A Q&A with Arlo Guthrie
Sandwiched between two big anniversaries—last year’s 50th for “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” and next year’s for Woodstock—Arlo Guthrie, one of the most recognized voices of his generation, is touring the country, headed to the tent at Payomet this week. His most famous song, whose namesake Alice Brock is a beloved counterculture icon and longtime Provincetown resident, was added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry for its significance to American culture. Whether it’s his his famous family name, his star-making performance at Woodstock and his announcement that “the New York State Thruway’s closed, man!”or writing the official song of the Commonwealth, “Massachusetts,” Arlo Guthrie is an American icon. He took some time to answer a few questions by e-mail, setting the record straight on whether or not his father Woody wrote a song about Donald Trump’s father way back when, his thoughts on legal marijuana after singing at Woodstock about smuggling weed into the country, and just when he came to the Cape tip for the first time.
Provincetown Magazine: A lot has changed since you sang “Coming Into Los Angeles” at Woodstock. Back then the establishment bristled at the lyrics: “Coming into Los Angeles, Bringing in a couple of ki’s, don’t touch my bags if you please, Mister customs man.” What are your thoughts on the legalization of marijuana as increasingly states are lifting the prohibition on cannabis?
Arlo Guthrie: I always thought that the war on weed was a vast waste of people, time, and resources. How many had their lives ruined because opportunists were frothing at the mouth warning us about the dangers of ruining our lives? The cure was far worse than the disease if you want to say it that way. There are still idiots like that out there, but slowly we’re beginning to show some common sense. That’s my opinion anyway.
PM: The Academy-Award-winning documentary about Woodstock made sure no one would ever forget the festival. But is there some other concert you played that is lesser known that you recall being special and that you wish was just as famous as Woodstock?
PM: Even more time has passed since your father Woody wrote “I Ain’t Got No Home” about his one-time landlord Fred Trump, father of President Donald Trump, in particular focusing on the senior Trump’s racist ways. Do you ever recall your father talking about Fred Trump?
AG: Well, let’s be clear. My father’s song “I Ain’t Got No Home” had absolutely nothing to do with anyone named Trump until long after he wrote it, when he added a verse about the president’s father, Fred. There’s enough to dislike about President Trump without bringing his father into it. We lived in one of the housing complexes built by Fred Trump, and stayed there for a short time until we found something better. But, I was very young and have no memory of hearing anything about Fred Trump.
PM: You’ve expressed a variety of political opinions and identities over the years. What are your thoughts on the current state of political affairs?
AG: It would take a book to answer that question. But, in short I’ve always had a healthy suspicion and mistrust of people in authority—left, right, and center. I don’t like greedy people, nasty people, intolerant people, whether they are liberal, conservative, Democrats, or Republicans. I enjoy regular people—folks you can count on to give you a hand when you need it. Pretty simple.
PM: Alice Brock, the namesake of your 1967 song “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree”, has lived in Provincetown for many years. Do you get together when you play the Outer Cape?
AG: When there’s time, of course! Any excuse to get together with friends is good.
PM: Do you recall your first visit to Provincetown?
AG: Not sure. I remember going to Woods Hole in the late 1940s to visit my uncle—Daniel Mazia—who was at the Marine Biological place there. We may have visited P-town back then but I can’t remember. Years later, my brother and I stayed with my friends Alice and Ray Brock when they were running the Youth Hostel on the Vineyard—That must’ve been around 1962 or 1963. I don’t recall if we made the trek to P-town then or not. But sometime during the 60s we began visiting the area, and started playing some gigs, maybe at the Town Hall. It’s been a while, and hard to recall. But, I love coming back these days.
PM: The Guthrie family name is firmly entrenched in American musical and political history. What do you hope the Guthrie legacy will be in the future?
AG: More of the same—to be engaged in the times we live in. And do whatever feels right without judgment or expectation. Essentially—I hope everyone is able to be themselves.
Arlo Guthrie will play the Payomet Performing Arts Center at 29 Old Dewline Rd., North Truro on Saturday, July 28 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $55, $65, and $95 and are available at the box office and online at payomet.org. For more information call 508.487.5400.