full life. His official obituary gives a sense of the breadth and depth of his interests and passions. Richer insights can be found in a letter he wrote to his many friends and supporters nine days before his death. But the proof of this man’s pudding is in his music. Here’s a clip from 2007. Bring it home, Utah!