SLOAN: It ain’t the same without Arlo and “Alice”
Thanksgiving, like most holidays, is steeped in tradition. There are certain things you have to experience - eat, do, smell, see, or listen to – or it’s simply not the same. You know what I’m talking about.
When it comes to Turkey Day, the “must” list will include lots of food favorites.
The bird (baked, fried, smoked or grilled) is a sure bet to be on nearly every list. Then there’s all the fixin’s that go along with the holiday feat: stuffing or dressing, collards, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, yams or sweet taters, pecan or pumpkin pie. Everybody has their favorite.
The “must-do” list might include an early morning 5K, a pick-up touch football game with friends, raking leaves, or maybe even a little pre-Black Friday shopping. For some, it might be putting up a Christmas tree.
There’s a very good chance that football (college or NFL) and the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will appear on the majority of “must-see” lists. Visiting relatives is guaranteed to be on most people’s list. You just have to go see Meemaw and Papaw, right?
These are but a few of the “musts” associated with Thanksgiving.
Me? I can do without most all of the aforementioned stuff. The food? If push came to shove, a Swanson TV dinner would suffice. No TV? No big deal. Visiting relatives? No close ones left, save my daughter and grandkids. Shopping? You’re kidding, right?
There is one thing, though, you would find on my “must” list: Thanksgiving just ain’t Thanksgiving without Arlo and Alice.
For those with the puzzled looks on your face, I speak of singer/songwriter Arlo Guthrie and his positively profound, paradoxically prophetic, peculiar yet passionate, particularly poignant anti-war, anti-littering, anti-establishment protest piece called the “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.”
Still no clue? Then I will proceed to tell you the story of the Alice's Restaurant Massacree (with full orchestration and five-part harmony). Not really. You’ll have to listen to the full 18 and a halftime minute true-life story put to music – well, sort of – to get the complete picture (one of 27 eight-by-ten color glossy photos with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back). After you’ve listened to the song, find the movie. Why, if more people listen to the song and watch the movie we might even start a movement – an Alice's Restaurant Anti-Massacree Movement.
But seriously, let me try to tell you the story. The song was originally released in 1967. It takes up the entire “B” side of Guthrie’s debut album. 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.
In Arlo’s deadpan delivery, the whole story seems like a hippie-dippy fairy tale, but most of what happens in it is true. Guthrie’s littering made the local paper one fateful Thanksgiving of 1965. Years later he said, “In the song it happens in 20 minutes. In real life, it took about a year
In 1969, Elkins Entertainment contacted Arlo about making a movie about the song. In 1969, the film was released with Arlo, who had no acting experience, playing himself.
Neither the song nor the film received critical or financial success. Over the years, however, it has somehow amassed a huge cult following. It’s become a “Thanksgiving Classic,” although the only connection to the holiday is that the story occurs on or around Turkey Day. It’s sort of like deciding whether or not “Diehard” is a Christmas movie.
I’d venture to say that not a Thanksgiving has passed over the last 30 years in which I have not listened to the “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” at least once. It would just not be the same without taking a seat on the “Group W” bench with Arlo.
Before you pull your chair up to the table for a Thanksgiving dinner that can’t be beat, give a listen to “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” and remember to sing along (with feeling) the next time it comes around on the guitar:
“You can get anything you want at Alice's restaurant
You can get anything you want at Alice's restaurant Walk right in,
it's around the back
Just a half a mile from the railroad track
You can get anything you want at Alice's restaurant”
Contact Editor Bob Sloan at editor@florence newsjournal.com.