If you are a regular lurker here, you know that I got seriously burned by Brian Wilson on his pathetic Pet Sounds revival. I was not alive for the 60s, much less a young person in that decade so that I could say I knew what it was all about. I piece it together backwards, bit by bit because it’s a fascinating time period. Brian and his music are/were runes to help me understand, along with a host of other artists and prominent individuals who were doing their thing, having their own trip, making their own movie. And even in that psychedelic soul search for ourselves, we realized that we were all One. Or maybe that’s just what the acid told us.
Which I guess brings me to Arlo Guthrie, if I wanna keep this short. Sometimes I have a little trouble with that.
Arlo came to visit my hollowed-out downtown yesterday. Augusta is very much like a car whose headlights have been left on all night and you keep trying to turn the engine over but it’s no use. That sound is what Augusta feels like. In the space of about four or five blocks, there’s a smattering of hep signature places to eat and get twisted, several good concert venues, and overpriced art to gawk at. Further away from the heart of the city there are some seedy places for dumb green soldiers in training to blow their little paychecks on strippers and tattoos, and the rest is what little is left of black business and desolate, rundown empty real estate. We have some very talented promoters working very hard to bring high profile acts to our little town. And we’ve indeed been successful at that beyond my expectations. Jeff Mangum came here, Camper Van Beethoven likes to stop here sometimes, funnyman Tom Segura cracked us up last year, and there’s plenty more prominent to semi-prominent acts that I don’t care about who have come by or are about to come by. None other than James Brown is our patron saint. There’s a college, just not a terribly prestigious one (I can say that because it’s where I finally finished my schooling). Things open, and things shut down. Every time it looks like downtown Augusta is going to explode onto the map, something collapses. There’s just not enough people here with disposable income to keep everything thriving. I’m probably selling Augusta short, but maybe it’s because Manhattan was my childhood stomping ground. Not bragging or anything, just stating a fact.
There I go, running off at the fingers. I said I’d be brief. What I would like to say is that I saw another historic relic of the 60s last night. Arlo brought half a dozen beautiful guitars and some of his family to Augusta to celebrate the movie “Alice’s Restaurant“, which turned 50 recently and if you haven’t heard its soundtrack at least once you are a knucklehead and I don’t need to know you. I mean, I don’t really dig folk music at all, but there’s something transcendent about Alice, a sarcastic, witty, very clever skewering of authority in the days of the draft. I was probably 15 when I first heard it, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t “get” it at the time, and it didn’t “rock” so I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Eventually I’d return to it and understand its charm. And Arlo was nice enough to do about every laugh line for us for about 15 minutes, just as we remembered it and when I say us, I mean about 400 white haired folks and maybe half a dozen younger people. He told us stories-including a very funny one about Bob Dylan, made jokes, and most importantly, reminded us in song that the world needs peace and we all have a little of it inside us and the best thing we can do is share it.
Bam. That’s the zeitgeist of the 60s and the prophecy of his father fulfilled and maybe, just maybe it could be ours if we’d just give more of a damn about each other. It sounds overly sentimental and perhaps too simple, but if we could mix some of it with the absurd American preoccupation with rugged individuality and stop ignoring the suffering of our fellow man and woman as if he or she had done something wrong to cause it, that would make this life easier to bear.
One of the last things he said between songs is that he said it was great to do the old tunes but the spirit from whence they came is “coming around again”. And I hope he’s right, because we’re tearing ourselves apart politically and fucking up the planet so that it will no longer sustain us. That message alone is worth a dozen “Love And Mercy”s from Brian Wilson. That sounds mean-spirited given that Brian is obviously suffered enough in his life but perhaps not enough to stay off tour when he could no longer perform.
Anyway, go see Arlo if he pulls into your town. It’s a pleasant evening with good folks and it will take you back where you are from, and leave you renewed to take on where you are going.