Arlo Guthrie

Arlo Guthrie & His Long Forgotten Masterpiece

Arlo Guthrie might not be a name you know well, or at all but he wrote one of the most wonderfully political and hilarious songs of the last century. Alice’s Restaurant Massacree more commonly known as Alice’s Restaurant was released in 1967. This song has been played very regularly in my grandparent’s house and now my own, It’s a song I definitely get people to listen to in order to gauge if I will vibe with them. It’s a wild ride of a song.

Guthrie refers to the incident as a “massacree“, a colloquialism originating in the Ozark Mountains that describes “an event so wildly and improbably and baroquely messed up that the results are almost impossible to believe”. It is a corruption of the word massacre, but carries a much lighter and more sarcastic connotation, rather than describing anything involving actual death.

Who Is Arlo Guthrie?

Guthrie might be a name you know especially if you are into folk music, Arlo is the son of the legendary Woody Guthrie. He was born on 10th July 1947 and is the fifth of eight children, but the oldest surviving child. His father passed away in 1967 from Huntington’s disease, it would also take the lives of two of his older half-sisters. This wasn’t the only tragedies to befall the Guthrie’s with an older half-brother dying in a train accident, a sister who perished in a car accident, and another sister not making it past childhood.

He continued in the tradition of his father by becoming a folk singer-songwriter focusing on protest songs and social injustice through the art of storytelling.

“I can remember all of your smiles during the demonstrations … and together we sang our victory songs though we were worlds apart.”

Prologue | Arlo Guthrie |1979

For the first 20 years of his career, he was left-leaning when it came to politics being anti-war, anti-Nixon, pro-drugs, and in favor of making nuclear power illegal. In recent years Guthrie has explained that his political views are a little more nuanced, that despite being a member of the republican party in 2008 that didn’t mean he was a bad guy. He explained:

We had enough good Democrats. We needed a few more good Republicans. We needed a loyal opposition.

ArloRetouch 3

Guthrie now identifies as an Independent as of 2016, he personally liked Bernie Sanders but refused to endorse any candidate during the US presidential election of that year. he has gone on to be vocally against Trump and his administration, reminding people that he hasn’t been a republican for years and that sometimes even he gets things wrong. Sometimes it’s ok to change your mind when presented with different facts and opinions.

Along with expressing his support for the George Floyd protest in 2020 Guthrie brought a church in 1991 and created an interfaith meeting place known as the Guthrie Center. This place shows that you can make a difference in your community, they provide free lunches and support for families living with HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening illnesses. They also host a summertime concert series, a Walk-A-Thon to help raise funds to Cure Huntington’s, and of course a “Thanksgiving Dinner That Can’t Be Beat”.

The last one mentioned is a sly little nod to one of his best songs and is specifically put on for the family, friends, doctors, and scientists, as well as those with Huntington’s, who work tirelesssley towards a cure, who support those effected and those who go through it.

On 23rd October 2020, Arlo Guthrie announced his retirement from touring and making music owing to a series of strokes he had experienced.

A folksinger’s shelf life may be a lot longer than a dancer or an athlete, but at some point, unless you’re incredibly fortunate or just plain whacko (either one or both) it’s time to hang up the ‘Gone Fishing’ sign. Going from town to town and doing stage shows, remaining on the road is no longer an option.

Why Is Alice’s Restaurant Such A Masterpiece?

This is a very good question so let me explain, if you like some good humor that is satirical in nature and has political undertones then this might be the song for you. An 18-minute masterpiece of spoken word blues and folk that protests the military draft and the Vietnam War, Arlo Guthrie infuses this with his own stories and real-life experiences, if not comically exaggerated in places.

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This story is about a time when an 18-year-old Guthrie and his friend dumped trash illegally, also known as fly-tipping, one Thanksgiving weekend. Alice’s Restaurant is an actual place that was owned by a friend of his, yes his friend Alice, but it really has no role in the story. I guess that’s what makes it so fantastically bonkers. It also has a catchy chorus that revolves around this restaurant and trust me on this, cause once you hear it it will be suck in your head for days.

You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant
You can get anything you want at 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 Restaurant

The Alice mentioned in the song, who also owns the restaurant is also the person who owned the church where the Guthrie Centre is located. See everything comes full circle. The song is a spoken monologue that uses a ragtime guitar being played with the fingers as opposed to a pick. The rambling style of the verses along with his telling of unimportant things in great detail is known as a shaggy dog story.

Now it all started two Thanksgivings ago, was on – two years ago on
Thanksgiving, when my friend and I went up to visit Alice at the
Restaurant, but Alice doesn’t live in the restaurant, she lives in the
Church nearby the restaurant, in the bell-tower, with her husband Ray and
Fasha the dog. 

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