Friday, August 13, 2010

Susan Cross Interviewing Arlo Guthrie, June 2009

I conducted this interview for a cover article which was printed in GRAND Magazine in August 2009 to commemorate the 40 year anniversary of Woodstock. If I have to explain to you what Woodstock was or who Arlo Guthrie is, you probably won't be interested in the interview. This is just an excerpt targeted at the magazine's market, grandparents. The remainder of the interview has not been published but I may transcribe and publish it on the blog at a later date if response to this one is large enough. So read along with me, remember young Arlo at Woodstock and get to know him as he was one year ago.

Arlo Guthrie Interview – May 5, 2009

Susan Cross: How many members of the family will be touring with you?

Arlo Guthrie: Well that tour begins in October so they’re not with me yet. But when we do get together, there’ll be 4 kids, Abe’s got 2 so that’s 5, 6, Annie’s got two, so that’s 7,8 and Cathy’s got 2 so that 9, 10. Anyway, there’s 7 grandkids and they will all be with us, not all of them [performing]. Obviously some of them are too young to do much but we will incorporate them all in the show and uh the major portion of the show will be handled by me and Abe, Krishna is 18, he’s a great player, and Johnny [Irion] and Sara.

Susan Cross: What are their names and ages?

Arlo Guthrie: Abe is my oldest, and his oldest is Krishna, he’s 18; Serena is Abe’s daughter. She stole my 50th birthday so I always know how old either I am or she is because it’s exactly 50 years to the day. She is 11 at this point. She will be 12 by the time the tour starts. Then my daughter, Cathy, she has a little daughter, Marjorie. Marjorie is about 2 so she’s not going to be doing a whole lot but she’s going to be dancing around the stage somewhere. My next daughter is Annie and her oldest is Mo and Mo is or will be about 16 and I could have these wrong by the way. And Jacklyn is also Annie’s daughter and she’s about 8. And then Sarah Lee has a daughter, Olivia and Olivia is the same age as Jacklyn and they also have a little daughter Sophia who is the same age as Marjorie. That’s it, all 7 grandkids.

The small ones will make an appearance at some point but we may have to get some cattle prods. We’ll get them out there just to dance around at the end but most of the work will be handled by the older ones. 

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Susan Cross: When you’re not on the road do you live close to the family?

Arlo Guthrie: Just about. All of my kids live within a few miles except for Cathy who lives in Austin, TX. We’re in the far most reaches of MA going west toward the hills.

Susan Cross: Which are writing music and lyrics?

Arlo Guthrie: All of my kids do. Also Krishna is now starting to write songs.

Susan Cross: Do their lyrics reflect the same social consciousness like you conveyed to us in the 60s and 70s?

Arlo Guthrie: Some. I mean all of my father’s were not about social consciousness. There were a lot of love songs, broken heart songs, got drunk too many time songs, lost my dog songs. I mean there’s all kinds of songs but we do not neglect songs about things that are going on.

Susan Cross: You used a lot of humor. Has your sense of humor played a role in keeping your family so close?

Arlo Guthrie: Uh, my family has a pretty good sense of humor. If you listen to the records that have come out so far there’s just some wonderful stuff that puts a smile on your face. My daughter Cathy sings with Amy Nelson who is Willie’s daughter. And they have a little duo called Folk Uke. And they are very funny. You cannot play their stuff for your kids, though. Very very funny.

Susan Cross: Times have changed in the past 40 years. What issues are you involved in now?

Arlo Guthrie: We’re involved in all different things because obviously we’re all different people. We don’t have a herd mentality when it comes to social consciousness. I think everybody’s very individual.

You’d have to almost hear it. Some of the songs that Sarah Lee and Johnny, her husband have just released a record of children’s songs because they think that real children’s songs, as opposed to ??? about jelly bean characters running around are not really that helpful toward growing up right. So they put together a great collection for kids, even little kids, that are passionately wonderful. The Smithsonian Folkways is putting it out so anyway it would be like if NPR or PBS would be putting it out. It would not be your commercial variety. So they’re involved with young people growing up because they have young people growing up.

I don’t write as many children’s songs as I used to but I did put out a book a couple of years ago; it’s still in print; called Mooses Come Walking. It was illustrated for me by my friend Alice [Brock], who is THE Alice of the song. It’s still going strong. We have all done some work for children. As a matter of fact the whole family got together for the first time back around 10 or 15 years ago and we put out a record that my father and mother had begun to create. It was a project that they had never finished. And we finished it and we put it out. Not just with my kids and some of their kids but with my brother and his son and my sister and her daughter and son. So we’ve worked some family stuff a long time ago. This is not new for us. That record was called Woody’s 20 Grow Big Songs. It was primarily written and recorded for kids about 2 or 3 years old. That was the first time we really got together as a family and not only that we incorporated the voice of my father singing some of these songs so it’s my father’s generation, mine, my kids’ and my grandkids’ – four generations on that one record. We’re trying to recreate that spirit although for an older crowd on the tour that’s coming up. We’ll have some recordings of my father, even my mom, so there’ll be a huge time span that we’re trying to invent into a two hour show.

It’s not even just my father’s legacy. In some ways it was passed along from his mother when she was singing Indian songs so it’s inter-generational. It doesn’t start with Woody Guthrie and it doesn’t end with the youngest crowd today. It’s just something we like doing.

Susan Cross: Did the children stay close all these years?

Arlo Guthrie: Well they did go off in different directions but they snuck back. That’s probably due to my wife. She’s the anchor of the family and she’s not a performer but when the kids were young she could play enough guitar and sing stuff to get them to fall asleep anyway so it’s my wife Jackie who’s really kept the entire family together over all these years and she’s still doing it. I think this year’s going to be the 40th anniversary. We got married in ’69. I went and did Woodstock and then…I can’t remember the order of things. Four things happened in 1969: that was a big year for me. Went and did Woodstock; went up to Massachusetts and bought an old farm, got married on the farm and then the movie “Alice’s Restaurant” came out. That was all within the last three or four months of ’69. We’re still doing songs from Woodstock, still living on the farm, still married to the same wife and we don’t watch the movie anymore. We have it somewhere.

Susan Cross: What do the grandkids call you?

Arlo Guthrie: They call me Pop.

The concert with the Boston Pop in Bethel Wood is coming up in August on the 40th anniversary of Woodstock so I’m going right back to the same place I was in 40 years ago. I’m bringing a bigger band with me this time, that’s all. The family won’t be at that one. It’s just me and the Boston Pops.

Susan Cross: Do you think that the world is a better place since Woodstock for your grandchildren to grow up?

Arlo Guthrie: Absolutely. No question about it. We were the ones who lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis when we were on the brink of annihilation and thankfully we got over the brink and we have not had a moment like that since. We’ve had some awful moments don’t get me wrong but we haven’t had one like that.

Susan Cross: Do you have concerns about how current events will affect your grandchildren?

Arlo Guthrie: I think you can boil down all of the events if you want to call it that to a single source of frustration and that is people locally have become afraid that their way of life, their language, their culture, their religion is under threat by some kind of global world government or something. Or when you look around the world right now everybody is convinced that their way of doing it is under attack. This is just as true in the United States as anywhere else. And when you have people living in fear like that you have people rise to take advantage of that fear so you get the kind of government that we had recently, and you get the kind of Osama bin Laden kind of guys and you get the juntas that take over and the jihad and they’re all riding on the fear of people losing their way of life. I think that one of the great things that we’ve done in the last 6 months or so is to leave that mentality behind.

It’s not a political thing. We have conservatives and liberals on both sides of all of these things. This is not a democrat republican thing. It’s people that are comfortable with the way things are going as we get through this era of fear when people are still afraid. And that’s where the dividing line is. Sometimes it forms around the democrat republican lines and sometimes it forms into moderate and what’s the word we use overseas? Hardliners or something like that. It’s the same line around the world. It doesn’t matter where it is. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the Middle East or in Africa.

There are some people who are trying to take advantage of their neighbors and their friends and their families and others. And there are some people who are just trying to figure out how to get along together. That’s the group we like to think of ourselves as being. If I could speak for the whole family I think that everybody would agree with me that we’re aligned with just the regular people.

Copyright © 2009 Susan Cross – All rights reserved


Harry said...

Cool interview Susan! Arlo seems like one who hasn't abandoned his 60s ideals but has also stayed on top of current issues while loving and teaching his family. Thanks!

Susan Cross said...

Thanks Harry. I missed a word or two (as denoted by ???) and should have gone back and listened again but don't have time today. Arlo was very outspoken after we covered the subject matter for the article. It only gets better and more interesting. Another hour or so that was not focused on family. I was surprised at his political views. More to come.

Carmen Beecher said...

Great job, Susan! Very interesting, and I love the photo. Now I can't get Alice's Restaurant out of my head.

Jai Joshi said...

Such a cool interview! I loved learning about Guthrie and his family. They all sound so wonderful and talented!