The year was 1968, or 1969 after all it was the 60’s and none of us are expected to have absolute recall. I was dating this charming young lady who was given two tickets to a Judy Collins performance at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall. She invited me to come with her.
We were like thousands of others of our age at that time. We were both active in the anti-Vietnam war movement, civil rights, women’s rights, and everyone’s rights. I was a draft counselor under the guidance of the auspicious organization, CCCO or Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors. I was also of prime draft age nearing the end of my college career.
The U.S. army was in need of more men to send over to Vietnam so they were ever vigilant for people like me. I received my notice for what the Army called the Pre-induction Physical and we called the draft physical, among other things. I spent the time prior to the date of my physical documenting my numerous physical and mental defects. When the day arrived I had a thick folder of signed statements from authoritative people who would put their life on the line to say, no one should put a gun in my hands.
The big day arrived and I arrived along with hundreds of others who had similar looking folders and documentation. When we got to talking we all discovered that we shared something in common, we were all draft counselors. What a coincidence that we should all arrive on the same day. The next coincidence was that none of the documents inside of any of our folders were going to be read that day. Each of us left that building with a 1-A classification.
To celebrate my newly found good physical and mental health as well as my top of the class draft classification; that charming young lady I mentioned above took me to the Judy Collins concert. The concert was held in the majestic Chicago’s Orchestra Hall. The carpets were red and plush and the chandeliers were sparkling. Along the walls were archways intricately painted with gold inlay outlining the plaster carvings. All of this splendor was leading the eye to the proscenium.
Under the grand arch was this even grander stage and in the center toward the front was a single chair. Next to this chair were two guitars. We had come to see Judy Collins but a new folk singer named Arlo Guthrie was opening for her. He walked onto the stage, and he was our age. He wore a weathered cowboy hat, vest and jeans. He said, “hey” and sat down. He mumbled into the microphone something about a song his dad wrote and sang, Hobo’s Lullaby. His next song was whimsical, The Motorcycle Song. He then went into a soliloquy from which I only remember laughing.
When he finished the soliloquy, he picked up a different guitar and began a lengthy process of tuning. Arlo Guthrie then proceeded to sing an eighteen minute song about his draft physical. He was singing exactly what I just went through here in Chicago on Randolph St. Toward the end of the song he says the only reason he is singing the song is that “you may be in a similar situation.” The hall erupted with applause because most of us were in a “similar situation.”
The twenty-five hundred people in the audience that night all joined in singing the chorus of Alice’s Restaurant with enthusiasm and more feeling than I have heard since. Judy Collins may have come on stage and performed after Arlo but the audience kept singing Alice’s Restaurant. I am certain we applauded for her and maybe even tried to sing along with her but Arlo Guthrie was the show. We were all in that “similar situation.”
That concert was more than forty years ago. The charming young lady became my wife and we now have two children and three grandchildren. In the years between that first concert and now my wife and I have continued to go see Arlo perform. We have taken our grandson to introduce him to Arlo and soon will be bringing our granddaughters.
Arlo’s music still speaks to us. The issues today are not much different from what we faced back in the 60’s. My wife and I still work for the rights of those who have the least voice. Today Arlo sings about the sad treatment of immigrants in our country, the inequality of wealth, pollution, and how we neglect our senior citizens. The issues are the same, only the faces change.
Arlo’s concert schedule has been published for this year and the closest he’ll be performing to us is Bayfield, WI which is a six-hour drive. We best start making preparations, we cannot miss Arlo.