Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant”: the story behind the Thanksgiving staple – Vox


One of our favoritest Thanksgiving holiday traditions is listening to Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant Massacree [sic] until Mrs. Psy threatens us with murder and mayhem and to flush the computer down the toilet. It has become the Charlie Brown’s Christmas of Thanksgiving. It’s not a Thanksgiving until that happens, amirite?

There are several things that delight about the shaggy dog tale sung talked by the youthful Arlo Guthrie not the least of which is are the eight by ten color glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, the Group W bench with all kinds of mean, nasty, and ugly-looking people, and the snarling rebuke, Kid, we don’t like your kind!

Thanksgiving is a little different this year in the era of #COVID19. Half the country is isolating and wearing masks and the other half is traveling about and participating in superspreader events as we watch the number of infections and deaths skyrocket and our hospitals and healthcare workers become overwhelmed with numbers, stress, and strain.

And, in the middle of all of this stress and strain from the isolation, the worry and fear, the death, misery, and suffering, and helplessness at watching good doctors and nurses become overwhelmed by all we’re inflicting upon them, we can take a moment to enjoy the light-hearted absurdities presented by Guthrie’s tale of Thanksgiving dinners that couldn’t be beat, getting everything you want — excepting Alice — putting envelopes under piles of garbage, arrest, court appearances, being drafted and dismissed, and anti-war messaging.

We can also take a small amount of comfort in that, unlike so much else in Trump’s America, the massacre is a true story told with an odd level of adherence to the truth and very little artistic license taken even to make rhyme and meter work.

Be inspired to be thankful and treat everyone with kindness and understanding during this stressful time. So, read the tale as presented at one Ye Olde Blogge’s favorite news outlets, Vox.

The true story behind Arlo Guthrie’s Thanksgiving staple, “Alice’s Restaurant”

With four-part harmony and feeling.

Constance Grady @constancegrady Nov 26, 2020

Thanksgiving is here: a time for family, friends, gravy, and Arlo Guthrie talk-singing his way through an 18-minute-long anti-war song about littering. A natural fit, no?

That’s what various rock radio stations around the country seem to have concluded, because most major cities in America now have at least one station that makes a point of playing Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” every Thanksgiving. In my own hometown of Philadelphia, WXPN’s Helen Leicht plays it every year at noon, and in non-pandemic years my family gathers around the radio like we’re in an old-timey Norman Rockwell painting, ripping apart bread for the stuffing and singing, “Had a Thanksgiving dinner that COULDN’T BE BEAT!”

Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” was originally released in 1967 as “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” and it’s only nominally about either Thanksgiving, Alice, or her restaurant. It’s a shaggy, rambling story-song, in which Guthrie spends Thanksgiving (with a dinner that couldn’t be beat!) with Alice (of the restaurant), and then as a favor tries to drive her trash out to the dump, only to find that the dump is closed for Thanksgiving. So he leaves the trash in a garbage pile by the side of the road and is subsequently arrested for littering — which, when Guthrie comes before the draft board, is the reason the military cites for choosing not to draft him.

Continue reading on Vox: The true story behind Arlo Guthrie’s Thanksgiving staple, “Alice’s Restaurant”

Image Attribution

“Alice’s Restaurant” by dok1 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

3 replies »

  1. It is a favorite – Stuck in my mind are “Twenty seven 8×10 glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what it is…” and the famous Group W Bench.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Howdy Bob!

      I don’t listen to Alice’s Restaurant every Thanksgiving, but I do pretty often. I’m always impressed at how he uses meter and repetition to really drive the story and song:
      injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected and selected
      mean, nasty, ugly things

      He also uses rhythm speeding up and slowing down as the mood requires. It really is a great musical telling of a story.


      Liked by 2 people

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