Last night I took my Dad to see Arlo Guthrie at the UR Modlin Center. Arlo turned 60 this year and my Dad turned 59 today, so they are contemporaries that never met except maybe in 1967 on memory-altering substances. Although like a lot of 30 something kids with hippie-something parents, I'm familiar with Arlo in the sense that I watched "Alice's Restaurant" sometime in highschool, but mostly I just carried him around in my head as a fuzzy headed druggie songster. Well, he was definitely fuzzy headed, but he was also helluva smart, funny and as always there was much more to him than the 2-D poster boy my brain had constructed.
He possessed the ability to infuse each song he sang with its own passion even though you knew he'd sung it a billion and three times before because he's been on tour constantly for like 40 years. He's also a fantastic storyteller which is what for me, really made the concert. I have always loved lyric heavy music; voice, rhythm and beat are almost incidental to me. That's why I adore Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Ani DiFranco, Paul Simon, Meatloaf... etc. Lyrics! Words! Stories! That's what it's all about for me. What is a soprano, a treble cleft, a C note? I have no earthly idea but if you play them while singing a nice rhyme or turn of phrase, I'm hooked. So I was thrilled to hear Arlo Guthrie sing "St. James' Infermary" (because it reminds me a of a lot of old friends), "This Land Is Your Land" (because I didn't even know that his DAD wrote it) and "I don't want a pickle/I just want to ride my motorcycle" (because I actually knew all of the words.) And I loved his rambling renditions of Joseph and the Technicolor DreamCoat, his first-ever memory of being two years old and hanging out with Leadbelly, and the stories of his mythic legendary dad. He said his Dad liked to write so much that it was annoying. If he came to visit at your house he'd use up all of you paper-like apparatus and then move onto the furniture, the cat, your wife, whatever he could get his hands on. In fact, there are something like 3500 unpublished songs in addition to the published books, plays, songs, etc. that Arlo's sister is slowly releasing to the public!
Anyway, he said that at one point his Dad felt like there was something funny about him so he quit drinking. Well, that wasn't it so he started drinking again and checked himself into a mental institution in New Jersey. After a while, the psych doctor called Arlo's mom and said "Ma'am, your husband has delusions of grandeur. He thinks he's a famous folk singer!" Woody was relieved to finally meet a man who said- "I know who you are. You're Woody Guthrie. I loved your book." "You read my book?" asked Woody. "No, I ate it," said the man. After 3 months in the loonybin, Arlo's mom went to get him out but by then he didn't want to leave because he'd made a lot of friends. Truth or fiction? I don't care. It's a great story.