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Archive for Friday, November 11, 2005

Arlo Guthrie reopens ‘Restaurant’

November 11, 2005

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Arlo Guthrie wishes people would move on.

Move on?

"Yeah, want to move on," he says, "because there's a big future out there, and I would love to see a little more of it."

Guthrie's speaking by phone from a Ventura Boulevard hotel in Los Angeles. He's dusted off "Alice's Restaurant," the infamous monologue that launched him 40 years ago, and is taking it on an anniversary tour.

As he plays "Alice's Restaurant" in its original version, he sees that the times aren't all that different from when he first introduced the song to the world.

"You have a country that's divided on a wide range of social issues," he says. "And you have politicians who use that divisiveness for their own advantage. We've seen this before."

Guthrie, son of legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie, has written songs inspiring activism and awakening social consciousness.

Is he a political animal?

"Not running for anything," he says.

But it's pretty easy for social concerns to become political.

"If you're growing stuff in your backyard that the government decides one day is illegal and you say something about it, you've gone from being a farmer to a politician," he says.

Arlo Guthrie is performing his signature piece, "Alice's Restaurant," on a tour that's bringing him through Lawrence. The folk singer goes years at a time between playing the song live.

Arlo Guthrie is performing his signature piece, "Alice's Restaurant," on a tour that's bringing him through Lawrence. The folk singer goes years at a time between playing the song live.

Family talents

Guthrie's voice has deepened from the time he first recorded "Alice's Restaurant," but the distinctive, comedic intonation and timing that marked his witty monologues remains.

"I find myself, like millions of other people, involved in politics when that's not really what I came to talk about," he says.

As Guthrie sings in "The Motorcycle Song," "I don't want a pickle/I'd rather ride in my motor-cicle/I don't want to die/I'd rather ride on my motor-cycle."

Guthrie laughs easily. Though his musical pedigree had him growing up with the influences of Pete Seeger, Leadbelly, Cisco Houston and Ramblin' Jack Elliott, he says he's happy in the here and now.

"These are the great days for me," he says.

Guthrie's son Abe joins him on stage. He also often plays with his daughter, Sara Lee Guthrie.

"Regardless of the times, I enjoy the talents of my family," he says.

He didn't have that growing up. Woody and Arlo Guthrie never played together publicly. The elder Guthrie slowly succumbed to Huntington's disease, a degenerative brain disorder.

Guthrie says he and his wife, Jackie, are simply happy to see everyone get along.

"They all actually like each other, and the grandkids all like each other, too," he says. "Maybe that's one of the gifts that music can give to the world: In order to play good together you actually have to listen to each other."

What values is Guthrie passing to the progeny?

"I think a good sense of humor and a sense of family and those kinds of things are important things," he says.

When Guthrie first started playing, he says audiences wanted to hear him play his father's music.

"I never minded doing a few of them, but I never wanted to do that exclusively, so I began to inject my own stuff into the show," he says. "Some of it was good. And some of it wasn't."

Arlo Guthrie says, "I didn't want to become a trained seal routine where you pay your money because you know what he's going to do." The folk musician is on tour performing "Alice's Restaurant."

Arlo Guthrie says, "I didn't want to become a trained seal routine where you pay your money because you know what he's going to do." The folk musician is on tour performing "Alice's Restaurant."

Guthrie hasn't always given audiences what they want. In the early days, "Alice's Restaurant" confounded audiences.

"I'd start (playing) that and they'd say shut up and sing, and then as that became popular, and we decided not to do it, people would say, 'Stop singing and talk,'" he explains. "I learned at an early age that people like what they're familiar with. At some point I told them, 'If you don't want to hear what we're working on now, don't come back.'"

That may have shortened the line out front for a while, but audiences came around.

"I didn't want to become a trained seal routine where you pay your money because you know what he's going to do," Guthrie says, chuckling. "I decided that we didn't want to be that famous. We wanted to have fun, and we wanted to play what was immediate on our minds."

Guthrie brings out the song on anniversaries now. After this tour, he'll take it off the set list and likely won't play it again until 2016.

Enter interfaith

Despite the distinctive gray locks that shroud his face, Guthrie says he doesn't have problems being recognized on the street.

"It's very easy being me," he says. "The only time you would know I was me if you came to the theater and you're sitting in the seat, and I walk out on the stage and you say, 'That must be him.'"

Past Event
Arlo Guthrie "Alice"s Restaurant"

  • When: Saturday, November 12, 2005, 7:30 p.m.
  • Where: Lied Center, 1600 Stewart Drive, KU campus, Lawrence
  • Cost: $14 - $34
  • More on this event....

In the early 1990s, Guthrie started The Guthrie Center in the church portrayed in "Alice's Restaurant." It's the site of a not-for-profit interfaith foundation. Guthrie has explored religions over the years, but there's not one religion to which he subscribes.

"I have a lot of subscriptions," he says. "I have my own idea of what the nature of reality is based on events and things that have happened to me.

"I love living in a country where somebody like me can believe those things and not be put in a position where I have to explain myself all the time. I love the idea that I grow into whatever the future is without somebody directing me for their own reason."

He believes that the more people are unafraid to share their traditions, the better everyone will get along.

"There's not a trouble spot in the world right now where somebody doesn't believe that their way of thinking is under siege ... and there are people who use that to their advantage," he says.

Guthrie claims wherever trouble is brewing in the world, the problem starts for this reason.

"The one thing that I think will get us beyond that is the day when we can sit down together, enjoy own way of thinking and not feel as if by joining in with others we're going to lose what we've got," he says.

And so it goes for Guthrie. He continues doing what he was born doing with no plans of ever stopping.

Similarly, his father played music until the very end.

"Couldn't stand up so he sat down and started playing," he says. "Couldn't form the chords in his hands, he was too ill, but he would pick up that guitar and bang it around and get angry that he couldn't play it."

Is it time to write the book on Guthrie's life?

"I'm waiting for a good ending."

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