When you think of Arlo Guthrie, you probably think of a guy standing alone on a stage with a guitar, singing folk songs old and new. But the reality is something different. He has rarely performed solo since his early days in clubs.
“I did about a three-week stint by myself fifteen years ago,” he told me last week. “It was ’93; I had just bought a Dodge pickup truck—it was the last of the square-nosed Dodge diesels. I thought, man, I gotta get this out on the road! So I did a three-week tour, went all over the country just me in a pickup.”
Friday night, though, he’ll be all by his lonesome at the American Theatre, kicking off the winter leg of his “Solo Reunion Tour—Together At Last (with the original band).” For most local fans, it will be the first time they’ve seen him perform without his son Abe and at least one or two other musical cohorts.
“I’m having a great time,” he said. “I haven’t been so free to play with the audience, goof off and have some fun, since that three-week tour. The truth of it is, I haven’t spent a year on a real [solo] tour since the ‘60s. It’s so much easier when you’re playing with other people because you don’t have to do everything. When that goes away, you have to make up for it with just you and a guitar. My chops are getting better and I’m having a lot of fun.”
Though he had his 60th birthday last summer and has been traveling around making music since he was a teenager, Arlo Guthrie is still a road hog.
“You know when people come to visit you,” he laughed, “if they stay too long you’re as happy to see ‘em goin’ as comin’? Well, with me, it’s like that. I’m there for one day, one night, and then I’m outta there. A lot of people have fond memories of me because I haven’t been around!
“I’m comfortable in my bus. It’s really my home—actually I’ve got more stuff in the bus than I have in the home!”
With the presidential primary season in overdrive, I had to ask this icon of the flower power era for his take on the current campaign.
“I don’t think it’s as important as we tend to believe,” he said. “Whoever the president is, is one thing. But what’s more interesting to me is who the people are. And we’re sorta coming to a time when we’re beginning to believe that the people are actually more important than who the president is. We see that in the kind of candidates who are doing well. You see it in the hope and support for candidates like Barack Obama.
“I don’t know if many people would actually believe this: I’m a registered Republican. So the only guy that I could vote for during the primary was my buddy Ron Paul. A lot of people badmouth him, but I think the guy’s terrific so I’ve endorsed him. But I fully expect that when the election comes around, I’ll be voting for Obama.”
Arlo Guthrie a Republican?
“Over the last eight years,” he explained, “that’s where the fight has been. The fight is not between the Republicans and Democrats; it’s within the Republican Party as to what does it mean to be American these days. I think that’s where the more intriguing fight is going on, so I thought that’s where I need to be.”
He is not happy with the health care plans being offered by this year’s candidates.
“I’m all for universal health care,” he said, “but I am definitely not for the health care proposals that are coming out of the Democratic side. All of the leaders are talking about different ways of insuring everybody. But I don’t want insurance companies interfering with my medical care! There shouldn’t be any room for insurance companies to be in the medical business at all, period. I’d rather have none than to have these guys tell me what a drug is, whether I can take it or not, whether I’m sick or not. That scares the hell out of me. I’m for everybody getting fixed, but I’m not for everybody getting covered by an insurance company.
“I think local communities should pay their monies based on some tax or direct payment to hospitals in their area, and be able to walk in and get anything done that you need depending on what your doctor says. That’s not federal government; that’s not even state government. That’s local government, just like what we do with our volunteer fire.
“At the heart of things I am a libertarian. I do take issue with some things—there is a reason to have government involved that speaks for us with other people around the world. But I am not for continuing the current Big Brother-ness: I don’t want people tapping into my phones; I don’t want people telling me what I can grow on my farm; I don’t want people telling me what’s good for me health care-wise. There’s plenty of information now so that people can learn to be responsible for themselves…If government does anything, it should help us weed through the fact and fiction of things.”
Arlo Guthrie has spent his career weeding through things to get at the essence of the songs he sings and to lighten listeners’ loads with humorous monologues about the world in which we live. His music has always been best when least adorned, and Friday night he’ll strip it down to the basics.
“I have learned over the years,” he said, “that if you don’t experiment, you can learn to always be good, but it can never be great unless you’re willing to risk it being bad. In the grand scheme of the entertainment industry, another Arlo record probably doesn’t make a dent anywhere. But we’re now more free to do whatever we want to do. I think one of the finest records we’ve made was one called Mystic Journey, but it never did anything, it never went anywhere, Rolling Stone never knew about it. But at this point, who cares? You just make the records, create the songs, play the music that you like. And if other people like it, that’s great. And if they don’t, or don’t even hear about it, that’s OK too. It’s still fun to play it!”
copyright © 2008 Jim Newsom. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.
Friday, February 8 – 8:00 pm
The American Theatre