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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 favour for his friend Alice by getting rid of waste from her restaurant, 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.

"The Alice's Restaurant Massacree" provides examples of:

  • 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 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
  • Bedsheet Ladder: See Crazy-Prepared below.
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: Mother Rapers, Father Stabbers... Father Rapers.
  • Brick Joke: 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.
    • In truth, the whole song is one long 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 ...
  • 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."
  • 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."
  • 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
  • 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".
  • 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
  • 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.
  • Protest Song
  • 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.
  • Shaggy Dog Story
  • Shaped Like Itself
  • Take a Third Option: Lampshaded. Officer Obie does this when Arlo and his friends show up at the police station.
  • Thanksgiving Day Story
  • Unintentional Period Piece: In so many ways. The song deals with The Vietnam War, the draft, and the fact that homosexuality disqualified people from military service at the time.
  • What Are You in For?
  • 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

21st Century BreakdownAlbums IndexThriller
The Grateful DeadThe SixtiesGeorge Harrison

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