'If I Had a Hammer': WaPo Hippie Columnist Would Like to Pummel GOP Folk Singer

July 11th, 2010 7:33 PM
Washington Post Magazine humorist Gene Weingarten reacted badly in his Sunday column to the discovery that folk singer Arlo Guthrie is now a registered Republican: “By becoming a Republican, Arlo Guthrie has shredded the last remnants of my faith that our hippie principles had any lasting meaning. How can he do this to us? I'm a peaceable man, but if I had a hammer...”

Guthrie didn't become one of those warmongering neocons. He endorsed Ron Paul for president in early 2008. But Weingarten began with his marijuana-baked enthusiasm for hippiedom, which he clearly still loves dearly:

Like many middle-age people, I wear more than one hat. I'm a husband, a father, a journalist, a role model to a generation of idealistic young Americans, etc. But one of my favorite hats, the floppy felt one that still smells faintly of the sweet smoke of a controlled substance, is "former hippie." We children of the '60s tenaciously hold on to this self-image, even though our mirrors tell us that in terms of sheer hipness, we look more like Arlen Specter than Arlo Guthrie.

Weingarten -- who is not simply a yuk-yuk man, but a man who used to edit the Post's influential Style section -- discovered that Arlo Guthrie's “iconic, self-deprecating, darkly comic, anti-war counterculture masterpiece” of a song “Alice's Restaurant” didn't make complete sense as nonfiction. The song no longer seemed to "speak truth to power." So he called Guthrie up:

Me: So, you were arrested for illegally dumping a half-ton of garbage that you scooped up from the floor of Alice's home, and took away to dispose of as a favor, right?

Arlo: Right.

Me: And you were nailed by the fuzz because Officer Obie found your name on an envelope in that half-ton pile of garbage and phoned you. And in the funniest line of the song, you solemnly admitted to Officer Obie that you had put that envelope under that half-ton of garbage, right?

Arlo: Right.

Me: Why was your name in the garbage from Alice's restaurant? Wasn't that all Alice's garbage?

Arlo: In 40 years, no one ever asked me that.

Me: Well, someone is asking now.

Arlo: Bravo. I will hate you forever for this.

Me: [Pause]

Arlo: Okay, we have to attribute that line to creative license. Obie actually found a paper with Ray's name -- Ray was Alice's husband -- and Ray directed them to me. But it worked better in the song the other way.

Me: So, no biggie? A misstatement is okay because it "worked better"?

Guthrie didn't answer, but Weingarten compared his worship of Guthrie's “counterculture masterpiece” to the miracles of Jesus:

Me: I don't want to overstate my disillusionment here. But this is like hearing Jesus say, "Okay, I didn't turn the water into wine, exactly. Actually, I just added some Kool-Aid powder and turned it into a nice, refreshing beverage."

Weingarten learned Guthrie's party affiliation by further complaining: "Did you learn your ethics from your dad [socialist folk singer Woody Guthrie]? Might it be that this land was really made for him and just a few of his cronies?" Arlo responded: "You know, it's possible. I've heard that song sung at Republican conventions."

This means that Arlo Guthrie is actually more light-hearted about his politics than the humor writer is.