Song Of The Week: “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” by Arlo Guthrie

In the previous SOTW, I told you it would be easy to participate in these posts since you only have to listen to one song and you can certainly make time to listen to one measly song, right? A whole album requires some serious minutes and no small amount of attention, so I understand if you can’t listen to the entirety of J. Roddy Walston & The Business (not really, I’m lying, go, go now and listen!) but c’mon, these are just single-serving songs, my homies!

So why, you might ask, have I decided to show up this week with an 18-minute folk hippy opus, performed live by one guy and his acoustic guitar with minimal accompaniment, that’s not particularly about a woman named Alice, or her restaurant, at all?

Well, I happened to play this song a few days ago and got to figuring, if you’re under, say, 50 years of age, you may never have heard this counterculture classic — it’s not like it gets played on the radio or used in TV and movie soundtracks. And if you’re over 50, unless you own the album, when’s the last time you heard, or even thought about, “Alice’s Restaurant”? When Nixon was president? Johnson? Probably.

The song, or “comic monologue” if you prefer, has dated a bit due to its discussion of Vietnam and resisting the draft, though only slightly so (the use of the word “groovy,” of course, slams it straight back to 1967). But Arlo Guthrie is an amiable narrator whose good humor and fine storytelling skills make the song seem shorter than its epic Beowulfian length would suggest.

Some may bristle a bit about the topic of trying to get out of military duty but Arlo was a pacifist and his father Woody, you may recall, was just slightly to the left of liberal. It was a different time, and in a larger sense, the story isn’t really about escaping from the Army but rather it’s about putting one over on “The Man,” whether intentionally or not, and the general stupidity, hypocrisy, and silliness of said “Man,” and we can all associate with that. So think of the narrator as Charlie Chaplin, maybe, or Bugs Bunny. Ahhhh…what’s up, doc? Antiestablishmentarianism and the resulting humor inherent in systematically agitating the system which seeks to victimize the antiestablishmentarianist . . . in 4/4 time.

It also happens to be a true, if slightly exaggerated, story. So sing along when Arlo tells you to and maybe we can send a message to Tricky Dick. Oh, one last thing, Woodsy Owl says to give a hoot, don’t pollute . . . ya dirty hippy.

Arlo Guthrie – Alice’s Restaurant Massacre

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