Arlo Guthrie – “Coming into Los Angeles” Lyrics Meaning

Photo of author
Written By Joanna Landrum

Joanna holds a BSc in English Literature and uses her expertise in literary analysis to uncover the deeper meaning of her favorite songs.

“Coming into Los Angeles” by Arlo Guthrie isn’t your everyday love song or protest anthem. It’s a groovy 1969 tune that talks about smuggling contraband into Los Angeles. The song’s a snapshot of the counterculture era, oozing with the rebellious spirit of the ’60s. Arlo Guthrie, son of folk legend Woody Guthrie, weaves a vivid narrative, complete with chickens on a plane and the Lone Ranger. He tackles serious subjects but keeps the mood light, blending humor and subversion. It’s a catchy way to challenge authority while capturing the zeitgeist of a generation.

Ready to board Arlo’s lyrical plane? Fasten your seatbelts. We’re diving deep into the lyrics, the story behind the song, and how it reflects an entire era. Come on, you won’t want to miss this trip!

“Coming into Los Angeles” Lyrics Meaning

Kicking off with “Coming in from London, from over the pole,” Guthrie sets the scene. We’re not talking about a domestic flight here; this is international travel. It paints a global picture that draws you into the heart of the ’60s counterculture.

“Flyin’ in a big airliner / Chickens flyin’ everywhere around the plane.” While this line may sound absurd, it brilliantly juxtaposes the order and structure of international travel with the chaotic, free spirit of the time.

Then we hit the chorus: “Comin’ into Los Angeles / Bringin’ in a couple of keys / Don’t touch my bags if you please, mister customs man.” The message is pretty straightforward—smuggling in contraband. It may sound risky, but that’s exactly the point. Guthrie showcases how authority figures like the customs man were seen as obstacles, not protectors.

The second verse introduces a “guy with a ticket to Mexico” who “couldn’t look much stranger.” Again, Guthrie captures the eclectic and outlandish mix of people you’d find involved in the counterculture.

The final verse discusses a “Hip woman walkin’ on the movin’ floor / Trippin’ on the escalator.” It’s an excellent nod to the psychedelic influence that permeated society at that time.

Interestingly, the lyrics end with a repetition of the first verse. It’s like saying that even as specific events change, the underlying spirit of rebellion and challenge to authority remains constant.

The Story Behind “Coming into Los Angeles”

Let’s dig a bit into why Arlo Guthrie penned this unforgettable song. The late 1960s were a turbulent time filled with anti-war protests, civil rights movements, and a rapidly evolving counterculture. Arlo was in the thick of it. Following his father’s footsteps, he was not just a musician but a storyteller and an activist.

So when he penned “Coming into Los Angeles,” he was capturing the zeitgeist of a generation that was challenging societal norms and authorities. He told the story in an approachable, funny, and palatable way, encouraging listeners to question the system without necessarily giving them a lecture.

The song was also influenced by his personal experiences and observations. Arlo was surrounded by people challenging the status quo, whether they were anti-war protestors or hippies searching for spiritual awakening through psychedelics. Therefore, the characters in his song—the Lone Ranger, the hip woman, and the man going to Mexico—are composites of the people he likely encountered.

While it’s a song about smuggling contraband, it’s crucial to understand the context. The late ’60s were a time when substances like marijuana were becoming symbols of rebellion against an establishment many young people didn’t trust.

So, next time you listen to “Coming into Los Angeles,” keep in mind it’s not just a catchy tune. It’s a slice of history, capturing the attitudes, risks, and rebellious spirit of a generation questioning everything.