Thursday, January 10, 2008

Happy Arlo Guthrie Day!

It's the 10th of January, and I still ain't had no sleep...

Today we celebrate one of my all-time favorite songs - "Darkest Hour" - and its author - the great Arlo Guthrie. It's a song full of mystery, driven by fleeting images. And if I knew precisely what it meant I'd get further into that, but as Arlo himself has said, the song came to him in a dream. And it truly exists best in a sort of dreamscape. The two lovers in the castle seem completely separate from the pre-battle atmosphere all around them.

Here's a live version from 2006: Arlo Guthrie - Darkest Hour (live in Dublin)

Next we have a treat, an incredibly early version of Arlo's signature opus, Alice's Restaurant. It's essentially more of a prototype than even a first draft. The 19-year-old Arlo is singing in 1966 at Gerdes Folk City and all that exists of the song at that point was the looping guitar pattern and the chorus. But there's no mention of Thanksgiving or the draft or anything that emerged when he recorded the song a later. What's there is the wit that's continued to drive his performances since. What I find most fascinating is how much more he sounds like Woody in those days. His banter is twangier, more Oklahoma than the Brooklyn-born Arlo really had much right to claim.

The main bulk of the song (at just 13 minutes, it's actually substantially shorter than it would eventually become) is Arlo talking about how the words to Alice's Restaurant are going to spread like wildfire - first out of the club and into the Villlage, then the rest of New York and then steadily across the East Coast and the rest of the country ("New Mexico, OLD Mexico") and the rest of the continent ("there's a slight chance it may get into Cuba"). And eventually the song will go over the whole world, and one day everybody in the world, at the same time and in the same key, will sing "Alice's Restaurant."

Download: Arlo Guthrie - Alice's Restaurant (live 1966)

Everybody have a great Arlo Day!


C. Samuel said...

Uh, Catfish, are you trying to model your hair-do after Arlo Guthrie's? Please reconsider.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to hear this but it's been deleted! Could you upload it again? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hey Catfish! What can I say apart from THANKYOU! That was awesome!About 10 mins in he says something about "and when it's reached everywhere else it will reach England" and it has - 42 years later! Never thought it would sound like that - do you know anything else about the origins of it? Thanks again - fantastic!

Catfish Vegas said...

Gerdes Folk City in NYC, from 1966. Email me directly ( and I can send some more Arlo.