Arlo Guthrie turns 74: the “Local Spins Rewind” interview
Arlo Guthrie celebrates his 74th birthday today. He officially retired from touring in 2020. But before that – in 2018 – Local Spins chatted with him before a show at the State Theater in Kalamazoo.
EDITOR’S NOTE: In 2018, Local Spins interviewed both Arlo Guthrie and his daughter, Sarah Lee, before they stopped by Kalamazoo as part of Alice’s Restaurant 50th Anniversary Tour. Guthrie suffered a stroke the following year and has since retired from touring. To celebrate its 74th birthday today, Local Spins is revisiting this interview.
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A little over half a century ago, and a dozen years before Sarah Lee Guthrie was even born, her father, Arlo Guthrie (Woody’s son), recorded the proven classic “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” – a narrative song based on the now infamous events that happened during a Thanksgiving trip in 1965 that Arlo took to visit her friend Alice Brock and her husband Ray.
A film adaptation of the song, directed by Arthur Penn, was released in 1969, just days after Guthrie performed in Woodstock. Now, “Back by Popular Demand” and a few weeks away from Thanksgiving 2018, the 50th anniversary “Alice’s Restaurant Tour” has made its way across the country. (See “Alice’s Restaurant” below.)
The tour stopped in November at the Kalamazoo State Theater as Arlo performed his famous 16-minute plus song and many more with musical support from Sarah Lee, a member of the third generation of what could prove to be. being a long line of famous Guthrie Folk Singers.
Local Spins writer Ryan Boldrey had the opportunity to separately interview Arlo and Sarah Lee Guthrie. They talked about politics, family business, the importance of folk music and, of course, the Alice’s Restaurant Tour.
Local tours: It seems that the “50th Anniversary Tour” of “Alice’s Restaurant” has been going on for a few years now, what keeps you going? The audience? The political climate today? A greater meaning to bring people and generations together?
Arlo: In fact, this is a fairly recent tour celebrating the 50th anniversary of the film’s release in 1969. We did another 50th tour (three years ago) to celebrate the real events that took place in 1965 , but it’s completely different. Obviously we’re still talking about Alice’s Restaurant, so that part is the same, and there are songs that we do continuously, regardless of the name of the tour. We created this show very recently, and we’re still working on it, but as long as people still want to hear it, I’m good to go on, well, most of the time. And yes, of course in this political climate, having suspicion about authority helps.
Local tours: Speaking of the political climate, I read somewhere that you once said: “Everyone has a responsibility not only to tolerate another person’s point of view, but also to eagerly accept it as a challenge to others. understanding oneself and expressing these challenges in terms of serving other people. ”How relevant is this quote even today as this country becomes more and more divided?
Arlo: I don’t remember saying that, yet I’ve read all kinds of things people say that I said that I don’t remember saying. But, if you ask me if tolerance is always a good idea, the answer is yes. A lot of people just like to hear themselves speak or see themselves written. Sometimes you have to differentiate between someone who has something worth hearing and someone who just loves to talk.
Local tours: How difficult is it to gracefully straddle that line as a folk musician in terms of self-expression and try to bring people together rather than dividing them further by taking a firm stand in your own beliefs?
Arlo: I don’t know what a folk musician is, but as a human being it is probably good to remember that your allies of tomorrow may have been your enemies of yesterday. So, I try to be courteous and respectful, even if I have to disagree from time to time.
Local tours: As the torch continues to pass from generation to generation in the Guthrie family, could you please explain how important it is for you to share the stage with Sarah Lee, as well as how you see her evolving as folk singer and person who forged her own path over the past 20 years?
Arlo: My wife and I had four children, all of whom ended up playing music. I loved being a dad when it came to that stuff. I love that they all took different musical paths and that they were doing their thing. And they all have children who understand the language of music. It’s like transmitting a disease. Sarah Lee started working with me over 20 years ago and she keeps getting better and better. I define him best as someone who can entertain an audience for an entire evening. It’s a lot of work, and I don’t recommend it for most people. But my kids are even more stubborn than I am, so there’s no stopping them now.
Local tours: I spoke with Sarah Lee about how she carried on Guthrie’s name and tradition, perhaps without intention at first. How did you find yourself doing the same, instead of Woody while going your own way?
Arlo: My father had a professional career for about 15 years in which he wrote most of his songs and recorded his music. No one in their right mind, including me, would deliberately try to reduce what they were capable of doing in a decade and a half, and few did. For my part, I’ve been doing this for over 50 years. So naturally, I see myself as not having had to pedal as much to the end. I’m not thinking of his shoes, but of his pace. He worked as if he knew he only had limited time. I thought I could take it a little easier, on myself, my family, my friends and the rest of the world. And yet, I tried to keep the same spirit, the same philosophy and the same sensitivity in my work, which I learned from him.
Local tours: Are you ever tired of doing “Alice’s” at every gig?
Arlo: Nope. I’m sick of being on the road now that I’m over 70, but I never tire of playing particular songs. And if I do, I stop playing them until I miss them.
Local tours: So Sarah Lee, how did you start as a teenage punk rock girl and end up following the family tradition as a folk singer?
Sarah Lee: It was really Johnny’s influence on me. We played country / folk rock, that’s how we generated ourselves. But it wasn’t until later, say 10 years in my music career, that I started to appreciate the music I grew up around like Pete Seeger or Ramblin ‘Jack (Elliot) or even my grandfather (Woody). Guthrie). It was really a combination of things at the time… going to Europe and realizing what the Guthrie family meant to people all over the world and slowly realizing what I could do and what I could represent. I started to see how important folk music is, especially in today’s political climate. I don’t want to lose this. I want to make sure that our next generations know that music is not just for entertainment, but that it brings people together and helps movements of people to build and rebuild community.
Local tours: You mention the political climate in which we find ourselves, what is according to you your role and your responsibility as a folk singer in this climate?
Sarah Lee: As folk singers, we have so much to do now to remind people to use their voices, to join their voices and to unite them. This is what Pete did in the civil rights movement and Joan Baez did and still does. I look to them for advice on how to act and what to do in these times. So yes, I feel a great sense of responsibility now to bring people together through our collective voices, but that doesn’t mean you have to sing along at political rallies. One of my favorite quotes from Woody is “right wing, left wing, chicken wing” I really like that and the idea of bringing people together and not dividing them. It is difficult though, especially in times when it is “this is so wrong” and “how can you feel that” and “how could you accept both sides”.
Local tours: You have mentioned your grandfather several times now. He and your father, no doubt, have both played an important role in the history of American folk music, and you are not the only “third generation Guthrie” now involved in the music. Are there more Guthries in the music pipeline? Anyone ready to take up the torch?
Sarah Lee: Oh my God, I don’t know. There’s certainly another generation doing it, but who knows what’s going to happen in the eyes of the world. I don’t put them under pressure at all. Actually, I’m going the other way around and I think my dad was doing it with us too. He was like, ‘Don’t do it! Don’t be a musician! You don’t want that! ‘ And of course we all became musicians (laughs). … As for my kids, because I shot with Johnny, they were all raised on the road. They feel it so deeply that it’s like second nature to them. My 16 year old daughter pushes her as far as possible because she is forging her own identity, while my 11 year old daughter just played a show with me in Oklahoma. She loves to play the ukulele. Abe’s children are both super talented. He has a daughter at Ithaca College. Her voice is better than all of us put together, so if she decides to go, be careful. And his son plays eight days a week in Vermont.
VIDEO: Arlo Guthrie, “Restaurant d’Alice” (Live)
PHOTO GALLERY: Arlo Guthrie and Sarah Lee at the State Theater
Photos of Derek Ketchum