In a 1998 interview with Dave Conlin Read for www.nbnewberkshire.com, Folksinger Arlo Guthrie, best known for his most famous work, “Alice’s Restaurant“, an 18 minute and 20 second story song based on a true incident, talked about his predisposition to reuse or recycle things – a lot of things. Therefore, it not surprising that his latest tour is a recycling of the “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” on the 40th anniversary of the incident.
On the subject of recycling, according to Guthrie, narrated in his signature storytelling style, even his name was recycled from his mother’s childhood. “When my mom was growing up, there was a series of children’s books, called “Arlo Books”, about a little Swiss kid named ‘Arlo’. They were in all the primary schools on the East coast, and she drew a picture for a class project of this kid. And my mom was one of these packrats who saved everything – every ticket stub of every place she had ever been to. She was incredibly organized.
“While she was pregnant with me, walking down the beach one day with my dad, she suddenly realized that the picture she had drawn of this kid ‘Arlo’, in the fifth or sixth grade, looked exactly like my father. He was wearing the same clothes, the same kind of striped shirt, walking on the same kind of beach. And so she went back and found this old picture, and sure enough, she had drawn my dad.
“So they decided that that was an auspicious sign, and that they were going to name me after the kid.’
Most people recycle aluminum cans or at best restore antique cars, but Guthrie does things in a big way. When an opportunity to buy the old Trinity Church building made famous by the Alice’s Restaurant song for $300,000 in 1991, he seized it. “There is a history that I have with it,” he said, “and I am trying to craft a use for it that fits.”
And it would seem that he has. The old church building is now the home of the Guthrie Center and the Guthrie Foundation, both named for his parents, singer/writer/philosopher Woody Guthrie and Marjorie Mazia Guthrie, a professional dancer with the Martha Graham Company and founder of The Committee to Combat Huntington’s Disease.
The Guthrie Center, whose Web site is www.guthriecenter.org, is a not-for-profit interfaith church foundation and meeting place that serves people of all religions and is devoted to promoting understanding among religious traditions. It is dedicated to providing a wide range of local and international services. Its outreach programs include everything from providing HIV/AIDS services to baking cookies with a local service organization; an HD walk-a-thon to raise awareness and money for a cure for Huntington’s Disease, and offering a place simply to meditate.
The Guthrie Foundation is a separate not-for-profit educational organization that addresses issues such as the environment, health care, cultural preservation – seeking to protect indigenous cultures from encroaching globalization and educational exchange. “We need to find a way of saving local cultures from extinction and at the same time continue the process of becoming one world,” says Guthrie.
Guthrie’s current tour – the “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree 40 Anniversary Tour” – celebrates the 40th anniversary of his most famous work “Alice’s Restaurant“. The story song based on a true incident in which Guthrie and a friend – Rick Robbins, while visiting his former high school teachers, Alice and Ray Brock in Massachusetts for Thanksgiving in 1965, ran into a little trouble with the local constabulary. The good-hearted Guthrie and Robbins volunteered to help the Brock’s clean up the old Trinity church, in which they were living, and loaded their van up with the garbage to take to the local dump. Unfortunately, being a holiday, the dump was closed and not knowing what to do with the van full of garbage, the two found an unauthorized place to dispose of it. To make a long story shorter, this resulted in an arrest and fine, etc. for littering and a smudge on Guthrie’s record, which ultimately caused him to be rejected by the army. In 1969, a film was created based on the song in which Guthrie starred as himself.
The tour landed recently in Lancaster, CA, where Guthrie performed in the intimate Lancaster Performing Arts Center. Opening for Guthrie and later joining him on a few tunes was the folk-rock quintet The Mammals. He performed a variety of tunes including “This Land is your Land” by his father and some other traditional folk songs, including “House of the Rising Son” with his son Abe Guthrie and Lap Steel/Mandolin player Gordon Titcomb. Playing to a sold-out crowd he also performed from his own portfolio including the entire 18 plus minute “Alice’s Restaurant”. He was joined on stage for a couple of tunes by The Mammals, including the encore with Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans”, made famous by Guthrie.
The entire concert, in the smaller venue, had a comfortable feel about it. Mostly due to Guthrie’s easy style of storytelling, even those in the balcony area felt as if they were sitting at his feet just relaxing as he spun his stories that masterfully segued into each song.
Guthrie also introduced his latest CD, which is filled with wonderful old songs made famous by Guthrie, his father and some old friends. Recorded live in Sydney, Australia, it is titled “Live in Sydney”, but Guthrie would have preferred another title, “Okay so I wanted to call this new recording “He’s Only Mostly Dead.” Whatever it’s called, it’s the first new release from me in a few years. The concert is on 2 CDs with the words to all the songs and stories included.”
This CD is a must have for any Guthrie fan or any music lover. Guthrie is fun and witty as only he can be and the music is timeless. Experiencing “Live in Sydney” is akin to curling up on a big comfy sofa in your most comfortable bathrobe with your favorite hot drink and an album of old photos of your favorite old friends. It takes you back to a time long gone to familiar places and to places you haven’t been before but maybe wanted to go. It’ll give you an all over good feeling.
Now, in the midst of the ongoing 40th Anniversary tour Guthrie and friends will undertake an even bigger recycling venture as they travel the Amtrak City of New Orleans train for twelve days in December, performing along the way to benefit the small venues in the train’s namesake city that were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Guthrie was the first to record Goodman’s song, “City of New Orleans” and make it a national hit. The song is based on a version of the train prior to the creation of Amtrak.
Guthrie and Friends will start at The Vic Theatre in Chicago on Dec. 5 and arrive in New Orleans to perform at Tipitina’s on Dec. 17th. Guthrie, his son Abe with his band, Xavier, and daughter Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, will hold seven concerts along the route. Some of his friends will step aboard along the way, including Guy Davis, Ramsay Midwood, Kevin Kinney with Drivin’ n’ Cryin’, John Flynn and The Burns Sisters, riding on this “southbound odyssey.”
Focusing on small clubs and venues, Guthrie and friends will work with manufacturers and arrange to bring donations to New Orleans. They will help to facilitate the restoration of the musical infrastructure in New Orleans and the surrounding area. MusiCares, The Recording Academy’s safety net of critical assistance for music people in times of need, will help distribute “the gear,” along with Tipitina’s Foundation.
“When I think of New Orleans, I think of music,” Guthrie said in a public note a few weeks ago. “New Orleans is the city that truly began America’s contribution to the history of music worldwide. When I wonder what they might need in New Orleans to get back on their feet, the stuff that gets ruined under water, I think of all the sound boards, the cables, the lighting, the microphones, the instruments.”
“I am determined to help restore all of those little places and bring the music back as soon as possible,” he continued “I contacted Amtrak to help us take today’s City of New Orleans from Chicago all the way down to New Orleans.”
So, even though he may not be singing “I don’t want a pickle, I just want to recycle”, maybe it should be a new verse to the song, because he seems to be a theme with him. Either way, the fans are just happy that he continues to play the songs they love and to be the caring and creative person that has established a legacy for generations to come.
For more information about the Guthrie Center, the Guthrie Foundation and Arlo Guthrie’s music go to www.arlo.net.