Thanksgiving is one of my favorite times of the year. It is an entirely American holiday rife with ritual and tradition. It is tradition that we eat the same food, watch football, tune into parades on TV and spend time with distant relatives who, without fail, feel entitled to make political or personal conversation at the least opportune times.
These Thanksgiving Day rituals and traditions range from the mundane to the adorable to the bizarre. One Thanksgiving Day tradition that I have always found intriguing is when classic rock radio stations play Arlo Guthries’ eighteen and a half minute war protest anthem “Alice’s Restaurant.”
If you have heard Arlo’s story and the song already then you are going to have to buckle up to hear it again. In the tradition of the weird uncle at the Thanksgiving Day dinner table I too can tell the same story over and over.
Also known as Alice’s Restaurant Masacree, the true story that Arlo retells is on Thanksgiving day in 1967, after eating Thanksgiving dinner he helps his old friend Alice by removing garbage and taking it to the dump. When they find out that the dump is closed for the holiday Guthrie and his friend find a trash pile on the side of the road and leave their garbage with the existing trash pile.
The next day they received a call from the police department asking them to go to the station to discuss the trash pile. After Arlo admits to the crime he expected a lecture from the police. Instead he and his friend are arrested and fined $50 for littering.
Next in the song and later in life Arlo was called in for a physical exam as part of the draft for the Viet Nam War. Guthrie was opposed to the war and unsuccessfully tried several ways to avoid the draft. During this exam Guthrie was asked if he ever committed a crime and when he admitted to his littering conviction the draft board deemed him unfit to serve in the military, a result that Guthrie has been trying for all along. Arlo Guthrie explains that the littering conviction may have saved his life.
In Alice’s Restaurant Arlo Guthrie urges for protest movements and clamors on about his anti-government, anti-war, antisocial message. He demands that people stand up for what they believe in and conveys his message in a sardonic, sarcastic and humorous manner. Like Thanksgiving most elements in Guthrie’s song have also become American traditions.
So, this week, when your relatives try to retell the same story and you just need a break, go to the kitchen, turn on Alice’s Restaurant, pour a glass of wine and make the best damn pumpkin pie since 1967, when Arlo Guthrie made littering history.
Do you have any songs that remind you of Thanksgiving? If so, let us know what they are and the story behind the song. But please, you only need to tell the story once.