Oct. 11--Arlo Guthrie is in his fifth decade as an entertainer. He comes to Millikin's Kirkland Fine Arts Center as a career musician who's continued the folk music traditions of his influential father, Woody Guthrie. Arlo's show tonight is the product of decades of devotion and effort.
And guaranteed -- there's going to be a number of tonight's crowd who will walk away angry tonight after Guthrie doesn't play "Alice's Restaurant." (Odds are good he will not play it.)
Arlo Guthrie has released close to three dozen albums, written dozens of songs and recorded hundreds. Yet for a portion of the audience, the moments that define him are the 18 minutes and 36 seconds of "Alice's Restaurant Masacree," which was released in 1967.
How many of those people who walk away upset will be younger than the song? Given that the song is 46 years old, there's got to be some, right?
How fair is this?
Salvador Dali is a legendary artist who also worked in sculpture, newer media, absurdism and film, and his life essentially was a fascinating early incarnation of hucksterism and performance art.
Yet when relating my adoration of the man's work to others, too often, the sole fact another may know about Dali is "he's the guy who painted the melting clocks."
Frank Zappa was a composer, a filmmaker, a writer, a progressive forward thinker. (Oh yes he was.) Yet ask your average music fan these days, and maybe -- MAYBE -- they know the names Dweezil and Moon (two of Zappa's progeny), or possibly "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow."
How about actors? How do you know George Takei? As your friend on Facebook, yeah, but probably exclusive as Sulu from "Star Trek," right? How about Kelsey "Frasier" Grammer? Gary "Radar" Burghoff?
Typecasting goes on everywhere. On one hand, it's very convenient. When a filmmaker casts Samuel Jackson or Steve Buscemi or John Leguizamo, they're definitely casting for a type, and helping the audience make some story shortcuts.
But imagine creating your crowning achievement, at least so far as a wide audience is concerned, in your 20s, and then living into your 70s. That's a double-edged sword.
If you're a Guthrie or a Grammer, you've essentially been set for life. But is your inner artist fulfilled? Do you feel as though you're doing one specific thing for your audience, becoming a human jukebox or an acting mannequin.
We saw it with Orson Wells, who gave the world "Citizen Kane" and spent most of the rest of his life chasing funding to fulfill ambitious and brilliant artistic visions, a chase in which he too often fell short.
This is why, however frustrating it might be to those people who feel they have just one chance to hear Arlo Guthrie sing "Alice's Restaurant Masacree" in person, it's spectacular that Guthrie only performs it on special occasions. The audiences who are able to hear his performances of it know it's a special experience, the song means something because Guthrie is feeling it in the moment.
And who knows? There may come a time when his attitude about the song changes, and it becomes a set fixture.
A similar thing occurred with singer-songwriter Jill Sobule, who went through a love-hate-love relationship with her 1995 breakthrough, "I Kissed a Girl." (Not the Katy Perry song.)
"The frustrating thing is for some people, that's all they know," Sobule said in 2001, after briefly abandoning the song and then deciding to reclaim it. "But in the last year or so, through the website, I've gotten a lot of emails and people have said things like, 'I was a kid when that song came out, and hearing it made me feel not so weird about what I was going through.' And that's touching. It makes me feel like maybe by writing that song, I did some sort of duty."
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