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Who Killed Phillip?

Who Killed Phillip? Is about my friend Phil Bearshirt. I wrote it in 1991 after he died.
-Kathleen Yearwood


Sometimes, rarely, art and politics get married and it’s perfect. Nobody could dream up anything better than Kathleen Yearwood. I received a cassette in the mail 25 years ago from her. I received many cassettes and many cds but almost everything people send me bores me or annoys me. The title of what she sent me was “book of hate” and it contained many goosebump worthy songs. Even though she once almost killed me because I would stoop so low as to use “sampled sounds”, I believe she is the top of the heap. Especially spooky and smart is her hand clapping for percussion throughout.

Listen to the song by clicking here

The judge takes his chair
he’s convinced he’s a genius
his morning drink gives him strength
and he considers the prisoner

Phillip stands in chains
ankles and handcuffs
completely unashamed he smiles
and tries to wave

They gave us 5 minutes alone together
in a room filled with echoes
everytime I touched Phillips hand
a guard burst in
the first time he warned me
the second time he stood in the door
the third time he threw me out

They wanted to know how I could be his sister
and where did I live and what was my last name
how could we be related because of the colours of
our skin? In this great racist colony
I watched as the full force of common law
came crashing down on Phillip like a tidal wave

In the edmonton remand
in the elevators to the cells
he slipped a bony hand out of a handcuff
and waved his free arm in the air
four guard stood like pillars
afraid of what he might do
so long considered a dangerous prisoner
he laughed.

We were the same age exactly
grew up not ten miles apart
he on the reserve
me in an all white suburb
and his grandparents were raising him
until the childrens aid
decreed they were too old and he was sent to foster

several trials later
with pigs in red and pigs in blue
talking in French about prostitutes
they gave him 8 extra months for allowing six guards
to split his face open

He always called from jail
he was proud and
determined and
when he finally when home
when he finally went home
in 1988 after a lifetime away
someone found him at a friends house not sleeping
not asleep
who killed Phillip?
Not I said the judge
Not I said the guards
Not I said the court
Not I said the lawyers
Not I said the prosecutor
Not I said the warden
Not I said the people
Not I, said the people

And the war on drugs is just a war on the poor
you never ask those kids, what are they taking it for?
too kill the pain, to kill the rage
to extinguish the hatred
passed on by a racist culture
who killed Phillip?

I still have one of his letters he had the same dreams
as me
he had bigger dreams and better
he had dreams like a coyote singing
like the sun rising up blood red
like a sea of singing birds and he
could have done anything, anything in this world
Phillip- I’m angry

and a man of 50 who knows nothing
can easily govern this country
and condemn to living death the powerless and all
of his intellectual superiors
with the magic wand of colonialism
that is blind to any justice
and destroys the hope of generations.
And not even the frantic singing of the nighttime
can bring back the useless sacrifice
Who killed Phillip?

Goodbye Pork Pie Hat

Joni Mitchell’s process when she wrote the album Mingus was to hang with Charles Mingus and meditate about it afterward then write. Or at least that’s how I remember her talking about it in interviews when I was a teenager and Rolling Stone wasn’t just about college fashions.

I feel like the world of song owes her everything, unique woman. She is about as inspiring as Stephen Harper never was.  Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, like a history lesson (Charlie Mingus and Lester Young) mixed with optimism.


Goodbye Pork Pie Hat

by Joni Mitchell   

When Charlie speaks of Lester
You know someone great has gone
The sweetest swinging music man
Had a Porkie Pig hat on
A bright star
In a dark age
When the bandstands had a thousand ways
Of refusing a black man admission
Black musician
In those days they put him in an
Underdog position
Cellars and chitlins’

When Lester took him a wife
Arm and arm went black and white
And some saw red
And drove them from their hotel bed
Love is never easy
It’s short of the hope we have for happiness
Bright and sweet
Love is never easy street!
Now we are black and white
Embracing out in the lunatic New York night
It’s very unlikely we’ll be driven out of town
Or be hung in a tree
That’s unlikely!

Tonight these crowds
Are happy and loud
Children are up dancing in the streets
In the sticky middle of the night
Summer serenade
Of taxi horns and fun arcades
Where right or wrong
Under neon
Every feeling goes on!
For you and me
The sidewalk is a history book
And a circus
Dangerous clowns
Balancing dreadful and wonderful perceptions
They have been handed
Day by day
Generations on down

We came up from the subway
On the music midnight makes
To Charlie’s bass and Lester’s saxophone
In taxi horns and brakes
Now Charlie’s down in Mexico
With the healers
So the sidewalk leads us with music
To two little dancers
Dancing outside a black bar
There’s a sign up on the awning
It says “Pork Pie Hat Bar”
And there’s black babies dancing

The Rich Will Move To The High Ground

I’m as surprised as the next guy to find myself singing songs which contain Holy Doodle in the chorus but he did write for Sesame Street once upon a time. Geoff Berner improvises his way across Earth performing intrepid music interpreting what’s happened re: the poor, the rich, the corrupt.  this video to see/hear the song When will Canada Post put him on a stamp?


Wealthy people like to live, live near the water
They pass their real estate down to their sons and their daughters.
Generations are happy just enjoying the view, but
When the water starts rising you know what they’re gonna do

The rich are gonna move to the high ground
The rich are gonna move to the high ground
Holy doodle, look at your town
The rich are gonna move to the high ground

All those singers and actors and philanthropists
Say the poor are at the top of the priority list.
But when the levees start breaking and the barriers fall
Where will they be when we come to pay a courtesy call?
With their mistresses, wives, pets, children and all
At the top of a hill behind a fortified wall.

The rich are gonna move to the high ground
The rich are gonna move to the high ground
Holy doodle, look at your town
The rich are gonna move to the high ground

Every sad number that the scientists find
You get the feeling that some people really don’t mind
To see a new feudal age for the whole human race
‘Cos the rabble will finally be all back in their place.
They’ll be no revolution, we’ll be meek as wet mouses
Begging them to let our children serve in their houses.

The rich are gonna move to the high ground
The rich are gonna move to the high ground
Holy doodle, look at your town
The rich are gonna move to the high ground
Take me higher to that higher ground
You and me baby, we’re gonna watch the poor drown