You Can Get Anything You Want on the Guthries' Re:Generation Tour

Forget the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade! For many folks, Thanksgiving is the day to gather the family around the DVD player for the annual viewing of Arlo Guthrie’s Alice Restaurant. For almost 50 years, Guthrie’s madcap movie has reminded us of our continued need to question the limitations of cultural rules and regulations, the uneven balance of social and political power, as well as our need to recognize humans’ inextricable bond in the web of life and our need to embrace community as a source of love and empowerment.

2017 also marks the 50th year since Arlo Guthrie performed for the first time at Carnegie Hall in New York City. In his 55 performances there, Guthrie has appeared with artists from Judy Collins and Bob Dylan to Pete Seeger. Guthrie is currently touring with his children Abe and Sarah Lee on the Re: Generation Tour; on Saturday, November 25, this tour will roll into Carnegie Hall for an evening of music celebrating Guthrie’s first performance there.

I spoke recently with Arlo Guthrie about the tour, making music, and the enduring power of music.

Can you talk a little about your vision of music as a force for unity and healing?

Guthrie: I’m really not a visionary. I just like playing music and music itself can be pretty powerful stuff. It connects people to each other. And it’s been used for unity and healing as well as everything else. For me, music is simply an expression of my hopes and dreams, and I enjoy sharing it with people who have similar feelings about those things.

There is a spiritual component in all of your songs; when you are writing, how do you weave that element into your music?

Guthrie: That’s kind of funny. I can’t think of anything that isn’t spiritual — you’re either going with or against the flow — and the same person can do both at different times. I enjoy the kind of songs that encourage us to have faith in each other, and is generally kind. Kindness is the only spirituality I’m interested in. At least, at the moment.

What’s the process of songwriting like for you? Do you need space and time to write, or can you write in a crowded room or on a crowded tour bus?

Guthrie: I used to write a lot more than I do these days, and I was able to do so anywhere at anytime: no special circumstances needed. I just needed the time and space to translate the thoughts onto a page somewhere. 

What is the most challenging aspect of being a musician today?

Guthrie: Well, I’m assuming you mean professional musician, because anyone can be a musician any time no matter what else they have to do. The biggest challenge I see for young musicians and entertainers these days is making a living doing it profesionally. If you could eat hopes and live on dreams, they’d be doing great. As my old friend Tom Paxton used to say, “People don’t realize it but there’s hundreds of dollars to be made in folk music."

Is there one book you won’t leave home without?

Guthrie: Nope.

If you had the chance to invite three authors, living or dead, to lunch, whom would you invite, and why?

Guthrie: I wouldn’t invite authors. I’d invite dancers, because they’re usually starving, even more so than musicians. 

When did you come up with the idea for the Re:Generation Tour? The word has many levels of meaning; can you say a little about that? How is the tour going?

Guthrie: We were sitting around wondering what to name the tour with my son, Abe, and my daughter, Sarah Lee. We’d never done a tour where we’re just swapping songs onstage together. I don’t know when naming tours became important. It didn’t used to be anything other than "Here He Comes Again.” That was good for decades. These days the venues want names for the tours. So we came up with "Re:Generation" because we couldn’t think of anything better. My favorite name for a tour was “The Arlo Guthrie Solo Reunion Tour - Together At Last.” Now THAT was a good idea. 

Does music still have the power to transform?

Guthrie: It does for me.

What are your father’s most enduring qualities?

Guthrie: I’d say his genes are enduring fairly well, but I’m not so sure that’s a quality. My dad was honest and usually fearless. Sometimes those qualities served him well. Sometimes not. But, honesty and fearlessness are not qualities unique to him, they're scattered throughout humanity. So seeing it that way, I’d say his best qualities were those he saw in everyone else.