Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘folk singers’

This Land is Your Land

In Creativity, Memoir, Music on June 21, 2010 at 2:25 pm
Arlo Guthrie

Arlo Guthrie

We saw Arlo Guthrie perform in Ogunquit last night. He was wonderful, a witty, and compelling musician. He is the traveling bard, teller of tall tales and entertainer. He is also a link to a tradition, two traditions in fact. For he is born of the Great American Hippy Tradition, for lack of more graceful prose. He performed at Woodstock in 1969. I was fourteen and at camp in Northern Michigan. Camp was remote, but we still learned of the concert that summer. The counselors, young men in their late teens and older, heard about it and passed it along. I recall sitting wide-eyed on my bunk and wishing I was part of that strange and exciting world. Guthrie related how he’d been called on stage at Woodstock a day early, and that he was in no condition to perform, citing the atmosphere at the concert: “A lot of hippies…” The audience laughed. He was sporting long locks of hair, every strand now silver-gray. We were still chuckling when he launched into Coming into Los Angles. The words came to me, to everyone, in a rush and we broke into song, “Don’t check my bags if you please, mister customs man.” Certainly I was not the only one transported to another time and place.

The other tradition Arlo represents, also on full display last night, is that of his father,

Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie

folk-singer and activist, Woodie Guthrie. He talked lovingly of his dad and since it was father’s day, he played many of his dad’s songs in tribute. He spoke of his father’s book, Bound for Glory, and talked poignantly about his last years battling debilitating physical infirmities. He was all the while and to the end, creative and productive. Arlo performed several songs unknown to anyone outside of  family and archivists, created during this period. Arlo is not strident, at least he was not last night. But his father’s songs, were–and still are, in the finest tradition. They are songs of race and immigration and struggle; songs about the land and what is fair and about justice. Perhaps most about justice. And tellingly, they easily could have been written today. As Arlo said, “Man, the world still sucks.”

I marveled at the rich legacy on display, these two traditions, Woodstock and Woodie Guthrie, embodied in this one man. It prompted me to reflect on the current paucity of response to today’s challenges, the lack of rational activism, the voices of reason. Where might I now find a community of idealists, let alone the visionary bard?