u.utah phillips | all used up

1 07 2008

Poetry Dispatch No. 245 | June 30, 2008

U. Utah Phillips


It’s nice to know there are some things in early-21st century postindustrial culture that don’t change very fast. I am one of those.

Thus spake Utah, the old itinerant folk singer, who died a month ago (May 23rd), and some of the media still seems to be trying to catch up to him, if they ever remembered him or knew of him at all.

Phillips was a throwback to a time when unions meant something to America and the American working class. He was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World which folks back then used to call “Wobblies”.

Yeah, he was one of them. He was also an anarchist (and an archivist for the state of Utah), a veteran of the Korean War, an occupant for a time in a homeless shelter, and a certified bum who actually rode and loved the rails, once lived in a caboose and lived write and sing about it all in a truly telling way. He even ran for the Senate one time a Peace and Freedom candidate of course. He was loved by many. And remained, to his death, unknown by many more.

“It’s better to be likable than talented,” he used to say.

We’re going to miss him. This country, who needs him now more than ever, is really going to miss him. Those who care about what’s to become of us or already has. —Norbert Blei


by U. Utah Phillips

I spent my whole life making somebody rich
I busted my ass for that son of a bitch
He left me to die like a dog in a ditch
And told me I’m all used up

He used up my labor, he used up my time
He plundered my body and squandered my mind
Then he gave me a pension, some handouts and wine
And told me I’m all used up

My kids are in hock to a god you call Work
Slaving their lives out for some other jerk
And my youngest in ‘Frisco just made shipping-clerk
He don’t know I’m all used up

Some young people reach out for power and gold
And they don’t have respect for anything old
For pennies they’re bought, for promises sold
Someday they’ll be used up

They use up the oil, they use up the trees
They use up the air and they use up the seas
But how about you, friend, and how about me
What’s left, when we’re all used up

I’ll finish my life in this crummy hotel
It’s lousy with bugs and my God, what a smell
But my plumbing still works and I’m clear as a bell
Don’t tell me I’m all used up

Outside my window the world passes by
It gives me a handout, then spits in my eye
And no one can tell me, ’cause no one knows why
I’m still living, but I’m all used up

Sometimes in a dream I sit by a tree
My life is a book of how things used to be
And the kids gather ’round and they listen to me
They don’t think I’m all used up

And there’s songs and there’s laughter and things I can do
And all that I’ve learned I can give back to you
And I’d give my last breath just to make it come true
And to know I’m not all used up

They use up the oil, they use up the trees
They use up the air and they use up the seas
But as long as I’m breathing they won’t use up me
Don’t tell me I’m all used up

Sources: the internet, Progressive Magazine, The New York Times

Selected U.Utah Phillips recordings:

Please visit the U.Utah Phillips web page here…




2 responses

1 09 2008
John Nelson

What I’ll never forget was Utah’s abundant sense of humor. He and Rosalie Sorrels were on the folk circuit together in the early 1970’s and often performed at a funky club near the University of Illinois/Champaign-Urbana campus. Yes, he was polemical and a Wobblie, but he was an incredibly warm, open and funny performer. Still remember some of his tales from that era: “A terrible tragedy this week, folks. Didja hear that Spiro Agnew’s library burned down? Yep, two books were just ruined…and he hadn’t even finished coloring one of them!” And too long to repeat here, but who could ever forget Utah’s extended, colorful rendition of a classic tale from the gandy-dancing repair crew days working for the Northwest railroads, “Moose Turd Pie” (“It’s good, though!”)

27 08 2014
Bradford Ritchie

I knew Bruce in the Seventies. He lived in Saratoga for awhile, and sang and played at Lena’s there. We would all go down to the executive, and get hammered and then go pub crawling all over Saratoga. He had stories that could make one laugh so hard you could easily shit yourselves. Unbelievable but true. You didn’t want to get him mad, though. I remember pushing Bruce in a shopping cart up the middle of a deserted main street at two AM, he was too hammered to walk but was in a great apoplexy to get to tin and lint. Certainly amazing. You couldn’t do that today!! I will miss him.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: