A Thanksgiving Tradition: Celebrating 55 Years Of Arlo Guthrie’s ‘Alice’s Restaurant Massacree’

Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” is a Thanksgiving weekend tradition started more than 50 years ago.

By Jeffrey Greenblatt Nov 25, 2021 5:30 am PST

  • 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

Arlo Guthrie – “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree”

Thanksgiving is a holiday filled with traditions as people across the United States come together for some combination of food, football and family, while also reflecting on what they’re truly thankful for. It’s a holiday that is also tied into two very specific musical traditions – The Last Waltz – The Band’s star-studded farewell concert that famously took place on Thanksgiving Day in 1976 and Arlo Guthrie‘s 18-plus minute anti-establishment, anti-war ode “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.”

The song, which takes up the entire A-side of Guthrie’s 1967 debut album, circuitously tells the true story of his Thanksgiving Day experience in 1965, and how his arrest for littering eventually got him cleared from serving in the Vietnam War. The tune is a winding tale that begins with a good deed gone awry and details the hilariously overzealous efforts of Officer Obie and his “27 eight-by-10 color glossy pictures” to bring a conviction against Guthrie and his friend for illegally dumping trash. The story-song takes a sharp turn when at the midpoint Guthrie reveals the true intent of writing the tune was to protest the conflict in Vietnam.

The second half of the song finds Guthrie detailing his experience in front of the draft board in New York City. Despite his best efforts to convince the U.S. Army, he was unfit for service, it was his aforementioned arrest and $25 fine for littering that eventually helped him evade being sent off to battle. As Guthrie wraps up his story, he implores listeners that may find themselves in a similar situation to start a social protest movement and to sing the song’s chorus, which he finally gets to after nearly 17-minutes of telling his tale.

Now a half-century-plus after its release, Arlo’s message of the power of socio-political protest rings just as true today as it did in 1967. At its heart, the song is about standing up for what you believe in and inspiring others to do the same in the form of peaceful protest.

On its 54th anniversary find some time this Thanksgiving weekend to listen to arguably Guthrie’s best-known song. Share it with those that may have forgotten its actual meaning and message or with someone that’s never heard it before, and perhaps even go out and start a new “Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacree Movement.”

Arlo Guthrie announced his retirement in October of 2020. However, airings of “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” will forever be a Thanksgiving tradition.

[Originally Published: November 26, 2018]

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