Music: 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 restaurantnote "Alice's Restaurant
is the name of a 1967 album by Arlo Guthrie
. The lead song on the album is officially named "The Alice's Restaurant Massacree", but is frequently also called "Alice's Restaurant".
The song is talking-blues-style with a sung refrain,note
recounting the long-winded (18 minutes!) and exaggerated but basically true story of how a young Arlo Guthrie did a simple favor for his friend Alice by trying to take her garbage to the dump, only to be arrested and fined for littering, and later being judged "morally unfit" to be shipped off to fight in Vietnam. Arlo points out the absurdity that a person with a littering conviction is considered morally unfit to go to war and "burn women, kids, houses and villages", and ends it with an anti-war message.
There is a long-standing tradition of radio stations playing the song on Thanksgiving Day
, because the littering incident takes place on that holiday (and, originally, because the song is so long that it gave the DJ on duty time to slip off and gobble down some food).
The song was originally intended to be one of a series (none actually titled "Alice's Restaurant"), but apart from follow-ups to the Massacree — of which there have been several, including one reporting that Richard Nixon
is said to have owned a copy of the original album and noting the coincidence that the famous missing section of the Watergate tapes is also 18 minutes long — there has only been one released, the even longer "Alice's Restaurant: Before Time Began" (aka, depending on the album, "The Alice's Restaurant Multi-Colored Rainbow Roach Affair").
A 1969 film, also called Alices Restaurant
, was based on the song.
- "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" (18:20)
- "Chilling of the Evening" (3:01)
- "Ring-Around-a-Rosy Rag" (2:10)
- "Now and Then" (2:15)
- "I'm Going Home" (3:12)
- "The Motorcycle Song" (2:58)
- "Highway in the Wind" (2:40)
- Added Alliterative Appeal: "Chilling Of The Evening"
A song is sounding, softly singing
- Album Filler: The Title Track, which is a funny story in its own right, but could have been a lot more to the point, without Guthrie's Padding.
- The All-American Boy:
I looked and felt my best when I went in that morning, cause I wanted to look like the all-American kid from New York City, man
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Or in this case, mother-rape, father-stabbing, father-raping... and littering.
- ...and creatin' a nuisance.
- Also when Arlo tells the recruiting sergeant his objections:
I went over to the sergeant and said, "Sergeant, you got a lot a damn gall to ask me if I've rehabilitated myself, I mean...I mean...I mean that just, I'm sittin' here on the bench, I mean I'm sittin here on the Group W bench, 'cause you wanna know if I'm moral enough to join the army and burn women, kids, houses and villages after bein' a litterbug.
- Artistic License – Law: The court hearing is two days after Thanksgiving - which is to say, Saturday, when most courts do not hold session.
- Audience Participation Failure: On the recorded version, Guthrie's first attempt to get the audience to sing the chorus is too quiet. He even remarks "that was horrible."
- Audience Participation Song:
And remember, you wanna end war and stuff, you gotta sing loud, okay?
- Axe Crazy: Arlo acts this way in an attempt to get the army psychiatrist to exempt him from duty:
I walked in and said, "Shrink, I wanna kill..."
- Based on a True Story: Guthrie claimed the events actually happened, though he is clearly making a few scenes more exaggarated to play it for laughs.
- Bedsheet Ladder: The toilet paper in Arlo's cell is removed on this pretext.
- Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: Mother Rapers, Father Stabbers... Father Rapers.
- Brick Joke: Arlo starts out telling an amusing, but seemingly pointless, tale about getting arrested for littering before moving on to talk about his draft experience. And when he finally meets the "last man" at his draft induction, he's told they have one final question: "Have you ever been arrested?" Which requires him to go back to the very beginning ...
- Comically Missing the Point: "Alice's Restaurant"
Now friends, there was only one or two things that Obie coulda done at the police station, and the first was he could have given us a medal for being so brave and honest on the telephone, which wasn't very likely, and we didn't expect it, and the other thing was he could have bawled us out and told us never to be see driving garbage around the vicinity again, which is what we expected, but when we got to the police officer's station there was a third possibility that we hadn't even counted upon, and we was both immediately arrested. Handcuffed. And I said "Obie, I don't think I can pick up the garbage with these handcuffs on." He said, "Shut up, kid. Get in the back of the patrol car."
- Confess to a Lesser Crime:
Yes sir, Officer Obie, I cannot tell a lie: I put that envelope under that garbage.
- Crazy-Prepared: Officer Obie takes the toilet paper out of Arlo's cell so that he can't "bend the bars, roll the paper out the window, slide down the roll and have an escape."
- Dashingly Dapper Derby: Alice's bowler hat on the cover.
- Department of Redundancy Department:
This song is called Alice's Restaurant, and it's about Alice, and the Restaurant. But Alice's Restaurant is not the name of the restaurant. That's just the name of the song, and that's why I called the song Alice's Restaurant.
- Double Standard: Rape, Male on Male: Incidentally; Guthrie mentions that other people judged unfit to serve included "mother rapers... father stabbers... father rapers". On the live recording, this gets a laugh.
- Draft Dodging: Not actually what Guthrie does in the song, but the only reason he's telling this story is so that you'll know how to dodge the draft.
- Epic Rocking: The title track takes up more than 18 minutes.
- Even Evil Has Standards: When Arlo describes being sent to the Group W bench (for those who possibly "may not be moral enough to join the Army") full of "mother-rapers, father-stabbers, and father-rapers", one of them ask him why he's there. When they hear his response "littering", they all move away from him on the bench. But he regained their respect by adding "And creating a nuisance".
- Face on the Cover: Arlo, seated at a table, shown in close-up.
- Fortune Teller: "Highway In The Wind"
The fortune teller tells me that I have somewhere to go
Look and try to understand and wonder how she knows
- Improv: "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" is largely improvised, which explains why Guthrie sometimes starts padding about minor plot details.
- Incorruptible Pure Pureness: "Alice's Restaurant"
When we got a phone call from officer Obie he said: "Kid, we found your name on an envelope at the bottom of a half a ton of garbage, and just wanted to know if you had any information about it." And I said, "Yes, sir, Officer Obie, I cannot tell a lie, I put that envelope under that garbage."
- Insane Troll Logic: Obie takes Arlo's wallet so he doesn't have any money to spend in jail, but also takes his belt because he doesn't want any hangings. Arlo even says, "Obie, did you think I was gonna hang myself for littering?"
- Insistent Terminology:
- The "twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us."
- The "shovels and rakes and implements of destruction."
- Literal Metaphor: The judge that Arlo and his friend are called before is vision-impaired, making this, as Arlo puts it:
A typical case of American blind justice.
- Listing The Forms Of Degenerates: In both the film and the song, Arlo Guthrie presents a list of the people he met in prison: "mother rapers... father stabbers... father rapers" before reminding the audience that he was simply there for littering.
- Littering Will Ruin Your Life (or in this case, quite possibly saved it.)
- Meddlesome Patrolman: Officer Obie.
- Mundane Made Awesome: "Motorcycle Song"
I don't want a pickle
I just want to ride on my motorcycle
Yeah, and I don't want a tickle
'Cause I'd rather ride on my motorcycle
And I don't want to die
Just want to ride on my motorcycle
- My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting: The title track is a fierce critique of the Vietnam War and the police and military bureaucratism.
Obie came to the realization that it was a typical case of American blind justice and there was nothing he could do about it.
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Arlo starts out trying to help a neighbor haul away her garbage and winds up arrested for littering, taken to court, and fined $50. (Well, $25 for him and $25 for the friend arrested with him.)
- Subverted in that it got him ultimately rewarded with an opportunity not to go to 'Nam to kill people.
- Overly Long Gag: Used often in the song, also arguably the song itself. Guthrie often elaborates a lot of unneccessary plot details or tells the audience things he had already just told them.
- Protest Song: "Alice's Restaurant Massacre" is aimed at the Vietnam War.
- Rhymes on a Dime: "Alice's Restaurant Massacre"
They got a building down New York City, it's called Whitehall Street, where you walk in, you get injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected and selected.
- Running Gag:
- Any character in the story who speaks directly to Arlo addresses him as "Kid." Even the form that the occupants of the Group W bench have to fill out.
- "Four-part harmony"
- A number of people "walked in, sat down."
- Shaggy Dog Story: It all works to a punchline that will make you groan.
- The Something Song: "The Motorcycle Song".
- Smoking Is Cool: "Alice's Restaurant"
And everything was fine, we was smoking cigarettes and all kinds of things
- Take a Third Option: Lampshaded. Officer Obie does this when Arlo and his friends show up at the police station.
- Thanksgiving Day Story: "Alice's Restaurant" takes place on this day. Which is also an important plot point as the city dump appears to be closed on that date, causing Guthrie and his girlfriend to decide to just litter the garbage they brought along with them.
Now it all started two Thanksgivings ago...
- There's No Place Like Home: "I'm Going Home"
Now my friends it's time to go
And this love will live to grow
And I want you all to know
I'm going home
- Time Marches On: In so many ways. "Alice's Restaurant" deals with The Vietnam War, the draft, and the fact that homosexuality disqualified people from military service at the time.
- Title Track: "Alice's Restaurant"
- What Are You in For?: The criminals ask Arlo this and are frightened that he is a litterer, despite them themselves being murderers and rapists.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Averted
And it was about four or five hours later that Alice — remember Alice? This is a song about Alice — came by