So you either know this song, or you have no idea what I’m talking about. This particular track has become a Thanksgiving classic. But it’s only tie to the holiday is that the beginning of the story takes place at Thanksgiving, but as Arlo says; “That’s not what I came to tell you about”. The true message of the song is anti-draft and against the Vietnam conflict.
I am, of course, talking about the classic “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree“. The song was originally released in October of 1967. I don’t think I heard it until 1974 or so. Since the song is long (over 18 minutes), it wouldn’t fit on a 45 RPM single, and therefore was never released for airplay. It would take the advent of the “AOR” (Album Oriented Radio) format, a precursor to today’s “Classic Rock” format (Oh! How I hate that term) for radio to start playing longer tracks like this. Think Iron Butterfly’s iconic “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida“.
Alice’s Restaurant is based on a true story. Arlo Guthrie, like a lot of folks at that time, resisted the draft. I don’t totally blame those that did resist. Even though I went on to join the military and eventually retire from the Army, the prospect of going to Vietnam was not something I was looking forward to. But I was too young for the draft.
The moral behind the song is summed up in one line;
The ironic punch line of the story is that, in the words of Guthrie, “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.”
What I find is that in all my years in the military, I served alongside plenty of folks that had much worse than being a litterbug on their records. In the end, Arlo was not drafted. And though the draft board used this arrest as the reason not to draft him, I think was more that his dad, Woody Guthrie, also a singer-songwriter, and a political activist, that had more to do with it. They just didn’t want a potential disturbance in the ranks.
So, go grab you a beverage, and a snack, and sit back and listen to the tale of Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.
Oh! And have a wonderful Thanksgiving tomorrow (if you’re here in the USA). Otherwise, just have a great Thursday!