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Music / Alice's Restaurant

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"Now, it all started two Thanksgivings ago..."

"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 American folk singer-songwriter 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 refrainnote . It's a recounting of a long-winded and exaggerated but basically true story of a young Arlo's experience one Thanksgiving. Arlo tried to do a simple favor for his friend Alice by taking her garbage to the dump, but since it was Thanksgiving Day, the dump was closed. He threw the garbage over a cliff instead after finding another pile of garbage had already been thrown down, only to be arrested and fined for littering by the trigger-happy policeman Officer Obie in the small town where it happened. His punishment was ultimately determined to be a fifty dollar fine and picking up the garbage he threw down the cliff. Later in life, Arlo ended up being judged "morally unfit" to fight in the The Vietnam War by the United States military because of this littering charge. Arlo points out the absurdity that a person with a conviction for a harmless crime is considered morally unfit to "burn women, kids, houses and villages", and ends it with an anti-war message. Or maybe a pro-common-sense message.

There is a long-standing tradition of classic rock 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 Alice's Restaurant, was based on the song. Guthrie recorded the much shorter "Alice's Rock & Roll Restaurant" in 1969, which is basically "The Alice's Restaurant Massacree" without the talking-blues about the garbage, arrest, etc. There's even a book about the song (and more broadly the church where Alice lived) called Arlo, Alice & Anglicans: The Lives of a New England Church by Laura Lee.

No connection to Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore or its Spinoff Alice — though the title character works in a restaurant.


Side One

  1. "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" (18:20)

Side Two

  1. "Chilling of the Evening" (3:01)
  2. "Ring-Around-a-Rosy Rag" (2:10)
  3. "Now and Then" (2:15)
  4. "I'm Going Home" (3:12)
  5. "The Motorcycle Song" (2:58)
  6. "Highway in the Wind" (2:40)

He said "Kid, we found your name on an envelope at the bottom of a half a ton of tropes...":

  • Adaptation Name Change: Invoked by Guthrie when he admits that Alice's Restaurant wasn't the actual name of the restaurant (Alice Brock's restaurant was called The Back Room Rest, because it was in the back of its building).
  • 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, could have been a lot more to the point without Guthrie's Padding. However, it's the other songs on the album that actually count as this, since the whole point of the album was to be a vehicle for the Title Track, which had already gained a following through stage and radio performances.
  • 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-raping, father-stabbing, father-raping... and littering. And creating 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 sitting 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 being a litterbug.
  • 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" and threaten to sing the song for another 25 minutes if they don't shape up.
    I'm not proud... or tired...
  • Audience Participation Song:
    And remember, you wanna end war and stuff, you gotta sing loud, okay?
  • Ax-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: The events of "Alice's Restaurant" actually happened (with the garbage incident taking place on Thanksgiving 1965) and there's even evidence to prove it. Although on the song, Arlo is exaggerating a few details to make it more funny.
  • Bedsheet Ladder: The toilet paper in Arlo's cell is removed on this pretext.
  • Blind Justice: Literally, and invoked. The judge at Arlo's littering trial is blind, which thwarts Officer Obie's plan to show detailed photographs as evidence at the trial.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: To haul away the garbage, Arlo uses "shovels and rakes and implements of destruction."
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: On the Group W bench, Arlo is paired with mother rapers, father stabbers... and father rapers.
  • Brick Joke:
    • The entire title track is one. Arlo starts out telling an amusing, but seemingly pointless, tale about getting arrested for littering before moving on to talk about his experience with the draft board for the Vietnam War. And when Arlo finally meets the last man at his draft induction, they have one final question: "Have you ever been arrested?" Which requires Arlo to go back to the very beginning and start the whole story all over again.
    • After Arlo is arrested for littering, "it was about four or five hours later that Alice — remember Alice? This is a song about Alice — Alice came by."
  • Book Ends: The refrain opens and closes the title track.
  • Buffy Speak: The "cop equipment at the police officer station".
  • Comically Missing the Point: In "Alice's Restaurant", Obie arrests Arlo and his friend, only for Arlo to make a joke out of it.
    We was both immediately arrested. Handcuffed. And I said "Obie, I don't think I can pick up the garbage with these handcuffs on."
  • Confess to a Lesser Crime: Obie finds Arlo because Arlo's name was on an envelope beneath the garbage.
    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: Guthrie'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.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • Arlo mentions that Stockbridge MA, where the littering took place, had multiple police cars and officers show up, along with bomb-sniffing dogs and aerial photography. As Arlo puts it, the littering was "the biggest crime of the last fifty years" in the small town, hence why it was treated as such a big deal.
    • Throughout the song, Arlo is repeatedly incredulous that he has to go through all of this trouble for littering, considering that all he did was throw a pile of garbage on another pile of garbage. He got arrested, thrown in jail, tried in court, fined, and was made to pick up all of the garbage he threw down in the snow.
  • 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. His advice? Go up to the army psychologist, say "You can get anything you want at Alice's restaurant," and walk out.
  • Epic Rocking: The title track takes up 18 minutes and 20 seconds. Updated versions are even longer than that.
  • 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 Arlo's response of "littering", they all move away from him on the bench. But he regained their respect by adding "and creating a nuisance".
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: In the 1995 version, Arlo talks about how he was once invited to the White House during the Carter administration and was told that they'd found a copy of Alice's Restaurant in Richard Nixon's library. Then he starts thinking about how Nixon used to record everything and made sure to erase only some of it, and how there was one particular blank piece of tape that...
    I said to myself, Arlo... How many things in this world are exactly 18 minutes and 20 seconds long?!
  • Face on the Cover: Arlo, seated at a table, shown in close-up.
  • Feghoot: The first half of the story builds up whether or not Arlo is going to manage to get himself out of trouble, only to have him say that it wasn't really what he was talking about. The whole thing ends with a Brick Joke about the littering conviction.
  • 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.
    • Averted in later performances, which are usually word-for-word copied from the album, save for one instance where he actually forgot the words halfway through and starting ad-libbing to save face.
  • 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?" Truth in Television - it's routine for the police to remove belts and shoelaces when someone is detained, no matter what they were arrested for. However, it's then exaggerated for comedy when Arlo says Obie also took out the toilet seat so Arlo couldn't hit himself over the head with it and drown in the toilet.
  • 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."
    • It's not a police station, it's a "police officer station."
  • Jaywalking Will Ruin Your Life: Inverted. In this case, it quite possibly saved Arlo's life, since his littering conviction got him out of serving in the Vietnam War.
  • Lawful Stupid: Discussed. At the draft office, Arlo is asked on a questionnaire if he's rehabilitated himself for his crimes. Arlo tells the sergeant on duty that the army has "a lot of damn gall" to ask that, since the army is essentially asking if Arlo is moral enough to go onto a battlefield after being a litterbug. The sergeant on duty promptly kicks Arlo out for asking the question.
  • 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.
  • Meddlesome Patrolman: Officer Obie gets Arlo arrested for a relatively harmless crime of adding a pile of litter to another pile of litter.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Arlo suspects this might happen if two people walk into the draft board singing Alice's Resturant in harmony.
  • Motor Mouth: The Drill Sergeant Nasty who hands out the forms on the Group W bench and "talked for forty-five minutes, but nobody understood a word he said."
  • 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 motorcy... cle
  • My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting: The title track is a fierce critique of the Vietnam War, and of overly-nitpicky police and military bureaucracy. Not only does Arlo get arrested and temporarily thrown in jail for a relatively harmless crime, but it also gets him lumped in with "mother-rapers, father-stabbers, and father-rapers" at a draft office for being a litterbug. Throughout the song, Arlo is repeatedly incredulous at all of the red tape he has to deal with because he littered.
  • 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 fifty dollars. (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.
  • No Name Given: Arlo's friend who accompanied him on the trip to visit Alice, whose name in real life was Richard Robbins. Arlo Guthrie's name isn't spoken by any of the other characters either.
  • Overly Long Gag: The song itself. Guthrie often elaborates a lot of unnecessary plot details or tells the audience things he had already just told them. It also all works up to a very long Brick Joke.
  • Painful Rhyme: "The Motorcycle Song" rhymes the world "motorcycle" with tickle, pickle, and die. In the first two cases, the word "cycle" is pronounced "sickle."
  • Poke the Poodle: Deconstructed. In "Alice's Restaurant", Arlo and his friend commit the heinous crime of littering by throwing a pile of garbage on top of another pile of garbage at the bottom of a fifteen-foot cliff. For this, the small town where it happened arrested Arlo and sent him on quite an ordeal, to which Arlo speculates that it was one of the few things that actually happened in this small town worth talking about.
  • 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," though in its first occurrence, Arlo says "five-part harmony."
    • A number of people "walked in, sat down."
    • Arlo bears witness to a lot of "mean, nasty, ugly" things and people.
    • The evidence against Arlo in his littering charge is always referred to as "twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one," sometimes adding "explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us."
  • Secondary Character Title: Though he says at the outset that the song is about Alice and the restaurant, Alice's only real involvement is that everything is set in motion by Arlo and his friend deciding to do a favor for Alice and her husband, and the restaurant itself isn't actually relevant to the story at all beyond giving a bit of background on Alice.
  • Self-Deprecation: Despite being an anti-war song, Arlo pokes fun at the idea of a song ending a war in the recorded version:
(After the Audience Participation Failure.) "That was horrible. If you want to end war and stuff, you got to sing loud."
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: After entertaining the audience with his saga dealing with the littering charge, Arlo says "that's not what I came to tell you about. I came to talk about the draft."
    • In-story as well, seeing how much effort the police put into twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, only to see the judge and his seeing-eye dog.
  • A Simple Plan: All Arlo and his friend were planning to do was take a bunch of garbage to a dump. It ended up getting the two of them arrested, as well as getting Arlo out of the Vietnam War by being lumped in with other criminals.
  • Skewed Priorities: Arlo points out how the army has "a lot of damn gall" to question if he's morally fit to go to the Vietnam War because of a littering charge. When he points this out to the sergeant, the sergeant rejects Arlo for draft service.
  • 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...
  • Springtime for Hitler: Arlo rants about how he wants to "Kill! KILL!" in front of the draft board psychologist, hoping they'll find him too unstable to enlist. All that does is make the sergeant like Arlo even more, sending him down the hall saying "You're our boy!"
  • Take a Third Option: Lampshaded. Officer Obie does this when Arlo and his friend show up at the police station on their littering charge. Arlo expects that Obie will either give them a medal for being honest about the crime (not likely), or bawl them out with a warning and tell them to never drive garbage nearby again (which is what Arlo expected to happen). Instead, "there was a third possibility that we hadn't even counted upon:" they got arrested.
  • Thanksgiving Day Story: "Alice's Restaurant" opens on this day. Which is also an important plot point as the city dump appears to be closed on Thanksgiving, causing Guthrie and his friend 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: "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 and/or disgusted 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 — Alice came by.