This week I decided to recommend the only pop culture Thanksgiving tradition that my family partakes in, besides the parade, every year: Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant.” Technically, the song is called “Alice’s Restaurant Masacree,” but as we are told during the intro, Alice’s Restaurant isn’t the name of the restaurant, it’s just the name of the song.
The song is really more like an 18 and a half minute monologue set to music, and tells the true story of what happened to Guthrie on Thanksgiving Day in 1965. The restaurant is also real, and is located in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
The song is actually a satirical, and probably exaggerated, account, of the Thanksgiving Day when Guthrie and a friend were arrested for illegally dumping some trash from Alice’s restaurant when they found out the town dump was closed for the holiday. They pled guilty to their charges and were fined.
That’s where any relation to Thanksgiving ends, so forgive my family for our weird traditions. From here on out, this song is basically a protest song about the draft. Guthrie is called up for the draft and appears at the induction center in New York, where he tries to convince the examiners that he is homicidal. Finally, when he’s asked if he has ever been arrested, and Guthrie explains about the events on Thanksgiving in the Berkshires, he is rejected. The officer says, “We don’t like your kind,” and sends him to the Group W bench for those rejected for service. Guthrie then says “I’m sittin’ here on the Group W bench ‘cause you want to know if I’m moral enough to join the Army, burn women, kids, houses, and villages after bein’ a litterbug.”
Guthrie closes the song by telling the live audience in the recording that if they are called up for the draft, they should simply sing a line of the chorus, “You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant” and walk out of the examination to become a part of the Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacree Movement.
I’m not sure why we listen to this song every Thanksgiving. Besides the start of the story taking place on Thanksgiving Day, it doesn’t have anything to do with the holiday. I know the family tradition started with my dad, and after doing some research for this recommendation, I found out a lot of radio stations still play it every Thanksgiving, so I suspect this is how it worked itself into our family. I always just assumed it was another weird song that not everyone listened to in their childhood (I’m looking at you, “Battle of New Orleans”).
So check out Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” this week, and feel like part of the counterculture. Or just part of my wacky family.