Artist and shantyboat captain Wes Modes relaxes in the johnboat on the Mississippi River near Brownsville, Minnesota.

Fellow Workers

I was sitting with Jeremiah in the Donboat under a tree in a backwater of the Mississippi and we were quietly listening to a recording of Utah Phillips while sitting and watching the changing sky and its echo in the still water. It occurred to me that you might not know this influence on the project.

Wes’ arm. Quote by Utah Phillip

People ask me occasionally what my tattoo says. It’s a quote from Utah Phillips, folk singer¬†and¬†storyteller. He told stories about labor struggles, direct action, fights against oppression and racism, and the meaning of anarchism.

They lived those extraordinary lives that can never be lived again. And in the living of them, they gave me a history that is more profound, more beautiful, more powerful, more passionate, and ultimately more useful, than the best damn history book I ever read.

Ani DiFranco collaborated with Utah Phillips in 1996 to create two¬†albums¬†of Phillips’ stories and songs with DiFranco playing background instrumentation and occasional vocals. I’d already been a fan of Ani DiFranco for years and this was my introduction to Utah Phillips.¬†This was also one of the many seeds of my interest in history and the spoken word stories of my elders.

Bruce “Utah” Phillips, 1935-2008

I highly recommend both of these albums which you can get from Ani DiFranco’s website.

I’ll offer two songs from these albums that capture some of the spirit of the Secret History project:

Utah Phillips / Ani DiFranco – Bridges

Utah Phillips / Ani DiFranco – The Long Memory

If you love history and pick up both of these albums, I promise you, you won’t be disappointed.


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