Listening to Arlo

While I mowed the lawn today, hoping it’s the last mow of the season, I thought back to 1968, sitting in my NYC apartment at 115 St. Mark’s Place (the epicenter!), and listening to Arlo Guthrie sing Alice’s Restaurant. I have absolutely no idea why that particular memory bubbled to the surface, but it got me thinking about multi-tasking.

I listened to that 18-minute ballad as the record played on the record player (not even a stereo). It was life long before earbuds. The Walkman, which hadn’t yet arrived on the scene, has since come and gone. To listen to music, one had to be stationary, usually indoors near an electric outlet. Transistor radios were notoriously full of static and their batteries expired in a matter of hours. The music didn’t travel with you in any reasonable way, and when you listened, it was pretty much a single-focus, stationary past-time.

If I listened to that 18-minute song today, I would also be folding laundry, sorting grocery coupons, checking my email or knitting. It’s simply inconceivable that I would not multi-task that activity today. We’re driven by the technology and the culture to do more stuff simultaneously, cramming as many activities into every hour of our day.

The technology today permits us to keep more of the facets of our lives with us all the time. Those facets include the to-do lists, family responsibilities and work tasks in addition to activities such as listening to music. I could have listened to Arlo today while I mowed the lawn – an impossibility back when that song was cresting the cultural wave with his irreverent song about littering, criminal justice and western Massachusetts.

One thing at a time – what a refreshing concept! I cannot always reduce the to-do list, but I can decide to focus on each item more mindfully and respectfully for what the item is – laundry, listening, or lawn care.

Maybe this is what I was looking for. After all, Arlo sang, “You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant.”


5 comments so far

  1. C R Krieger on

    Yes. We are more productive today.

    Regards  —  Cliff

  2. Neal Crossland on

    The first thought that comes to mind after reading Fran’s commentary is, “Just because we can doesn’t mean we must, or perhaps even should.” Then I read Cliff’s comment and my thought is, “Are we REALLY more productive today, or just busier?” I think the latter applies more generally than the pitch for productivity. We may push more widgets off the line, but I would posit that those widgets are not nearly as good as they could be, or should be. Why? Well, because we have substituted quantity as a meaure of excellence in life for quality. We do so very much more…..and get and enjoy so very much less. It brings to mind a book title from not that long ago (well….maybe very long ago….the mind dims with time)….”I’m dancing as fast as I can.”



  3. C R Krieger on

    As Uncle Joe said, “quantity has a quality all of its own”.  I don’t think that is an iron-clad rule, but it is a thought.

    Regards  —  Cliff

  4. Kathryn on

    I think we have come to prize “busyness” over “productivity” as a society. The busier someone is, the better. The more stressed they are, the more important they must be.

    We used to pride ourselves in a job well done and then relax and enjoy the fruits of our labors. Now people are coming to see the ability to sit and think, listen to music or read for pleasure as a negative.

  5. C R Krieger on


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