There’s a certain degree of irony about this post coming from me. In general, I’m not much into traditions, plus we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving at my house. In Germany where I grew up this holiday isn’t observed. My native country has something called Erntedankfest (harvest festival), a regional annual celebration in the Rhineland area, which takes place in early October. But it’s not comparable to the national Thanksgiving holiday. As a Jehovah’s Witness, my wife doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving either, so we don’t feel we’re missing out. But none of this shall prevent me from writing about Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie, one of the most hilarious tunes I know, which always makes me smile.
This song is called Alice’s Restaurant, and it’s about Alice, and the
Restaurant, but Alice’s Restaurant is not the name of the restaurant,
That’s just the name of the song, and that’s why I called the song Alice’s
Officially titled Alice’s Restaurant Massacree and released in October 1967, Alice’s Restaurant indeed is just the name of the song. It’s also the title track of Guthrie’s debut album. The following borrows from my post I did on the tune last year:
Alice’s Restaurant is a largely spoken satirical protest song against the Vietnam War draft. It’s based on a true though exaggerated story that started on Thanksgiving 1965 when Guthrie and his friend Ray Brock were arrested by the local police of Stockbridge, Mass. for illegally dumping trash. Guthrie’s resulting criminal record from the incident later contributed to his rejection by the draft board.
…Now it all started two Thanksgivings ago, was on – two years ago on
Thanksgiving, when my friend and I went up to visit Alice at the
Restaurant, but Alice doesn’t live in the restaurant, she lives in the
Church nearby the restaurant, in the bell-tower, with her husband Ray and
Fasha the dog. And livin’ in the bell tower like that, they got a lot of
Room downstairs where the pews used to be in. Havin’ all that room,
Seein’ as how they took out all the pews, they decided that they didn’t
Have to take out their garbage for a long time…
At 18 minutes and 34 seconds, Alice’s Restaurant can easily compete with some Pink Floyd tunes, except it’s much more upbeat. Because of its length, the track is rarely heard on the radio, except on Thanksgiving when many stations play it in its entirety. This includes Q104.3, the New York classic rock station I mentioned in a post on Tuesday, which always plays the song at noon on Thanksgiving day. It’s the only interruption of their annual countdown of the Top 1,043 Classic Rock Songs Of All Time. I’m listening to the countdown as I’m writing this post.
…Came to talk about the draft.
They got a building down New York City, it’s called Whitehall Street,
Where you walk in, you get injected, inspected, detected, infected,
Neglected and selected. I went down to get my physical examination one
Day, and I walked in, I sat down, got good and drunk the night before, so
I looked and felt my best when I went in that morning. ‘Cause I wanted to
Look like the all-American kid from New York City, man I wanted, I wanted
To feel like the all-, I wanted to be the all American kid from New York,
And I walked in, sat down, I was hung down, brung down, hung up, and all
Kinds o’ mean nasty ugly things. And I waked in and sat down and they gave
Me a piece of paper, said, “Kid, see the phsychiatrist, room 604.”…
Perhaps not surprisingly given Guthrie’s cinematic story-telling, Alice’s Restaurant also inspired a 1969 comedy film with the same name, starring Guthrie as himself. It was directed by Arthur Penn who among others is known as the director of the 1967 classic biographical crime picture Bonnie and Clyde.
Commenting on what became his signature tune, Guthrie said, “I never expected it to be so popular,” as quoted by Songfacts. “An 18-minute song doesn’t get airplay. You can’t expect that. So the fact that it became a hit was absurd on the face of it. It wasn’t part of the calculation.”
Well, whether intentional or not, I’m sure it helped Guthrie pay some bills. The tune undoubtedly was the key factor for making Guthrie’s debut album his biggest chart success, a no. 17 on the Billboard 200. The single fared more moderately, reaching no. 97 on the Billboard Hot 100. It did better in Canada where it climbed to no. 67. Plus, the tune IS getting airplay, at least on Thanksgiving!
…And friends, somewhere in Washington enshrined in some little folder, is a
Study in black and white of my fingerprints. And the only reason I’m
Singing you this song now is cause you may know somebody in a similar
Situation, or you may be in a similar situation, and if your in a
Situation like that there’s only one thing you can do and that’s walk into
The shrink wherever you are, just walk in say “Shrink, You can get
Anything you want, at Alice’s restaurant.”. And walk out. You know, if
One person, just one person does it they may think he’s really sick and
They won’t take him. And if two people, two people do it, in harmony,
They may think they’re both faggots and they won’t take either of them.
And three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in
Singin a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out. They may think it’s an
Organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said
Fifty people a day walking in singin a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and
Walking out. And friends they may thinks it’s a movement…
Last but not least, to all folks who celebrate it, Happy Thanksgiving and be safe!
Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Discogs; YouTube