Originally Posted by h2obullitt
Thanks! Not sure what prompted that but I haven`t heard the pickle song in years. What ever happened to Arlo?
You had to ask.
Arlo Guthrie on music, family and his latest tour
November 12, 2009 at 12:21 am by Michael Janairo, Arts & Entertainment Editor
More Guthries are coming to Albany than you’ve probably ever seen together before — 12 in all, including grandpa Arlo.
Now 62, he is leading the group across country on the “Guthrie Family Rides Again” tour. It stops Friday evening at The Egg.
In August, Guthrie released “Arlo Guthrie: Tales of ’69,” a concert recorded just before Woodstock. Guthrie, of course, remains one of the most memorable Woodstock performers because of his stoned raps and declarations, such as: “The New York State Thruway is closed, man!”
On this tour the family is featuring new songs of the legendary Woody Guthrie, Arlo’s father, as set to music by contemporary musicians. Woody died in 1967 at age 55 from complications of Huntington’s disease, a genetic neurological disorder. There is no cure, and each child of a Huntington’s parent has a 50-50 chance of inheriting the Huntington gene.
Between stops on the family tour, Arlo talked by phone with the Times Union.
Q: This is the Guthrie family tour. How many Guthries perform? What can the fans expect at the show?
A: We did a tour like this — it was called the Legacy Tour — about three or four years ago. And it was me and my son; Abe, who’s been working with me a good 25 years; and my daughter Sarah Lee and her husband, Johnny Irion. We were doing a lot of my dad’s old material, the stuff that made him popular to begin with, and some of our own songs. It was such a good time, we thought, “Let’s take everybody.”
These things take a couple of years to put together. But finally we got around to taking the entire family, which is my four kids and my seven grandkids, and a good friend, Terry A La Berry, who’s been playing with me for over 30 years now. That’s primarily the show that we’re doing on this tour.
It’s focus, as opposed to the last time out, is on some of the new Woody Guthrie songs that have been coming out as the result of my sister Nora’s work in making the lyrics available to young musicians around the world. And people have been bringing these songs to life, adding their own music, because my dad … wrote a lot of songs that are just lyrics on the page. If he had a tune for them, the tunes went with him when he left us.
So we’re going to do those in addition to the songs we’re writing ourselves.
Q: Do the grandchildren perform, too?
A: Yeah, all seven of them. They’re everything from 2 to 18.
Q: So the 2-year-olds might get on stage?
A: There’s no might about it. They’ll be there. They won’t be there probably as long, because they’re kind of like herding cats at that age. So we get them out on a few songs and then shuffle them right off. We’re not trying to make them work, but they have the opportunity if they want to get up to sing. If they want to help us out, they come running out at times during the show.
Q: So it has an intimate, family feel?
A: That’s all it is. There are songs I have to do just because I’m me, songs like “Coming into L.A.” or “City of New Orleans” — the shorter ones that are popular, you know, as far as I go. There are new songs some of the kids have written, new songs that even the grandkids have written. We’re trying to include them all.
What we’re really trying to show is that music’s a part of the family life. Some of it might be better than others. But it’s all fun, and we like playing together, and we like traveling around together. So that’s what we’re doing.
Q: How long is the tour? How are you all traveling?
A: The tour started the beginning of October. It’ll run through the middle of next May. And we travel however we have to. Most of the time it’s in a couple of big tour buses.
Q: You travel with the family, too.
A: Oh yeah.
Q: “Tales of ‘69” was released in August. What’s the story behind your releasing it?
A: It’s one of those records … If that’s who I would be now, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I would be one of 20 million people looking for work, bartending, anything. It was made at a time when I was playing a lot on stage experimenting with different things in terms of performance style.
I would start these tales, for example, and have no idea where they were going to go, just as a way to get comfortable on stage and enjoy myself. … We were crazy in those days; I don’t know.
This was an old tape that had been sitting around the house. We were beginning the process of digitizing everything, because the magnetic tape, the physical tape, was beginning to deteriorate. So we were putting it on CD and other formats, and this one just showed up. And my kids were listening to it, and they called me into the studio. And they said, “Pop, you’ve got to hear this thing.”
So I went in. They had tears in their eyes. They were rolling around on the floor. They said, “You were crazy.”
I said, “That’s kind of funny. I don’t even remember that one.”
They said, “We’ve got to put this out.”
I said, “You can’t put it out. It’s not ready for prime time. It never really was.”
They said, “No, we’ve got to put this out. It’s too late in your career; it’s not going to hurt you.”
So we put it out mostly because we knew that there would be some old-time fans who would enjoy a little window into that world back years ago.
Q: I heard you say on World Café, I believe, that at Woodstock you were the highest you ever were for the largest concert of your life, or something like that. Is that accurate?
A: I wouldn’t have exaggerated it that much. I would just say that I wasn’t in any shape to be performing. On the other hand, I didn’t think I had to. They asked me to play at a time when I really wasn’t ready. But on the other hand, it was such an incredible rush to be in front of so many people. I had never been and have not been since in front of that many people in that kind of situation.
I said, “You know, you’re in no shape to do this. On the other hand, this is going to be the highlight, one of the highlights, of your life. So get used to it.”
Q: Were you not scheduled to play at all? Or not scheduled to play at that time?
A: I was under the impression that I was scheduled to play the next day.
Q: Do you mind saying what you were high on?
A: I have refrained from that.
Q: If you were talking to a high school or collage class — that didn’t have a clue about your father and not much of a clue about folk music — what would you tell them?
A: I’d tell them that folk music is not a genre. It’s not a kind of music. It’s the history of people in song and music that is outside of the entertainment industry. It has nothing to do with getting rich or famous, being somebody, or any of the normal things that you would associate with popular music. It doesn’t mean that it can’t happen. I mean, look at me.
But I never set out to do anything more than to sit around with my friends and play some of the old songs. That’s what we loved doing.
We had access to about 40, 50 years of recorded music. And we could listen to some of the old stuff, the old chain-gang songs, the old cowboy ballads, the old ballads from the British Isles, and songs from everywhere else in the world that we had on record.
Nowadays people have 80 to 90 years worth of recorded music to listen to when you’re a kid growing up. And so the kind of music that is available to learn from is doubled in my lifetime. That’s an amazing wealth of stuff. And it’s the well from which all this other kind of music springs from.
It includes the blues and any kind of music you can play walking down the road that you don’t need to be plugged in, you don’t need to be set up, you don’t need your wardrobe person, your hair and makeup person. You know what I’m saying?
It’s not part of the industry. It’s just the music. And some of that kind of music you can actually walk around making a living doing. And some of it you can’t. But the truth is that, for me, folk music has always been the history of people in songs.
Q: What would you tell that class about your dad?
A: That he was on the edge of an era leading into another, that he was born at a time and raised at a time before electricity was everywhere. They didn’t have radios. They had no means of entertainment other than making it themselves.
And so a lot of the songs and stories my dad has passed on come from an entirely different world. They come from a world that had not changed since the beginning of people. And suddenly it changed one day [laughs] when electricity started coming around, and automobiles were seen, and the entertainment industry got born. And all of a sudden people’s songs were recorded and sent around, and it became a big new thing. Guys like Stephen Foster and others who been writing songs, suddenly their music was able to be recorded. And songs became popular.
He came in on the edge of that world and went around collecting the songs that he and others thought were important, guys like John and Alan Lomax, because the new popular music that was coming in was replacing people’s interest in making their own. People just sat around listening to the radio instead of sat around the back porch playing music.
So they realized that a lot of these histories would be lost, and they collected them. Then late in the ’50s some college kids discovered the books that the Lomaxes had put out and discovered guys like my dad and Leadbelly and others and popularized the idiom. I mean, here’s a bunch of college guys wearing sweaters singing chain-gang ballads or Caribbean calypso songs or something. It didn’t really make sense, but it was great, and we loved it.
And all of a sudden people started writing their own music in that form, and we got guys like Bob Dylan, and we got the Rolling Stones who were looking back and picking up some of the blues things. And the interest from guys like the Beatles in that form made this musical world possible.
That’s my short five-minute version of it.
Q: I see online that you’re still doing a lot of interviews for this tour. And at this point, you certainly don’t have to do them with people like me at papers all over the place. How come you still do?
A: Well, I think the times are tough enough for everybody economically, so that we want to see as many people as we can get into the halls that we’re playing and make the tour worthwhile. Nobody could have anticipated this economy a couple of years ago when we were planning this big tour with so many people.
So here we are, we’re all sort of caught short, and so, anything that I can do to help promote the shows is what my kids have asked me to do. I don’t mind at all. I think it’s rare that people are going to see this kind of show these days.
Everything is so target-marketed. You know, there’s music for people who are 12 to 15. There’s clothes for them. There’s worlds for every group. And we see that online, we see that in stores and in TV shows. Our whole lives are divided and targeted by advertisers and people who want to sell stuff to us.
It’s rare to find people of all ages and all political persuasions in one event. It’s rare to see people singing together who wouldn’t be seen talking to each other on the street. And yet that’s what we’re doing. And I love that. I think it’s important. It’s nice for kids for be a part of a bigger world than their own little marketing niche.
Q: This getting older is sort of a strange thing. Lots of things have changed since we were young. Would you be 20 again, right now, if you could be?
A: No. I love being who I am right now. It was a fabulous time to grow up. It was a time when we expected each other to learn from our own experience and not count on the experience of others. That’s what, to me, the ’60s were all about — people being free to experiment with their own lives, see what works and doesn’t work, rather than sit back and be told what should work for you, and what you should do, and how you can grow into a person that looks just like the one that raised you.
That was a great time to grow up. And frankly that has shaped my political philosophy to the point where I am constantly reminded of the danger of accepting other people’s experience as your own, that you really need to be free to have no doubt about your own reality. And that means taking chances.
You know, when a guy like Ralph Nader says, “Oh, wait, three people fell out of a pickup truck. Therefore no people can ride in the back of pickup trucks anymore. You know what I’m saying? That kind of world. We have become the big mommy state.
When a kid is sick up in Minnesota or something like that, and the government says, “You’ve got to treat this kid this way with chemo and radiation, blah, blah, blah” — because you don’t know better. When you cannot raise your kids or raise yourself, when you cannot risk everything as an individual, and when you have to be saved from yourself by the state, I get nervous. And that’s the world we’re living in.
Q: Many of us who lived through the ‘60s thought we’d never live to get old. Did you ever think you’d still be making music and, especially, touring at this point?
A: I always figured that this is what I wanted to do. I didn’t actually want to do this for a living, by the way. I meant to be a forest ranger. That was my occupation of choice. So I went to college for that out in Montana. And I loved it out there. I made a lot of great friends.
But, the ’60s were going on. And they weren’t going on as much in Montana [laughs] as they were in other places. So I left school, because I felt I needed to be there. I needed to be on the streets at the demonstrations. I needed to be a part of the civil-rights movement, not just hear about it. I wanted to be part of the anti-war movement, not just hear about it, read about it. I really needed to be there.
And so I dropped everything else I was doing, and I found myself out on the street with a guitar, and there was my old buddy Pete Seeger, my dad’s friend, really, at that time. And so I just hung out with him and ended up playing songs with him so that we could feel good about marching around and demanding that things change. It changed my life. I ended up doing that as a living. …
What [Pete] really taught me was that there is a power in songs, in people singing them, that doesn’t come about any other way. It’s like sunshine or rain or something. You can’t really explain it unless you do it. It makes you feel a certain way, just like hanging out in the sun does, or walking in the rain does, or standing in the wind. It’s one of these natural forces that impacts your life. It’s good stuff.
Q: You seem to have the perfect life — a healthy sense of yourself, a sense of humor, a wife you’ve been married to since 1969, a big, fun family, money (I presume) and lots of music. Is your life really that good?
A: [Laughs]. From the outside, other people’s lives are always good. Nobody’s life is perfect. Otherwise there wouldn’t be any point in having one. And the ins and outs of everybody’s life are unique and valuable.
That’s what my dad’s songs were all about. Making people feel as though their lives were unique and needed in a world where so many people are caught up in a fraudulent kind of life, where you have to do things that are not you, where you don’t feel comfortable in your own skin.
Q: I guess as long as you have your health, they say. … I read where you never wanted to get tested to see whether you had the Huntington’s gene? If that’s true, then how come?
A: If they could do something about it as the result of finding out one thing or another, I might be interested. But just to find out? That doesn’t make any sense. If they had a test for your likelihood of getting hit by a car, would you take that test, too? And if they had a test for the likelihood of the elephants escaping from the zoo and trampling you, would you take that test, too?
The question is, When do you stop testing, and when do you start living. And if you’re not willing to go down the test road forever, why start?
Q: Did you think about getting tested before having kids?
A: We didn’t have the test before we had the kids. But it would have been the same anyway.
Q: I read that Huntington’s disease typically begins in mid-life, from 30 to 50. So does that mean you’re free and clear?
A: It’s a curve. So far, so good.
Tom Keyser can be reached at 454-5448 or by e-mail at [email protected]
Also see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arlo_Guthrie