Arlo Guthrie's performance at Woodstock is iconic. Michael Wadleigh used "Coming into Los Angeles" to show the drug use at the 1969 Woodstock Festival. You could hear how stoned he was when he told the crowd that the NY State Thruway was closed. However, Arlo had a terrific band with him. I already had the privilege of meeting Arlo (see Woodstock #3) and Arlo's drummer, Paul Motian (See Woodstock # 16 & Woodstock #16 Take 2). As Arlo' guitarist, John Pilla, died sometime during the 1990's, all that remains is bassist, Bob Arkin.
Bob Arkin is not as famous as his brother, actor Alan Arkin. Bob Arkin has never been a famous rock star. Bob Arkin is not a even a famous jazz star; however, he is a working jazz bassist in New York City. He is part of a backing band for an open mic afternoon every Sunday at Cleopatra's Needle in NYC. I decided to go on July 19, 2009.
For some reason, I was speaking to my friend, Stu, who needed a ride into the City. He decided to tag along. As it was a nice summer Sunday, Stu was looking to have lunch at a restaurant with outdoor seating. We walked about 20 blocks of Broadway on the Upper West Side and we did not find an outdoor café - So, we decided to eat at Cleopatra's Needle which serves Mediterranean food. I had falafel and Stu, I believe, had something Greek. As we dined, the band members slowly walked in and took to their instruments. There was a drummer, a pianist, and, of course, Bob Arkin on stand up bass.
The performance was like any other open mike, or even kareoke, night. People signed up and then came up to the stage when there name was called. Except most of the singers were in their seventies. I felt like I was at the recreation hall of some senior citizen housing unit and that a bingo game was going to break out any minute.
Some singers were better than others, but all sang jazz standards. After about an hour or so, the band took a break. I walked up to the performance area, as I progressed I took my poster from its protective tube. I reached the stage like area and standing there with his well worn black suit was Bob Arkin. I placed my poster on the piano and said, "Excuse me, Mr. Arkin?" "Yes", he replied. "May I please have your autograph?" It was only he and I standing there. I was shocked when he said "no". The thud that my jaw made when it it the floor resounded around the 1/2 empty club that only had space for 100 people. As I crestfallenly replaced my poster in the tube and turned to walk away, Mr. Arkin said " sorry" almost as an afterthought. When I returned to the table, I saw Bob Arkin getting a drink from the bar and chatting and laughing with some people at the bar.
I was in a state of shock. Having finished our meal and paid the check some time ago, Stu and I left the club. I had never have anyone refuse an autograph request before - especially from someone who is accessible. I left the bar muttering that I should have offered him money, I should have tried to change his mind in someway. Still reeling from the rejection, Stu and I hung out a bit and then I went home.
Yes, Bob Arkin likes a drink. Bob Arkin was at Woodstock. Bob Arkin is not famous and Bob Arkin doesn't sign autographs.