'Room for one more friend'

By Bill Castanier

An interview with legendary folk singer Arlo Guthrie

Arlo Guthrie plays the Wharton Center Thursday night at 7:30. The folk legend answered some questions by email about politics, the enduring power of folk music and riding motorcycles at 66.

What happened to Old Trinity Church, which served as the backdrop for your song “Alice’s Restaurant” and the resulting movie?

The Old Trinity Church is still around.

We bought it over 20 years ago and have renamed it the Guthrie Center at the Old Trinity Church … (but) we just refer to it as the Church. We run our foundation work from the old building. Hopefully it continues to be of service to the local community.

There will be a 50th anniversary tour of Alice beginning January 2015 and running for over a year.

Do you think the tumultuous political climate of the 1960s put America on the right path?

We are on the right path. We are always on the right path. There is only one future: The one that will become our present. Sometimes you may need to be reminded that we are the ones we´ve been waiting for. The time is always right to make course corrections and sail on. Don´t worry — it doesn´t help. Nothing went wrong. It´s all here for our benefit as a nation and as individuals. Just make sure you´re the good guys and all will be well.

Your father died from Huntington’s disease. Has that influenced your outlook on your own health?

You are never out of reach with Huntington´s disease, although you can be less reachable statistically. More and more young people are affected than ever. There´s a lot of research going on, but I´m pretty sure that most of these diseases are the result of less natural food in the stuff we eat as well as the genetic factors involved. We are poisoning ourselves at an alarming rate, weakening our immune systems so that things that wouldn´t ordinarily affect a healthy person are beginning to affect us.

What is it about your family that you were able to spawn four generations of folk musicians?

They´re crazy. But you gotta do what you gotta do. I was 5 years old when my dad gave me my first guitar. It´s on loan at the moment to the Woody Guthrie Archives exhibit in Tulsa.

In the 2008 presidential race you endorsed Ron Paul. How would you describe your politics?

I was for bringing the troops home from overseas, ending the war on drugs and giving everyone the same rights to marry, hang out or whatever. So was Ron Paul. In that sense I have very Libertarian tendencies. I am always for smaller and local as opposed to bigger and farther reaching in government, business or socially cultural issues. I like people who mean what they say and say what they mean.

Why do you think that folk music still thrives?

Folk music is just the songs and music that becomes the soundtrack of your life. It doesn´t matter where or with whom it originates — could be the Stones or Elvis or some younger people whose names I don´t know. But, whatever music you like and can sing along on, that´s folk music.

In the larger sense, all music is a voice for something.

Your father’s song, “This Land is Your Land,” was adopted into the recent Occupy Movement. Why do you think it resonates so?

I love the Occupy guys. I love young people getting involved with their friends and neighbors and trying to make this country a little more equitable for everyone. I continue to support them, although I´m sure most of them have never heard of me. This land IS yours and mine; now we just have to figure out how to keep it from becoming someone else´s. We can share it with everyone. If we all do that together, I´m with it. No one should be forced to feel like a stranger in their own land. There´s a little stone on my desk on which these words are written: "I have room for one more friend and he is everyman — Woody Guthrie"

Your “Motorcycle Song” is still a favorite among bikers. How does it feel to have that kind of legacy?

I´m with anyone who loves that feeling of being free on the road. I have my 2001 Indian and as soon as I´m finished with this interview, I´m going out for a ride. I have to get to it before the snow starts flying.

Arlo Guthrie

7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3

Wharton Center, 750 W. Shaw Lane, East Lansing $15-$37 (800) WHARTON whartoncenter.com