One of the very first concerts I saw as a teenager was Arlo Guthrie. My older sister took me. I enjoyed it so much that we got all his albums back when vinyl was the thing. I’ve been going to his concerts ever since. I lost count around number eighteen. He was the beginning of my life-long love affair with folk music, storytelling, and writing.
It’s safe to say that I’m a fan. I’ve even blogged about him here and here. I’ve gotten his autograph a few times. I’ve also spoken to him, but he’s not as outgoing off stage as he is onstage, so mostly he has responded with a blank stare. Of course, I’d always get all flustered when I got close to him, so I’d usually say something inane, like, “I was born the same year Alice’s Restaurant came out!” or, “I think it’s wonderful that you have your kids performing with you now.” or, “I’ve seen you in concert 18 times!”
But the most mortifying encounter was at the Florida Folk Festival in 2004. He was set up under an awning in a field, and the crowd was surrounding him on all 4 sides. We got a patch of grass right behind him. We were so close that I could have slapped him upside the head if the spirit moved me. (Of course, it didn’t.) But before Arlo started performing, my boyfriend at the time gushed, “She’s your number one fan!”
Omigod. Stalk much? The poor man kept glancing nervously over his shoulder at me during the rest of his set. I wanted to crawl under a rock. (But not so much so that I was willing to leave.)
Back in 2012, I lived in Vero Beach, not that far from the home that he lived in when in Sebastian, Florida. No, I didn’t go knock on his door. That would be creepy. But I did keep my eyes open when running errands in town. It would have been cool to bump into him at the hardware store or something. No such luck.
When his wife passed away, I was still living right down the coast from him, and my heart was broken for him. They had been married for 43 years. A year and a half later, my guy also abruptly passed away. We had only been together for 4 years, and I was devastated, so I couldn’t begin to imagine what Arlo was going through after losing a relationship that had lasted ten times as long. I thought about that a lot over the next few months. Both of us in Florida, gazing out at the same ocean, both experiencing waves of crashingly painful emotions.
I’m not going to lie. I have had a bit of a crush on him over the years. He’s a good looking, talented man, and I love his storytelling abilities and his politics and his sense of humor. But I also knew he was happily married, is 17 years older than I am, and way, way cooler than I would ever be. Also, I wouldn’t cope well with the constant touring, and while his Florida home may have been called the CrabShack, Zillow currently places its value at nearly 3 million dollars. I’m not someone who would fit into a million dollar home. And, let’s face it, I really and truly know nothing about the real man. But it was a nice fantasy that made me smile during my darkest hours.
Over the years, I’ve watched his TV appearances, too. I try to watch Alice’s Restaurant every Thanksgiving. I caught him on the Muppet Show when I was really young, and looking at the footage now, I realize he was barely grown himself.
And I watched the show The Byrds of Paradise religiously during its short-lived run in 1994, simply because Arlo had a part in it. If you want a total hoot, check out Arlo rapping and dancing in this clip from that show. He has always charmed me.
Fast forward to February, 2022, when I happened upon this article in the New York Times that hit me with three things I didn’t know, all at once. First, Arlo has had several strokes. Second, because of those strokes, he can’t perform up to his standards and doesn’t walk as well, so he has retired from performing. Third, since 2016 he has been living with someone he loves very much, and they got married officially in December, 2021. They now live together in a much more modest home in that same area of Florida.
I also found out that he told his new wife, “I’m going to take care of you like a man should.” Omigod, crush validated. Having said that, though, I am truly happy for him. He’s 74, and deserves to have love in his life just like I do. (And I’d pick Dear Husband over Arlo every day of the week, now that I’ve I finally found him and have convinced him he needed to find me, too.)
But it did take me several days to absorb all that Arlo news. I couldn’t really understand why it rattled me so much. And then it dawned on me. First of all, I would never see him perform live ever again, and his concerts have been major mileposts throughout my life. Second, one day he’s going to die, and I’ll read about it and probably fall to pieces. I can’t imagine a world without an Arlo Guthrie in it. Third, half the time I was fantasizing about him, he was in love and shacked up, which is further evidence that my inner world is entirely fictional. Fourth, time is going by way too quickly, and therefore feels increasingly poignant to me.
You might say that Arlo has been one of many yardsticks by which I’ve measured my life. It’s a bit unsettling to be hit all at once with the fragility of that yardstick. Things fall apart. The center cannot hold.
But I’m glad that both of us are rounding out our lives with love and happiness. I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, finally. I suspect that that’s the case for Arlo, too. He and his wife garden together. That makes me smile.
Thinking of Arlo as a yardstick and also as a gardener makes me want to leave you with one of my favorite Arlo songs. “Inch by inch…” Despite the poor quality of the video, I hope you’ll watch it all. It will show you what an amazing performer and storyteller he has always been. It brings happy tears to my eyes. There will never be anyone like him again.
Check this out, y’all. I wrote a book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5