Sunday, March 2, 2014

Arlo Guthrie and the Alice's Restaurant Massacree

Image from MTV

The son of Woody Guthrie, a folk singer of an earlier era, Arlo came to prominence in the late sixties with his tragicomic anti-war ballad, Alice's Restaurant.

One of this song's claims to fame was the fact that it was over 25 minutes long. Alice, living in the bell tower of the church, hosts a Thanksgiving dinner "that can't be beat" and as a gesture of goodwill, the narrator and his buddy take away half a ton of garbage for her.

Finding the dump closed for Thanksgiving, they drive off  "into the sunset looking for a place to put the garbage." When they drop it over a bank, they get cited for littering and have to go to court, where they get fined $50 and have to "pick up the garbage in the snow."

But this song, he tells us, is about the draft, and goes into a hilarious story of being called up. He recounts the dramatic failure of his ploy to get the draft board to think him mentally unsuitable to be a soldier, then tells of getting "inspected, injected, detected, infected, neglected and selected." And fingerprinted.

Here he raises the question. What if, instead of meekly allowing themselves to be drafted, inductees went in there and sang a bar of Alice's Restaurant? If one person does it, they would think he was crazy. But if three people go before the sergeant and sing a bar of Alice's Restaurant, "they might think it's an organization," and if fifty or more do so, it becomes a movement.

He invites the audience to join this anti-war protest, and exhorts them to sing loud, saying, "if you want to end war and stuff" you have to sing it "with four-part harmony and feeling."

In 2005, Arlo sang his classic song again at the Guthrie Centre in New York. He's still touring and his concert dates can be seen here.

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