Hank Rineke,
Arlo Guthrie: The Warner Reprise Years
(Rowman & Littlefield, 2012)

When Arlo Guthrie swept through my town on his 50th anniversary of "Alice's Restaurant" tour, my local paper assigned me the interview. After four weeks of trying, talking to Arlo's people, the record company PR folks and anybody else who might have ever seen Arlo drive down the street in his van, it became obvious that Guthrie was not going to cooperate. I wound up writing 1,000 words from research.

I was lucky. I only had to write 1,000 words without any input from Guthrie. Hank Reineke had to write 90,000. It seems he decided to do this book after Arlo quit cooperating with the press. Reineke says he also wanted to cover the years on Rising Son Records, Arlo's own label, but the fact that he could not get any help from Guthrie made it impossible.

So what we have here is a study of an artist who does not want to be studied, an attempt to get behind the facade of a man who has carefully built that facade as a layer of self-protection. You can't blame Arlo for not wanting to reveal himself to an audience of strangers. Being Woody Guthrie's son and Rambling Jack Elliot's protege, he came into the folk music business with a ton of baggage, a whole lot of stuff to live up to. When he first performed at Gerde's Folk City while still a teenager, in his audience was Pete Seeger, the Weavers, Judy Collins, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Most budding performers have time and a place to be bad so they can grow beyond it; Arlo had to be bad with all of his father's friends watching. His early press was either bad or concentrated on how much was expected out of him. When he gave interviews, he was misunderstood and often ripped apart for saying the type of things young people say. Arlo made the show business mistake of being honest with interviewers and paid a price for it.

So, Reineke was forced to write from secondary sources, That means there's a distance between writer and subject that no matter how he tries, the writer can't close. The book is rich in touring history, records made, who played what instrument on what song, chart positions and what Arlo said to interviewers back when he spoke to interviewers. Albums are analyzed, songs are dissected, so the book is rich in fact and detail.

If you're reading it for academic reasons or are doing research on Arlo Guthrie, you'll find it valuable. If you're looking for clues that reveal the real Arlo Guthrie, the man behind the folksinger persona, well, Arlo doesn't want you to see that man.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

20 February 2016

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