Arlo Guthrie Concert Notes

Last night four of us walked over to Passim, the legendary folk music club in Harvard Square, to hear Arlo Guthrie perform.  Passim is a basement room furnished with spectacularly uncomfortable cast-off folding chairs.  Vegetarian food is available.  The chairs and the food immediately raise the question of, if folk music is supposed to represent the struggle of working-class Americans how come Passim doesn’t serve food that these folks would actually like (e.g., hamburgers) and chairs that would accomodate the typically obese frames of the poor.  Most of the time artists at Passim speak out from the stage against U.S. oppression of Iraqis, against George W. Bush, against Republicans, etc.  These protests elicit universal applause from the audience, all of whom apparently can agree on these points and all of whom are apparently rather irritated.  A true protest at Passim, one that would challenge the prevailing beliefs in the room, would be a leaflet arguing in favor of eating steak, touting its anemia-fighting and mood-mellowing properties.  Not to mention the fact that steak encourages the consumption of red wine, which is known to have many health benefits.

Guthrie came on stage after a warm-up by Alastair Moock, whose songs are heavily laced with the modern vocabulary of recovery.  The audience was awed by Guthrie’s impressive guitar playing, songwriting, and storytelling.  The guy has been on the road for most of his 57 years!

Arlo Guthrie is a lot less bitter about the American political situation than the average performer at Passim and the average audience member.  He pointed out that there is only one guy in the White House and lots of folks outside the White House.  Guthrie further noted that if the world were truly full of peace and love like all the folk singers wanted and if everyone were in perfect health then it would be awfully hard to accomplish any positive changed.  By contrast, “in a world as fucked us as this one it has never been possible to do so little little and achieve so much good.”

Guthrie drew a lot of strength from the final words of “Ma” in Grapes of Wrath:  “we will always be here, because we’re the people”, explaining that politicians come and go but the people remain to do the work and therefore can’t be ignored.  It occurred to me that perhaps this idea is obsolete in an age of offshoring.  In the old days there was always work for unskilled uneducated American labor.  Now that Mexico, India, and China are tied to us with Internet and container ships is that still true?

13 thoughts on “Arlo Guthrie Concert Notes

  1. People have been talking about an international union for a long time. Well, they forgot about it for about 50 years. But before that there was a lot of talk about international unions.

    And, of course, the anti-globalization people have never been calling for isolationism. They’ve been calling for international justice.

  2. California has had free trade with Mississippi for two centuries. The cost of labor, land, and just about everything else is much higher in California than in Mississippi. Yet, somehow, there are still jobs to be had in California; the jobs haven’t all moved to Mississippi to take advantage of lower labor costs or lower taxes or whatever.

    If free trade with Mississippi hasn’t hurt all the higher-cost states in the US (including yours!), why should free trade with Mexico, India or China hurt?

  3. I should go there and play my song about special creation. That might get a rise in the same way your leaflet about beef for dinner might.

  4. I don’t think folk music is for the average, everyday person. It’s for those who lived during the 60s, but have made a good chunk of change and now feel guilty for putting materialism and their family’s well being ahead of the ideals they had earlier espoused. So now they sit around, eat hummus, and say, “What are we to do about this dofus in the Whitehouse?”

  5. Hmm. I wonder if you know anything about poverty. Most of the poor in the world are not “typically obese.” No, most of the poor in the world can’t get enough to eat. I think what you really meant was people in the US who aren’t rich, but who can’t afford to live in Cambridge like you. Your whole screed seems like thinly veiled racism and classism.

    Oh, and I wondered if you tried the food? Some of it is actually quite good. And I can assure that you there are poor vegetarians in the world.

    If you don’t like to have a beef-free diet, spend your time at McDonalds listening to Top 40 music. You’ll be happier.

  6. I have to agree with the comments on the poor and the vegeterianism. It almost seems like your trying to play both sides of the fence. I agree that we need to work together to figure out the future and stop trying to divide. Here is to hope!

  7. Don’t worry there will always be good jobs unloading container ships and thanks to the Harbor Workers and Longshoremen’s Compensation Act (its real name) the salaries for people lucky enough to get these jobs will still be good enough to buy Ford F150s while the rest of us have to drive $9000 Jeep Grand Wagoneer knockoffs made without robots in Shanghai by enormous teams of highly skilled Chinese manual workers. MIT grads can stay busy doing software maintenance on the RFID vehicle tracking software that makes sure everyone who wants to travel anywhere in North America pays per mile for that privilege, and at the same time is subject to safety-ensuring security checks. Toenail clippers and penknives will be available for purchase at all locations to compensate for the fact that you won’t be able to take them across state lines except in truckloads with a special Dept of Homeland Security exemption license.

  8. Obviously his comment about politician is true, but most people can’t get past issues and forgive and forget. We can’t change our current administration, but point of fact is that they really have little to do with our day to day lives. The president is not really responisble for deciding what I will have for dinner or what movie I will see. And there are so many checks and balances that the extreme liberal fear of true censorship will never happen.
    As the Jewish faith teaches us, you are a good Jew (person) if you live everyday as a good person, be kind to those around you and help your fellow man/woman. If everyone lived like that, it would make life so much easier. Of course, this does not solve the outsourcing problem! 🙂

  9. “Folk” music diverged from “Country” music a surprisingly short time ao. And the increasing popularity of more traditional forms of country music suggests that the some of the streams mmaybe converging again. I don’t suppose that counts as “folk” music at Harvard, but isn’t Gillian Welch one of yours?

  10. “typically obese frames of the poor.”
    Wow, …Phil, I’d expect that from someone else, but you???
    Did they have enough space between these large chairs to accomodate the lenth of Hebrew noses?

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