The "Golden Voice of the Great Southwest": Legendary Folk Musician, Activist Utah Phillips, 1935-2008
Folk musician Utah Phillips died back in 2008 but he's one of my all time favorite Democracy Now interviews. Here are a few of my favorite parts...
About a friend teaching him that being a pacifist is like being an alcoholic....
"He said, “Well, I could give you a book by Gandhi, but you wouldn’t read it. So”—but he said, “You’ve got to look at nonviolence like—your capacity for violence like an alcoholic looks at booze.” Alcohol—booze will kill an alcoholic, unless he has the courage to sit in a circle of people that are like that, put his hand up and say, “Hi. My name is Utah. I’m an alcoholic.”........
Twenty years sober, you’re not going to sit in that circle and say, “Well, I’m not an alcoholic anymore.” You’re going to put up your hand and say, “My name is Utah. I’m an alcoholic.”
He said, “It’s the same with violence. You acknowledge your capacity for violence, you see, and you learn how to deal with it every day, every instant, in every situation for the rest of your life, because it’s not going to go away. But it will save your life.” See, it’s a different way of looking at pacifism. I have to be a pacifist, you see.
So I said, “OK, I’ll do that, Ammon.” And he said, “It’s not enough.” And I said, “Oh.” He said, “You were born a white man in mid-twentieth century industrial America. You came into the world armed to the teeth with an arsenal of weapons, the weapons of privilege, economic privilege, racial privilege, sexual privilege. You’re going to be a pacifist. You’re not just going to lay down guns and fists and knives and hard angry words. You’re going to have to lay down the weapons of privilege and go into the world completely disarmed. Well, you try that.” I’ve been at it—Ammon died over thirty years ago, and I’m still at it. But if there’s one struggle that animates my life, it’s probably that one."
And his thoughts on war and feminism:
It’s young people with guns, you know, that are doing it to everybody else. And we don’t have a problem with violence in the world. We’ve got a serious male problem. And I bought into it, so I know. And I’m buying myself out of it, you see. It’s terribly, terribly important for me for people to understand that and begin to shut up and listen. The most important movement in the world is the feminist movement. If we can really figure out what’s going on between men and women, the other problems will take care of themselves. I’m sure of it.
On getting rid of his TV:
Me, the last TV set I had, I shot. I don’t know what commercial importunement drove me off of the pier, but I hauled it into the backyard. It was up in Spokane, Washington, and I got a—had an old Stevens shotgun. I tied a scarf around it for a blindfold and scotch-taped a cigarette to the front and lit it and let it burn an appropriate amount of time, and then I blew a hole through it with the shotgun. It was out there in the lilac hedge, which grew through it eventually. It was kind of pretty after a while. But I have not—you know, I haven’t owned one of those foolish things since.