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Woody Guthrie

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Of course I remember when I was a little kid, I started writing my songs, my dad took me aside one time, and said "Arlo, you know if you can't be great, it's better to belong." I'm still thinking about that.
--
Arlo Guthrie; spoken during the recording of the 40th Anniversary performance of Alice's Restaurant. (Partly a pun in how Alice's Restaurant is nearly a 20 minutes or longer each time Arlo performs it.)

 
Woody Guthrie

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Back around 1971, I was playing in a bar in Chicago one night, and after the show, I was packing up my guitar and stuff, and I was walking out the door, and a little guy stopped me. And he said, "Arlo, before you leave, I wanna sing you a song." I said "Come on man, I don't wanna hear no songs. I hate songs. I don't even like my songs! Why should I like your songs?" I was just tired, I wanted to get out of there, I was being a butt-head. He said, "Arlo, I just wanna sing you one song." I said, "Tell you what. Buy me beer. I'll sit here and drink it. As long as it lasts, you can do whatever you want." He said, "That sounds like a good deal. I said "It does?" It turned out to be one of the finer beers of my entire life.

 
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[My mother] said, "Arlo, I was out in the middle of China. And they brought out these school kids, and they started singing us songs, and they started singing 'This Land is Your Land', and I said 'STOP! Stop the song! My husband wrote that song!" She must have drove them nuts! She was driving me nuts about it! It was weeks after she had got back she hadn't slowed down about it one little bit! And I just looked at her and I said, "You know, mom...California.....to the New York Island. What are they singing it for over there anyhow?" She just looked with one of those Mom kind of looks. She said, "Oh Arlo..." She walked away. I was left standing there feeling like my usual self. I knew she was right, but I just didn't know why. After a while though, it come to me. I could see it, just because it said "California to the New York Island", didn't mean it had to go the short way! I could see it going around back! Redwood Forests, Gulf stream waters, around that way! Then the whole world could be singing that song! Except America.

 
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Be serious. Folk songs are serious. That's what Pete Seeger told me. "Arlo, I only wanna tell you one thing. Folk songs are serious." And I said "Right."

 
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I am a big Beatles fan. And, you know, unbeknownst to anyone, I used to be one. But I have no problems of putting titles and lines from other songs in my songs, because they're great lines and great titles. And some of them I even thought of. You know, I think this is the third time I've used "It Don't Come Easy." I used that on "Time Takes Time," I think, as well. So it's just a great line that, you know, expresses so much. So I just put it in again.

 
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"I didn't really come into it expecting to make songs. It started just with random bits and pieces. I guess I thought there would be vocals, but I was thinking in terms of using little vocal shreds, and of making them part of the tapestry, not the main thing. But as soon as we had gone through the initial sketches, it became obvious that they could be quite direct. Nigel basically dragged me kicking and screaming toward the concept of them being actual songs." - source

 
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