updated 06/13/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 06/13/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT
Well, now that he's 46 and a grandfather with a gray goatee, Guthrie has come down to earth just a bit. A full 25 years after his lone film role in Alice's Restaurant—drawn from his antic, 18-minute hit song that became a '60s anthem—Guthrie has reemerged from his low-key musical life on the road to appear in ABC's spring series The Byrds of Paradise. Shot in Hawaii (the reason, Guthrie claims, he took the gig), Byrds features the folksinger as a semi-regenerate hippie who enrolls in prep school at 45. While ABC didn't renew Byrds for the fall, it is airing two more episodes, beginning Wednesday, June 16. Does it bother Guthrie that Byrds bombed? "It's too late to ruin my career," he says.
Way too late, in fact, to scratch even the surface of this cheerful pilgrim's progress. Woody Guthrie's boy, like his dad a beloved balladeer, has his own record company (Rising Son), his own charitable organization (the Guthrie Center), a 250-acre farm outside Stockbridge, Mass., a wife of 25 years (the former Jackie Hyde), four kids, ages 15 to 24, a grandchild, a string of Hindu rudraksha beads round his neck—and still the dark threat of Huntington's disease, the hereditary, incurable nerve disorder that killed his father and grandmother, hanging over his head.
In a sense, it hangs there by his choice. Arlo, like his sister Nora, 44 (an older sister, Cathy Ann, died in a fire before Arlo was born), refuses to take the test that would tell him whether he carries the deadly gene. (His brother Joady, 45, a writer, has tested negative.) Chances are Arlo is safe now because Huntington's usually appears by age 40. Settling back in his favorite Honolulu diner, Bernard's New York Deli, the Brooklyn-born folksinger simply says, "If they had a test whether elephants would step on you and you'd die, would you take that test too? I don't have time to worry about things that may or may not be. There's enough that is to worry about."
That same commonsensical philosophy led him to give up drugs one stoned winter's night in the Berkshires. Guthrie was sitting around a wood-burning stove with some mates, toking and thinking. His son, Abe, had just been born. Suddenly he wondered aloud, "Suppose something happens to the kid? Who's gonna drive him to the hospital through five feet of snow?"
As Guthrie recalls it, "Nobody raised his hand, so I quit." As for Abe, he's now 24 and backs up his dad on keyboards in his band, Xavier.
Otherwise, Arlo has been a ramblin' man, like his father before him. He got his first guitar from his dad at 6 and made his own name at the Newport Folk Festival in 1967, the year his father died (Arlo occasionally sings "This Land is Your Land," his dad's personal anthem). Even before that, though, came the celebrated Thanks-giving 1965 garbage-dumping episode near the deconsecrated Episcopal Church in Great Barrington, Mass., that his friends Ray and Alice Brock—of Alice's Restaurant—-called home. That incident got him arrested, convicted of a misdemeanor, banned from the Army and delivered into counterculture stardom. In 1969 he met Jackie at the Troubador in West Hollywood, and they married two months later. Says Jackie, 49, who stayed back east with the younger kids while Arlo was in Hawaii: "He reminded me of a European prince. I totally fell in love with him, and I still love him 25 years later."
That's 25 years and three separations later; life with a musician eternally on the road is hard cheese. Arlo Wryly notes, "When people ask, 'How do you stay married for 25 years?' we say, 'We've actually only been together four or five years.' "
Still, it's clear that, for such an easygoing fellow, Arlo has hauled around a lot of psychic baggage. He has dabbled in nearly all the world's major religions and has studied for eight years with his Jewish/Catholic/ Hindu guru, Ma Jaya. Through his foundation, Arlo funds various causes—abused children and aid for fanners among them—out of Ray and Alice's old church, which he bought two years ago. And his career has stayed in tune through 16 albums. Coming up: No. 17, More Together Again, with his dad's old friend and favorite collaborator, Pete Seeger, 75. "One reason I admire Arlo," Seeger says, "is that he never let the disease that killed his father get him down. He's married, he's got a big family, and he's interested in all sorts of things like he's going to live forever—and I think he will."
TOM CUNNEFF in Honolulu