For Jackie Guthrie: An Appreciation-Remembering Mrs. G
“Sometimes at night she comes to me in dreams”…..from the song “Wake Up Dead” by Arlo Guthrie
During the chill of a New England fall and as the ocean winds swept across the Florida coastline, with her family gathered around her, JackieGuthrie, 68, quietly left this side of life’s mystery-curtain. She was folksinger, Arlo Guthrie’s wife for 43 years. She was mother to a family of musicians and artists. She was a friend to countless others. While so many performers, well-known and loved over the years, are by necessity publicly visible, these are words of gratitude and appreciation for the likes of Mrs.G, who are the muses and givers of the soul for the best of American music.
According to Arlo Guthrie, her death was a peaceful one;
“The sun rose on my world this morning. Jackie stayed with us throughout the night, lingering in our hearts just out of sight but clearly present. She woke me before sunrise in a dream saying that the hour had come when she would need to leave us and be gone before the sun arose. As her words awakened me I walked outside and stood looking over the river talking with her in the predawn twilight we both loved so much. It was our time and for years she brought me coffee as I took photographs of morning on the river.”
In concert, Arlo Guthrie tells an Old Testament story from Genesis. It’s the one about young Joseph, his colorful coat and his jealous brothers. One day, while looking for his brothers, he asked an anonymous man standing in a field, where he could find them. The stranger pointed Joseph in the right direction. Upon finding his brothers Joseph was beaten by them and sold into slavery in Egypt. Years went by and Joseph found his way into the favor of Pharaoh becoming his friend and confidant. As a result, because of his exile, the world changed for the better. As history reveals, Joseph’s lineage became that of Moses, David and Jesus. Because of that one anonymous guy standing in the field pointing the way the march of Western Civilization continued. He made a difference.
There have been so many people scattered through time who are happy to remain behind the scenes- in the fields-nurturing the troubadours, artists and poets. These are the people who love to point the way for us to our own personal landmarks. This was Jackie Guthrie. She stood in the field and became a guide to so many people she encountered.
For the last 45 years, Arlo Guthrie, like his father before him, has been known for the craft of weaving story and song together to reveal the everyday absurdities that bring laughter and sometimes a tear to his audiences. During the decades since he first-performed his epic, “Alice’s Restaurant,” a now classic Thanksgiving talking-blues opus, Guthrie has generously shared songs & stories alongside the songs of his legendary father, Woody Guthrie. In recent years he has brought his children and grandchildren along for the ride. Over the decades, their talents have been nurtured and grown on American stages and at folk festivals across the land.
But the muse behind-the-curtain-supporting the Guthrie family has been Jackie; she was a soul mate, mother and friend. She was the fire that burned bright enough to light the way for her loved ones. Without her spirit dancing through the music and stories of Arlo Guthrie and his children, Abe, Annie, Cathy and Sarah Lee, the warmth and joy of the music might not have been there. Because of her, the celebration of their music now reaches across the decades like a gentle, loving hand.
This holiday season will be hard for many in America this year. But with Christmas upon us, it’s time to celebrate the gifts of people so important in our lives, even those we can’t see anymore. They are still here with us. Jackie was far too vibrant and energetic to be gone entirely from her family and their music. As Arlo has been known to say, “death ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
Her maiden name was Jacklyn Hyde. She was once a Malibu rodeo-beauty queen. Her father was cowboy character actor, Jack Hyde, who appeared in western movies and on television during the 40’s and 50’s. She was raised full of life with a burning curiosity about the world around her. In the early 60’s. a teen-age Arlo Guthrie spent a summer in Southern California with family friend, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot. One day he saw a beautiful blond girl riding a horse in a Malibu rodeo parade. When he speaks of it today, he still sounds thunderstruck by the sight of her. He describes her as the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. A few years later, he would meet her at the legendary folk club, Doug Weston’s Troubadour in West Los Angeles, California. It was during the Woodstock-summer of ’69 when they would meet there for the first time. They were married in the fall of 1969 in New England.
The road to their marriage is worthy of an epic movie complete with colorful supporting characters(Hoyt Axton, Doug Dillard) and the lure of a whirlwind of history that swept through their times(Woodstock, the Vietnam War). In 1962, as a young carefree girl just out of high school, Jackie wandered into the Troubadour. Her life would never be the same. The years she worked as a cashier, from 1962 to 1969, today is considered one of the most important creative gatherings of talent in American music history. It was Paris-in-the-Twenties by the Southern California Sea. During and after the folk revival of the late 50’s and early 60’s, the Troubadour was an intersection of gifted singer-songwriters, folk singers, poets and gypsy musicians who came to the California club as though it was a musical gold rush and a touchstone for certain success. The artists Jackie rubbed shoulders with reads like an all-star cast of popular music’s Hall of Fame including Richie Havens, The Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul & Mary, Hoyt Axton, Barry McGuire, The Buffalo Springfield, Poco, Rick Nelson, Joni Mitchell, Eric Andersen, Jackson Browne, Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young, Carole King, James Taylor and The Dillards. She was a witness to this watershed of music that would have a lasting impact on generations over the next four decades. It was the memory of those days at the Troubadour that became the soil for their life to come. The family that grew around them came to resemble that same Troubadour scene; a community of songwriters, storytellers, poets and musicians.
For over 40 years, she was a companion and a spiritual guide to generations of makers of music and tellers of stories. She eventually became the family videographer making concert films for the archives. Her work on this can be seen today on YouTube at her site, Mrs G’s Family Archives. At recent concerts her hands were always near a camera. When I saw her she was usually filming. She would look over at me, smile and chat between songs. At the Woody Guthrie Centennial in Oklahoma last July, she still filmed even though she could barely hold the camera because she was physically weakened by her battle with cancer.
When she left her body in Sebastian, Florida on October 14, 2012, with her family around her, the sense of loss must have been fierce and stark like a great flame suddenly gone out. The loss has been felt throughout the folk and Americana community as well.
Over the last few years Arlo, has been telling a new story before singing his Woodstock classic, “Coming Into Los Angelees.” Jackie provided him with an inspired tale worthy of the song. As he tells it, he recently dropped her off at the airport near their home for a trip. As he arrived home, he received an unexpected call from her. She was in jail. It seems airport security had noticed a small container with a label that read “Arlo Guthrie,” and “Amsterdam” on it. When they opened it, the fragrant herbal contents were unmistakable. The security officers knew that she was not the folksinger, so she was detained, handcuffed and taken off to jail.
As Arlo arrived at the police station, the officers told him that they were fans. They were more excited talking with him about obscure records from his past then about this latest drug bust. They explained that the ‘arrest’ was no big deal. In fact, Jackie had made friends with the officers and before they left, after Arlo had given a round of autographs and pictures, she gave them all a hug. She was, as Arlo describes it, a’ serial hugger.’ This I can attest to. The last time I saw her at UCLA’s Royce Hall in 2008, she gave me no less than three hugs then she leaned on my shoulder for support(her ankle was hurting from a skiing accident) while she talked with friends.
Jackie’s generous spirit extended beyond her family. In a sense, she regarded everyone around her as family. She never failed to find ways to encourage and support whatever project I was working on, which sometimes had to do with one of the singing Guthries. When I met her initially in 1993 at Carnegie Hall, she encouraged me to keep up with my writing. It was the first time I thought I might be taken seriously as a writer by the world outside.
So I’m thinking tonight, it’s not time for goodbyes. Saying goodbye is just a temporary thing. I know in my heart, all of us will be together again and we will be loving friends and friendly lovers. Rather, I would like to say thank you to Jackie Guthrie for being who she is still even though we can’t see her right now. The hearth she created for others was always with her; to be in her presence was to feel like coming home. Now when I hear the music of Arlo Guthrie, I will hear her voice. When I see Sarah Lee and Johnny Irion or Annie Guthrie joyfully singing on stage, I’ll see the results of her care and love. When oldest son, Abe, shares the stage with his dad, and a smile goes across his face, I will see her. I can hear her mischievous praise of Cathy’s duo with Amy Nelson, Folk Uke. I will see her in every sparkle in the eyes of those beautiful grandchildren who carry pieces of her spirit with them like so many gifts of Christmas.
In the end, it really is the love that endures. It’s the love we give that truly lives on. The example Jackie Guthrie showed illustrates how universal, rich and real that love can be during one lifetime. So the Guthrie family will journey on with the faith that Jackie will always be near them. She will be as close as a simple prayer, a child’s smile and an act of selfless kindness shared in our often sad and tragic world.
Arlo Guthrie continues to record and tour internationally. His tour schedule can be found at ArloNet.