Thursday, November 22, 2007

Alice's Restaurant

One of my favorite Thanksgiving Traditions growing up in Massachusetts was listening to Alice's Restaurant before dinner was served. WBCN 104.1 FM in Boston plays it every year on Turkey Day at Noon. Even though I have long since moved to Ohio, I always make time to keep up witht his tradition, its as american as Turkey and Cranberry Sauce to me:

"Alice's Restaurant Massacree" (commonly referred to simply as "Alice's Restaurant") is one of singer-songwriter Arlo Guthrie's most prominent works, a musical monologue based on a true story that began on Thanksgiving Day 1965, and which inspired a 1969 movie of the same name.

The song lasts 18 minutes and 20 seconds, occupying the entire A-side of Guthrie's 1967 debut record album, titled Alice's Restaurant (Warner Reprise Records). It is notable as a satirical, first-person account of 1960s counterculture, in addition to being a hit song in its own right. The final part of the song is an encouragement for the listeners to sing along, to resist the draft, and to end war.

Guthrie's talk-song, a satirical, deadpan protest against the Vietnam War draft and widespread anti-hippie prejudice, recounts a true but comically exaggerated Thanksgiving adventure. "Alice" was restaurant-owner Alice M. Brock, who in 1964, using $2,000 supplied by her mother, bought a deconsecrated church in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where Alice and her husband Ray would live. It was here rather than at the restaurant, which came later, where the song's Thanksgiving dinners were actually held.

On that Thanksgiving, November 25, 1965, the 18-year-old Guthrie and his friend Richard Robbins, 19, were arrested for illegally dumping some of Alice's garbage after discovering that the dump was closed for the holiday. Two days later they pleaded guilty in court before a blind judge, James E. Hannon; the song describes to ironic effect the arresting officer's frustration at the judge being unable to see the "27 8-by-10 color glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us". In the end, Guthrie and Robbins were fined $50 and told to pick up their garbage. The song goes on to describe Guthrie's being called up for the draft, and the surreal bureaucracy at the New York City induction center on Whitehall Street. The punchline of the story's denouement is that because of Guthrie's criminal record for littering, he is first sent to the Group W Bench (where convicts wait) then outright rejected as unfit for military service.

The final part of the song is where Arlo tells the audience that should they find themselves facing the draft they should walk into the military psychiatrist's office and sing, "Shrink, You can get anything you want, at Alice's restaurant," and walk out. Thus is born, "the Alice's Restaurant Anti-Massacree Movement, and all you got to do to join is sing it the next time it comes around on the guitar."

"Alice's Restaurant" is regularly played on Thanksgiving by many radio stations, especially in the New York City area. It is not often otherwise aired, due to its length. The original album rose to #17 on the Billboard charts.

You can find the lyrics, here.


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