If you haven’t ever listened to or haven’t recently listened to Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant, I suggest make yourself a coffee, sit down and listen to it.
While I owned the record, I hadn’t listened to it for many years until it just appeared on a Spotify playlist I selected. Within a fraction of a second of it starting I knew exactly that it was Alice’s Restaurant and more scarily I knew every word just as though I’d only heard it the day before. It had been a regular at our Friday night singalongs in the 70s.
I thankfully was too young to be in the Vietnam Draft but knew many who were either in the Conscription ballots or were called up to serve in Vietnam, so its significance is one I understood all too well.
As the song progressed I stopped what I was doing to listen again as I ‘d done so many times before, first chuckling internally and then just laughing out aloud. And there was plenty of time to do this as its more than 18 minutes long! Too long to fit on a 45 it filled the whole of a side on an LP (Released 1967). It’s hilarious while at the same time having a pretty hard edge.
If you haven’t listened to it and want too click on the link – Alice’s Restaurant before reading on as there are spoilers below.
It is a true story Guthrie was arrested for tipping his friend Alice’s garbage over a cliff and it did make him ineligible for the draft. Imagine being ineligible to fight in a war because you tipped rubbish over a cliff. How bizarre!
It’s not just the story that makes this song but the melody. It seems so simple as Guthrie just picks away at the strings and continually returns to a very familiar melody that has you hanging in for the whole 18 plus minutes. That and the lyrics were why it became such a favourite sing along for us. Each time we listened to it we’d laugh and in my case imagine
- Woody, Alice, Ray and Facha the dog
- the VW micro bus, the garbage and the implements of destruction
- sitting on the Group W bench
- the 27 8×10 coloured glossy pictures and the paragraph on the back of each
- the judge, his seeing eye dog and the notion of blind justice
- seeing Guthrie in the “shrink”s office yelling “KILL! KILL! KILL!I could go on and on so perhaps one more
- Guthrie after having his belt taken away saying that it was unlikely he’d take his own life in response to his being taken into custody for tipping a pile of garbage over a cliff!
The temptation is to lament that no one writes songs like that anymore but I am not sure that anyone else did back then either!
Its a song of an era, now some 50 years past. I’m glad it came up on a random playlist. I have enjoyed listening to it again and then reading Arlo Guthrie’s reflections on this quite unique piece of pop culture.
If that coffee is still warm and you haven’t put it on to listen too – why don’t you?
Link to – Alice’s Restaurant