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|"Alice's Restaurant Massacree"|
|Song by Arlo Guthrie from the album Alice's Restaurant|
|Genre||Talking blues, folk music|
|"Alice's Restaurant Massacree"|
|Song by Arlo Guthrie from the album Alice's Restaurant|
|Genre||Talking blues, folk music|
"Alice's Restaurant Massacree", commonly known as "Alice's Restaurant", is a musical monologue by singer-songwriter Arlo Guthrie, released on his 1967 debut album Alice's Restaurant. The song is one of Guthrie's most prominent works, based on a true incident from his life that began on Thanksgiving Day 1965, and which inspired a 1969 movie of the same name. Apart from the chorus which begins and ends it, the "song" is in fact a spoken monologue, with ragtime guitar backing.
Though the song's official title, as printed on the album, is "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" (pronounced with a long e sound at the end), Guthrie states in the opening line of the song that "This song's called 'Alice's Restaurant'" and that "'Alice's Restaurant'... is just the name of the song;" as such, the shortened title is the one most commonly used for the song today.
In an interview for All Things Considered, Guthrie said the song points out that any American citizen who was convicted of a crime, no matter how minor (in his case, it was littering), could avoid being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War.
The Alice in the song was restaurant-owner Alice Brock, who in 1964 used $2,000 supplied by her mother to purchase a deconsecrated church in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where Alice and her husband Ray would live. It was here rather than at the restaurant—which came later—where the song's Thanksgiving dinners were actually held.
The song lasts 18 minutes and 34 seconds, occupying the entire A-side of the Alice's Restaurant album. Guthrie, in a 2014 interview with Rolling Stone leading up to the 50th anniversary of the original incident, noted that such extended monologues were extremely rare in an era when singles were typically less than three minutes in length; because of this, he never expected the song to be released, much less become a Thanksgiving tradition. It is notable as a satirical, first-person account of 1960s counterculture, in addition to being a hit song in its own right. The final part of the song is an encouragement for the listeners to sing along, to resist the draft, and to end war, although Guthrie later pointed out that he believes that there are such things as just wars and that his message was targeted at the Vietnam War in particular. Guthrie was inspired by the long-form monologues of Lord Buckley and Bill Cosby when writing the song's lyrics and by a number of different musicians in writing the accompaniment.
"Alice's Restaurant" recounts Guthrie's true, but comically exaggerated, Thanksgiving Day adventure as a satirical, deadpan protest against the Vietnam War draft. On November 25, 1965, the 18-year-old Guthrie, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts on Thanksgiving break from college in Montana, and his friend Richard Robbins, 19, were arrested by police officer William "Obie" Obanhein for illegally dumping some of Alice's garbage in the nearby town of Stockbridge after discovering that the Great Barrington town dump was closed for the holiday. Two days later, they pleaded guilty in court before a blind judge, James E. Hannon. The song describes to ironic effect the arresting officer's frustration at this "typical case of American blind justice", in which the officer was prepared to present "27 8×10 color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us", only to have the judge enter the courtroom accompanied by a seeing-eye dog. In the end, Guthrie and Robbins were fined $50 and told to pick up the garbage.
The song goes on to describe Guthrie's being called up for the draft and the surreal bureaucracy at the New York City induction center at 39 Whitehall Street. Guthrie's first stop is a physical examination, which he passes despite the lingering effects of getting drunk the night before. Guthrie is then sent for a psychological examination; in an attempt to portray himself as insane, he tells the psychiatrist that he is homicidal, which (to Guthrie's disappointment) earns him praise from both the psychiatrist and a passing sergeant. In the final line of questioning before induction, the officer asks Guthrie about any record of arrests. Guthrie tells the story of the littering incident, which proves significant enough a criminal offense that it could bar him from military service. He is sent to the Group W bench, where draftees with criminal records have to explain, in writing, the details of their crime in order to qualify for a moral waiver. 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." The officer rejects Guthrie for military service, declaring "we don't like your kind," and sends "a study in black and white" of Guthrie's fingerprints to Washington (thus hinting at the then-active but still secret COINTELPRO project; public knowledge about COINTELPRO, which investigated numerous Vietnam protesters in the 1960s, would not become known until 1971).
In the final part of the song, Guthrie tells the live audience that should they (or someone they know) find themselves facing the draft, the draftee should walk into the military psychiatrist's office and sing, "Shrink, you can get anything you want at Alice's restaurant," and walk out. Guthrie notes that the military would not take it seriously unless "fifty people a day" followed Guthrie's instructions, at which point they would realize that it was "the Alice's Restaurant Anti-Massacree Movement". He then instructs the audience to sing along with him as he performs the chorus, afterward playfully declares to the audience "that was horrible", and buoyantly demands they do it again, which ends the record.
"Alice's Restaurant" was first performed publicly with Guthrie singing live on New York radio station WBAI one evening in 1967. The song proved so popular that for months afterward the non-commercial station rebroadcast it only when listeners pledged to donate a large amount of money. It has become a tradition for many classic rock radio stations to play the song each Thanksgiving. At one point in the song, Guthrie notes that if two draftees sing the line in harmony the military will consider them "faggots" (a slur less acceptable in modern parlance than it was in 1967) and, because open homosexuals were not allowed in the armed forces until 2012, reject them as soldiers. The song is nonetheless always presented uncut and the Federal Communications Commission has never punished any radio station for playing the song.
The original album rose to #17 on the Billboard chart. The song itself was far too long to be released (or even fit) on a 45 rpm single, and so never made the Billboard Hot 100 (because of this, Billboard classifies Guthrie as a one-hit wonder for his later hit, "City of New Orleans," without regard to his success with "Alice's Restaurant"). Two years after the album came out, Guthrie released "Alice's Rock & Roll Restaurant" as a single—a much shorter (4:43) tune that incorporated the chorus, removed the entire monologue, used a significantly different arrangement, and added extra verses (all of which do little but advertise the restaurant). It peaked at #97 on the Billboard singles chart.
After the release of the original album, Guthrie continued to perform the song in concert, frequently revising and updating the lyrical content. In 1969, for instance, he performed a 20-minute rendition of the song which (instead of the original narrative) told a fictional story on how Russian and Chinese military operatives attempted to weaponize "multicolored rainbow roaches" they had found at Alice's restaurant, and how the United States defended itself. A recording of this version, given the title "Alice: Before Time Began", was released in 2009 on a CD distributed by Guthrie's own Rising Son Records label. By the late 1970s, Guthrie had removed the song from his regular concert repertoire, cutting it back to the point where he only performed it every ten years, usually coinciding with the anniversary of either the song or the incident. Guthrie again updated "Alice's Restaurant" years later to protest Reagan-era policies, but this version has not been released on a commercial recording. He sang a third version during the George W. Bush administration, which was recorded and released by the Kerrville Folk Festival.
Guthrie later wrote a follow-up recounting how he learned that Richard Nixon had owned a copy of the song, and he jokingly suggested that this explained the famous 18½ minute gap in the Watergate tapes. Guthrie re-recorded his entire debut album for his 1997 CD Alice's Restaurant: The Massacree Revisited, on the Rising Son label, which includes this expanded version. In 2005, Guthrie released the single "The Alice's Restaurant Multi-Colored Rainbow Roach Affair".
"Alice" was restaurant owner Alice Brock, who with husband Ray Brock lived in a former church in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where the song's Thanksgiving dinners were actually held. The restaurant is currently Theresa’s Stockbridge Cafe on 40 Main Street in Stockbridge, located in back of a row of stores, as stated in the song lyrics. Alice was a painter and designer, while Ray was an architect and woodworker. Both worked at a nearby private academy, the music and art-oriented Stockbridge School, from which Guthrie (then of the Queens, New York City neighborhood of Howard Beach) had graduated. Alice Brock went on to live in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and owns an art studio and gallery at 69 Commercial Street. She was diagnosed with emphysema in the mid-1990s. She illustrated the 2004 children's book Mooses Come Walking, written by Guthrie.
In 1969, Random House published The Alice's Restaurant Cookbook (ISBN 039440100X) which featured recipes and hippie wisdom from Alice Brock, as well as photos of Alice and Guthrie, and publicity stills from the movie. A tear-out record was included in the book with Brock and Guthrie bantering on two tracks, "Italian-Type Meatballs" and "My Granma's Beet Jam".
|This , except for one footnote, needs additional citations for verification. (December 2011)|
The church, originally built as the St. James Chapel in 1829, was enlarged in 1866 and renamed Trinity Church. Ray and Alice Brock purchased the property in 1964 and made it their home. The building has had several owners since the early 1970s.
In 1991, Guthrie bought the church that had served as Alice and Ray Brock's former home, at 4 Van Deusenville Road, Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and converted it to the Guthrie Center, a nondenominational, interfaith meeting place.
The church's exterior is covered with white vinyl siding with the original cornerstone dedications still intact. There are two public entrances, a ramp for guests with disabilities on the side of the building and another consisting of two large wooden doors. The entrance from the side leads directly into the chapel. The front entrance leads into a living room with couches and a kitchen to the left. Bathrooms are located down a straight hallway to the right. Above this hallway is a sign that reads "One God — Many Forms / One River — Many Streams / One People — Many Faces / One Mother — Many Children -Ma".
In the main chapel area is a stage on which Officer Obie's chair sits as a reminder of the arrest. In the rear of the chapel is a set of stairs and a loft area. A set of private rooms in which Alice and Ray once lived remains.
In later years, the Guthrie Center became a folk music venue, hosting a Thursday evening hootenanny as well as the Troubadour Concert series annually from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Musical guests have included John Gorka, Tom Paxton, Ellis Paul, Tom Rush, The Highwaymen folk group and, of course, Arlo Guthrie. The Troubadour series helps to support the church's free community lunch program which is held at the church every Wednesday at noon. On Thanksgiving, the church hosts a "Thanksgiving dinner that can't be beat" for the local community. The annual "Garbage Trail Walk", retracing the steps of Arlo and folksinger Rick Robbins (as told in the song), raises money for Huntington's Disease research.
The song was adapted into the 1969 movie Alice's Restaurant, directed and co-written by Arthur Penn and starring Guthrie as himself, Pat Quinn as Alice Brock and James Broderick as Ray Brock, with William Obanhein ("Officer Obie") and Judge James Hannon appearing as themselves and the real Alice making a cameo appearance.
The movie was released on August 19, 1969, a few days after Guthrie had appeared at the Woodstock Festival. A soundtrack album for the film was also released by United Artists Records. The soundtrack includes a studio version of the "Massacree", which was originally divided into two parts (one for each album side); a compact disc reissue on the Rykodisc label presents this version of the song in full and adds several bonus tracks to the original LP.