Sunday, April 6, 2008
I saw in the Friday book listings, that Arlo Guthrie would be appearing at the Richard Hugo House this morning at 11. At the last moment, Ricardo picked me up and we dashed to Capital Hill, arriving five minutes late. Luckily there was a parking spot right in front and two vacant chairs at the end of the row. We sat down just as the woman introducing finally finished her question about artist's process involving bees and spiders and the various methods of storytelling and seeds of inspiration at 11:15 and Arlo said "I don't even know how to answer that!" For the next hour and a half we sat in the restored Victorian homes' front parlor and heard from a master story teller.
He assured us that in the words of his father, he was here to tell us something we already knew. Thereafter the stories rambled here and there and there were songs about cornbread, peas and black molasses and the Calumet Miner's Strike in 1914. He spoke of Pete Seeger and the marches he had been to. At the last unfolding of the AIDs blanket he suddenly realized there was no music. The organizers were trying to re-create something they hadn't been to, they didn't have history with, and they hadn't brought music to the movement.
Arlo gave us a good history lesson of his father's songs, and the history they recorded. Woody's photographic memory could recall exact situations years later. At the Italian Hall Disaster, 73 children were killed when someone shouted "Fire!" during a 1913 Calumet Christmas party thrown for the striking miner's families and the doors to the hall were blocked by the thugs. It wasn't in any history book until Woody recorded it years later and the song became popular.
For many years, there were no recordings of Woody in a live appearance. No way to know how a song was supposed to be played. Sheet music had the scores, and some songs were recorded at Woody's NY publisher, but no concert footage. Last year a guy brought in a wire recording he had made in 1949, Woody being introduced to NY society by Arlo's mother. Woody's stories rambled here and there no matter how made she tried to steer him back towards a song. Finally being able to hear his father in front of an audience, Arlo realized he hadn't "invented" himself, the rambling style of Alice's Restaraunt, Woody had!
What a lovely way to spend a Sunday morning! Hope yours was equally nice.