History On Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant”
Every Thanksgiving radio stations all over the country play the song “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” (Alice’s Restaurant for short) off the album “Alice’s Restaurant” from singer/songwriter Arlo Guthrie. The song was released in 1967, and it’s been tradition ever since then to play it each and every Thanksgiving. Here’s the history of Alice’s Restaurant.
The song is one of the longest in the world of Rock and Roll. It lasts a total of 18 minutes and 34 seconds. When it was released in 1967, it took up the entire A-side of the record. But what’s the story behind it? Why do people love this song?
The Alice in the song was restaurant-owner Alice M. Brock.
In 1964 used $2,000 supplied by her mother to purchase a deconsecrated church in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where Alice and her husband Ray would live. Both worked at a nearby private academy, the music- and art-oriented Stockbridge School. Alice Brock went on to live in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and owns an art studio and gallery at 69 Commercial Street. She was diagnosed with emphysema in the mid 1990s. She illustrated the 2004 children’s book Mooses Come Walking, written by Guthrie.”
“Alice’s Restaurant” recounts Guthrie’s true Thanksgiving Day adventure as a satirical, deadpan protest against the Vietnam War draft. On November 25, 1965, the 18-year-old Guthrie and his friend Richard Robbins, 19, were arrested by Stockbridge police officer William “Obie” Obanhein for illegally dumping some of Alice’s garbage after discovering that the town dump was closed for the holiday.
Two days later, they pled guilty in court.
The song describes to ironic effect the arresting officer’s frustration at this “typical case of American blind justice,” in which the officer was prepared to present “27 8×10 color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us,” only to have the judge enter the courtroom accompanied by a seeing-eye dog. 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 experience at the New York City induction center.
Guthrie’s first stop is a physical examination, which he passes despite the lingering effects of getting drunk the night before. Guthrie is then sent for a psychological examination; in an attempt to portray himself as insane, he indicates to the psychiatrist that he is homicidal, which (to Guthrie’s disappointment) the examiner views favorably. In the final line of questioning before induction, the officer asks Guthrie about any record of arrests. Guthrie tells the story of the littering incident, which proves significant enough a criminal offense to potentially disqualify him from military service. The officer rejects Guthrie for military service, declaring “we don’t like your kind” and sending his fingerprints to the FBI.”
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Now you know a little more, Enjoy “Alice’s Restaurant”.