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Performing here this month, Arlo Guthrie hasn't abandoned ideals

Martin C. Barry

With the autumn chill descending on Montreal, Arlo Guthrie is hoping warm Indian Summer air ­­­­­will blow through in time for his performance at the end of October. Guthrie, who shot to fame in the mid-1960s with his talking blues folk ballad, Alice’s Restaurant, is the son of legendary American singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie, who left behind a legacy of musical works, many about his experiences during the Great Depression.

It’s been a while since Arlo Guthrie, 62, was last in Montreal. From the 1960s through the 1980s he would perform regularly at Place des Arts. “Every year I did shows with my old buddy Pete Seeger,” he said in a phone interview from Washington, Mass., where he now resides. “And then the times changed and maybe the kind of music we were playing wasn’t popular.” Guthrie says the pace of his life hasn’t slowed. “I’m actually on the road more than ever. We spend about ten months on the road. If anything it’s more than it used to be.

“I took off September for the first time in my life because it’s such a beautiful time to be here in the north east.”

Guthrie was 20 when he became famous with his first album, Alice’s Restaurant. It remains his best known work. The title is taken from the record’s first and longest track, more than 18 minutes long, which is a bitingly satirical protest against the Vietnam war. It’s also based on a true incident: Guthrie’s rejection for military service because of a criminal record he got for littering on Thanksgiving Day in 1965 when he was 18. A few years later it was made into a movie.

Photo: courtesy of JP Cutler Media

Perhaps less known about Arlo is the fact that he is Jewish. Of Woody’s several marriages, his second was to Marjorie Greenblatt, a dancer who cared for Woody until his death in 1967. Another bit of trivia: Arlo was tutored for his bar mitzvah by Rabbi Meir Kahane, the controversial founder of the Jewish Defence League. Arlo, who was not yet into politics, remembers Kahane as “a very nice guy. Later in life, I wondered if it was my fault that he became crazy. I was such a terrible student.” (Kahane, who was ultra-nationalist in his political views, was assassinated in New York City in 1990.)

“I’m not religiously observant,” he said. “I made friends with so many people in other traditions and hence found a lot of inspiration in so many different places. I think that’s the challenge for a lot of people these days — how to explore and be inspired by other traditions without abandoning your own.”

During the late 1960s when the U.S. was at war in Vietnam, Arlo Guthrie’s name came to be associated closely with the anti-war movement. He was also distinctly on the left. As such, it must have raised a few eyebrows last year during the 2008 Republican Party Nominations when he publicly endorsed Texas Congressman Ron Paul, a libertarian. As it turns out, Paul was the only anti-war candidate among the Republicans.

“I joined them about five years ago because I thought they needed more people like me,” he said. They only seemed to have crazy people. I think I probably wasted my time.”

Guthrie remains as fervently anti-war as ever. “I don’t think we ought to be in Afghanistan. I don’t think we ought to be in Iran or in Iraq or any of these places. I think there’s better ways to do things and I’m hoping that the new president will see the world as I do,” he said.

Arlo Guthrie will perform Thursday, October 29 at 8 p.m. at the Outremont Theatre at 1248 Bernard Ave. with the Guthrie Family Rides Again Tour featuring Abe, Cathy, Annie, Sarah Lee and Johnny. Tickets: $55



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