Arlo Guthrie
Benaroya Hall, 215-4747, Wed Feb 14.

I've been forced to sing "This Land Is Your Land" as much as any other child, but the following is a verse from the original Woody Guthrie version that I can guarantee never passed my lips during those eye-daubing, flag-waving, Jesus-praising sing-alongs.

"One bright sunny morning/In the shadow of the steeple/By the relief office/ I saw my people/As they stood hungry/ I stood there wonderin'/If God blessed America for me."

I suppose if I asked Ms. Flowers today why she never had our kindergarten class sing verses like that, she might say that they're too ugly, too harsh. But Guthrie lived in an ugly America; most of his family died or was institutionalized and he survived the Great Depression as a migrant worker, and he never forgot what happens to the working class when times get hard.

Even Ms. Flowers, all sweetness and light, would have to admit that Guthrie's ugly America is just a short recession away. And particularly now, with Alan Greenspan making ominous gurgling noises and corporate America sharpening its hatchets, we need Woody's ugly, truthful son Arlo more than ever.

Arlo Guthrie looks like David Crosby and sings like Bob Dylan--a difficult combination, but he sings America truer than most. His America is a junkyard of big discarded dreams, broken down by the same country that built them up in the first place. If you, like me, have alcoholics, dreamers, and felons in your family orbit, then you'll know what he's talking about. If you don't, just wait for the recession and you'll find out.

Woody Guthrie once stated that he hated music that made people feel ashamed about themselves. His music, he thought, should have the power to make ordinary people feel good about themselves and their lives. In today's musical environment, where teenage pop stars wiggle their impossibly trim asses at a nation of overeaters and parade their Humvees in front of America's starstruck, deluded working class, that notion is as radical as ever.

The more Arlo Guthrie we get, the more we'll be ready to fight back when corporate America comes calling to lay us all off and lock us all up.

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