This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
This story ran originally Feb. 26, 2008
Bruce Phillips, better known as U. Utah Phillips, has begun a new chapter in his life that he and his fans hope isn't an epilogue.
Phillips, 72, the legendary folk singer, storyteller and activist, has spent the last three weeks in a San Francisco hospital where he was treated for ongoing heart and kidney problems. Although he has suffered from heart ailments since the mid-1990s, Phillips is due to be released this week and will return to his Nevada City, Calif. home without getting a heart transplant.
"I'll take it one day at a time," Phillips said from his hospital bed last week. "This body, which I've taken through hell, told me [I wouldn't survive the surgery]. I've got a chance this way. I'll stretch it all the way I can."
In spite of a low-tech personal history involving boxcars and grass roots, Phillips and his son Duncan have turned to tools of the 21st century to keep friends, family and fans updated on Phillips' condition and projects.
Duncan has been writing a daily blog about his father's condition and helps him record podcasts from his bed.
"It's been a long time in the hospital," Duncan said. "He likes being out among the people."
The life span of people who've turned down a heart transplant - which the doctors told him he might not survive - varies, so Duncan and his family are cautiously optimistic.
"The doctors are very hesitant to give any time frame," Duncan said. "We just hope for the best."
Although Phillips, a latter-day Tom Joad, was still in a hospital bed, drained from his three-week stay, flashes of his homespun humor and political opinions still bubbled up.
He talked about home remedies for his condition, including a "blindfolded acupuncturist" who would throw pins into Utah's body like "darts."
And he lamented the presidential campaigns, comparing even the liberal candidates to duckbill platypi - it is not a compliment - and saying "I wish I could be inspired."
Phillips didn't want to spend too much time talking about himself, and was most excited talking about his activism, especially working with the Joe Hill House shelter in Salt Lake City, and his still-strong connections to the Beehive State.
Phillips lived in Salt Lake City from 1947 to 1969, which included a run for the U.S. Senate on the Peace and Freedom Ticket. Described as the "Golden Voice of the Great Southwest," Phillips is considered an elder statesman to folk musicians who believe their music should agitate as well as entertain. Endowed with a sharp wit and folksy humor, Phillips has been a cowboy poet, hobo, songwriter, radio host and labor activist whose storytelling and writings about Southwestern life and Utah have come to be treasured.
"I've always regarded Utah as my home," Phillips said.
Ken Sanders, owner of Salt Lake City's Ken Sanders Rare Books, has sponsored shows and book signings for Phillips and called his friend "a real maverick and iconoclast . . . He's always been true to himself, and he's keeping the old tradition of protest-folk music alive."
As for what's next, Phillips is working on a book with his wife and knows one thing for sure.
"I'm committed to singing every day," he said.
"He's an activist to the end," said Sanders.
U. Utah Phillips
* Catch up with Utah Phillips online at http://utahphillips. blogspot.com/
* Listen to his podcasts at http://www.utahphillips.org/
* Send letters and cards for Utah Phillips to P.O. BOX 1235, Nevada City, Calif. 95959