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Top of the heap

Getting arrested is not usually a career-enhancement, but it was for Arlo Guthrie.

On Nov. 27, 1965, Guthrie, then 18, was arrested for littering while trying to dispose of Thanksgiving dinner refuse in Stockbridge, Mass.

The arrest, as they say, is history, but the song Guthrie wrote about his brief life of crime -- "Alice's Restaurant" -- lives on as a classic of its era. With its sardonic look at the issues of the day, from the unbending arm of the law to the apparent futility of civil disobedience, "Alice's Restaurant" captured the tenor of times.

Released on a record in 1967 (and used as the basis for a 1969 movie of the same name), the song took Guthrie from being the talented son of Woody Guthrie to being a major artist in his own right.

Guthrie, who will perform in concert Oct. 2 at Mayo Civic Center's Presentation Hall, was born July 10, 1947, in New York. His father was the most famous folksinger in the land, and his mother, Marjorie Mazia Guthrie, was a dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company.

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Guthrie grew up surrounded by the folk musician friends of his father, and received his first guitar as a gift at age 6. While his father, suffering from Huntington's Disease, spent much of Arlo's childhood in hospitals, the boy taught himself to play guitar. He gave his first public performance at age 13.

While attending prep school near Stockbridge, Guthrie became friends with a teacher, Ray Brock, and his wife, Alice. The Brocks lived in an old church that they had converted into a home.

After dropping out of college in Montana in the fall of 1965, Guthrie spent the Thanksgiving holiday with the Brocks. He volunteered to take the garbage to the town dump, not realizing it was closed for the holiday. He was arrested by the local police chief and ticketed for littering. The conviction and $50 fine provided Guthrie with the basis for a million-dollar song.

From there, Guthrie's career took off -- appearing at Woodstock, scoring a major hit with "The City of New Orleans," and recording critically acclaimed albums of music that mixed folk, bluegrass, rock and country influences.

In recent decades, as Guthrie's brand of music largely has been lost from the radio airwaves, he has been in the background. He is, however, still performing (usually accompanied by one or more of his four children), still recording, and still influencing other folksingers with his music and activism.

In the '90s, Guthrie brought it all full circle. He purchased the former Brock home -- the; site of Alice's fateful Thanksgiving dinner -- and converted it to the Guthrie Center. The center is operated as a nonprofit interfaith foundation. It offers free community lunches, art and music camps for children recovering from abuse, and AIDS/HIV-related programs.

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