By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
Arlo Guthrie had some hits back in the '60s, but a lot has happened
since then. A lot of new fans have been born, and a lot of them
have never even heard of “Alice's Restaurant.''
“Two years ago I had a part in an ABC show called ‘Birds of
Paradise,''' Guthrie said last week from a tour stop in Port
Angeles, Wash. (“the very north and westest-most tip of this country.'')
“It lasted a full season but it wasn't renewed. So I was
bumming around Honolulu one day — that's where we shot it — and I
was standing on a corner, and a local guy came up to me, a Hawaiian
guy, and he said, ‘Mr. Guthrie, we're so sorry they didn't pick up
your series again. We loved it here.' I said, ‘Well, I'll just go
back to singing,' and he said, ‘Oh, you sing, too?'''
Another blow hit him when he stopped to play a show at a
university in California. He was talking to the college student who
was organizing the event, and she said, “I'm not that familiar
with your old stuff. I saw you in (the 1992 film) ‘Roadside
Prophets,' so that's where it begins with me.''
“I realized that this gal was not aware of the 15 albums I'd
made for Warner (Bros.),'' Guthrie guffawed. “She'd maybe never
heard a record of mine at all. I suddenly realized there was a
world of people out there with no relation to Woodstock or ‘Alice's
Restaurant' or ‘City of New Orleans' or any of it. It's like having
a fresh slate.''
Yessir, that hair is white and it is long. Ol' Arlo's been
around the block a time or two or 10, and he couldn't be happier
about it. Actually, he said, having a portion of the audience find
“Alice's Restaurant'' fresh makes playing the 1967 hit a bit
easier 29 years later.
But Guthrie's show is no nostalgia trip. He's currently
supporting a new album with 10 new songs, “Mystic Journey,'' and
he's on the road with his son Abe — and that, he said, makes the
generation gap all the more easy to take.
“It's great having Abe out with me,'' Guthrie said. “We
offer each other unique but linked perspectives. He likes being on
the road like I do. I've always been a road warrior. Just give me a
bus and show me where to go. I've done that successfully for 30
years now, and I'm still married to the same girl.''
Guthrie's success has come on his own merits, too. He calmly
dodged the expectations that couldn't help but follow the son of
Woody Guthrie — the face of American folk music. He had his own
talents and he found his own style, scoring hits in the late '60s
with “Alice's Restaurant,'' which became an anthem of the anti-war
movement, and a cover of Steve Goodman's “City of New Orleans.''
He continued cranking out albums throughout the '70s, exploring
American musical traditions.
In the '80s, Guthrie decided to take control of his own
affairs. By 1983, he had parted ways with Warner Bros. and formed
his own record company, Rising Son Records. For three years,
Guthrie and his family dropped out of sight, hunkered down and
learned the intricacies of the record business.
“It really took us 10 years to figure out what we were
doing,'' he said. “I was just the guitar-playing,
singer-songwriter type. I didn't know anything about the business.''
First, Rising Son began acquiring and rereleasing Guthrie's
old albums, including 1986's “Someday,'' which Guthrie had
recorded three years earlier with Warner Bros. before the
separation. Then, with a little business savvy under his belt,
Guthrie began releasing some ambitious compilations. There was
“Woody's 20 Grow Big Songs,'' an elaborately packaged collection
of his father's children's music recorded by Guthrie and his
extended clan. There was also “Son of the Wind,'' a bunch of old cowboy
“I knew that one wasn't commercial. It was just a labor of
love,'' Guthrie said. “I could finally afford to do it because I
had my own record company.''
So he hasn't exactly been sitting around twiddling his thumbs
in the 10 years since “Someday,'' the last full-length record of
new, original Arlo songs.
“Mystic Journey'' is worth the wait. The 10 new songs, and a
cover of Charlie Chaplin's “You Are the Song,'' were penned within
the last three or four years and focus on love and spiritual
quests. “My songs are sung to those I've come to love,'' he sings
in the first track, “Moon Song.''
Spiritual quests are something Guthrie knows a bit about. His
1979 album “Outlasting the Blues'' first really showcased his
rigorous self-examination — a process spurred on by his conversion
to Catholicism. When he's not making music, he's continuing his own
“My parents were both people who believed in serving
humanity,'' he said. “You've got to do something — my dad did, my
mom did. We just grew up that way. My kids are being brought up
that way. You have to give back, especially when so many wonderful
things happen to you.''
Guthrie's main energies now are funneled into The Guthrie
Center, an interfaith church foundation providing for children
recovering from abuse and garnering support for HIV/AIDS and
community services of all kinds. Guthrie has been helping out with
AIDS patients a lot lately.
“Like anybody, I find myself living in a world where there's
an awful lot of sadness, sorrow and devastation,'' he said. “Most
of it has to do with AIDS. There are 40 million people around the
world infected with HIV, and when you consider the friends and
relatives and caretakers and lovers, you're talking about an awful
lot of people in hard times.
“So I've tried to do what I could to alleviate some of that
suffering by singing and raising money and playing benefits,
showing up at people's gatherings. It's not that showing up will
change someone's life, but it let's people know they're not alone.
“The lesson of this century that has to be learned before we
move onto the next one is that we never should have to let anyone
stand alone. We should support anyone who's suffering. I don't care
if it's war, pestilence, famines or AIDS — whatever, we can't let
anyone stand alone.''
“Mystic Journey'' is dedicated to Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, a
woman Guthrie calls his spiritual leader. With her, he visits AIDS
hospices around the country. Recently, they were in Lazarus House,
a hospice in New Orleans. Guthrie was in the lobby talking with
someone, and Ma was at the bedside of a dying man. The man didn't
know Guthrie was in the building.
When Ma asked the man what she could do before he died,
Guthrie said he answered, “You know, it's kind of silly, but I've
always wanted to meet this singer named Arlo Guthrie. His music has
meant a lot to me. Have you heard of him?''
Ma's face didn't crack. She told the man to close his eyes,
and she went out to get Guthrie. When Guthrie entered the room, she
told the man to open his eyes.
“He just about died right then and there,'' Guthrie said.
“Just to see the expression on his face was incredible. He said,
‘Lady, I don't know who you are but you've got some powers like no
one I've ever met.'
“That was one of those brilliant moments when God was watching
over and taking care of the situation. This can happen to anybody.
You don't have to be a celebrity or have a social services degree
to make a difference in someone's life. You've just gotta be there.''
Arlo and Abe Guthrie
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Cain's Ballroom, 423 N. Main St.
Tickets: $19.50 in advance from The Ticket Office at Expo Square,
Mohawk Records and Starship Records and Tapes
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.