Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Arlo’s Hair by Elise Miller

Elise Miller (c) 2012
Last night was Thursday, a work night, but the only tickets we could get for Arlo Guthrie at Croce’s were for the 10:30 show, which turned out to be 11 and the show went until 12:30 and we got to bed at 1:30, which was much too late so I was tired most of today but it was worth it because Arlo was riveting, not only as an excellent folksinger and storyteller—he drew us into his intimate circle of close-knit family and  musician friends making memories together in New England farmhouses and on big city stages—but as a versatile and talented musician, a master of the six- and twelve-string acoustic guitars, electronic piano and harmonica, but how did Woody’s son keep me awake, you might ask, even today, reliving the performance, and I would with a lump in my throat reply that it is because he evokes an era, a memory of an attitude and an approach, tied inextricably to a certain kind of place, the tight, dark smell of other clubs and coffee houses, mysterious places full of new poetry and old ideas, washed over by young tears and the promise of sex with someone whose music was slow and lyrical, all wrapped up in his own life and therefore my own young life, a girl sitting in a coffee house, sometimes angry, sometimes pitiful, often deeply caring, but always musical, and on that work night, all this stirred me up, a man with heavy cheeks and baggy eyes and long, stringy gray hair who at one time stirred the hearts in the crowd at Alice’s Restaurant, his sharp, kind eyes and floppy hat and dark shiny rebellious locks came at me then like a knife blade scraping away at sweet fat crusty drumstick skin from the hot grease of a heavy iron skillet where we loitered in Alice’s kitchen, but there in the kitchen, who could have anticipated the singular moment in the film, there in the sack with his girl, when he realized that “the who, the what, the where” were all still ahead of him, and we all realized this with him, our hearts racing at the thought that someday we would actually know the answers, and it frightened us terribly though we were desperate for it, that glimpse of fragile crystal ball, and now we know why it startled, then unnerved us at the time, with the same kind of jolt looking forward as I received last night looking back, noticing Arlo’s hair first, paying attention to its length and how ridiculous it looked in that rodent color, wrinkled and wrapping his shoulders and his broad back, like tough, but aged and disintegrating rodent skin, noticed and was repulsed by it, until Arlo started talking about it, joking about his coif, until I heard pride and pain between the words, and understood that the hair, like the flowered shirt, sleeves rolled to the elbows, leather vest and beads, and the honeyed, homey, twangy voice, the talented fingers stroking guitar strings or keyboard, the quirky rhythms, and the very tales he told, from setting to syntax, were marks of his individuality and that was how he made his statement, like standing up and saying THIS is who I am, HERE I am, I AM ARLO, and Arlo’s hair twisted itself around my life and I recognized—in the mundane blending in of my own style, supporting like a splint my work and family and social commotion by my way of looking and talking and walking and living my life forty years after Alice closed her doors—that the hot grease and the crusty, pungent bits and pieces in the heavy iron skillet had dissipated long ago, and unlike Arlo, whose graying rumpled hair bespoke of youth and hope and individuality and attitude, the only vestige of my self, my only puckered strand of graying  hair, is my writing, so that is the only explanation I have at this moment, with Arlo Guthrie’s image overlaying my to do list, my desk, my computer, my appointment calendar, of why I write, only that, to connect myself over and over again to the girl in the coffee house, with shiny brown hair and wide hazel eyes, out past curfew, holding someone’s hand, soaking in folk rhythms like surges of coastal tide on dry sand, connecting idea to idea to idea as they climb up from the sea of all time, and, okay then, to connect myself to that memory and to keep myself engaged in the search for the what, the where, the who, and it is as that seeker that I write and refuse to pause and breathe and place the period to conclude the thoughts, but instead I wind that graying strand behind my ear, listen carefully, and with my pen, like Arlo, I struggle to stand up and be somebody present and real.