“Alice’s Restaurant” is a song written by Arlo Guthrie that was made into a hippie flick that came out in 1969. Listening to this tune has been a family tradition going back as far as I can remember. That and the Thanksgiving Day parade and Dallas Cowboys football. Oh, and pie – always pumpkin. We be simple people.
This is an eight minute clip from the movie, one of my favorite scenes.
A little history on the song for those uninitiated to Arlo Guthrie, the song, or not having been raised in any form of “hippie” environment. This is Arlo Guthrie’s (son of Woodie Guthrie) most prominent work; it’s actually a musical story about a true event in the life of Arlo that occurred on Thanksgiving Day in 1965. The song lead to a movie which I’ve seen multiple times, usually on Thanksgiving Day, that was filmed in 1969.
In an interview for All Things Considered, Guthrie explained the song was, as should be obvious, written as satire to showcase the ironic guidelines established by the U.S. government in selecting men and women for military draft. The song created as a protest at the government’s involvement in the Vietnam War. The fact that a person could be deemed unworthy to serve in this war simply by perhaps being arrested for such a minor infraction as littering, the epitamy exemplifying the idiocy and obtusity so often evident in the world of bureaucracy.
Growing up a long-haired hippie child it was instilled within me, especially considering my Pops had served a few tours of duty ‘in-country’, the evils and unwarranted cruelties that humanity is capable of afflictiing upon one other. He related to me stories of how, when riding even through the Air Force bases in jeeps or trucks someone had to ride in the back. Reason for that, anyone, even some of the locals who worked on the base, could lob a grenade into the vehicle. Once, a local woman who did laundry for some of the guys, riding by on her bicycle with a basket on the front pitched a grenade into the truck he was on; he happened to be riding the truckbed that day, had to kick it out the back – they always rode tailgate down for that reason.
Now Pops wasn’t in the front line or even on the lines at that time, he was a radio operator in the towers for flight traffic control. He told me situations like that when even kids would or could be carrying grenades or hidden weapons came to shape the insane brutality and gory progress that the Vietnam War spiralled into.
The reason I bring up this story on a day like today, when Pop was finally provided stateside orders and was able to return it was around Thanksgiving. Apparently the whole Arlo Guthrie story and song appealed to him considering what he’d seen during his time there, so the birth of a holiday tradition was born.
Considering the world today, listening to or watching the movie on a day we set aside to give thanks helps me see the irony behind some of the government rules, regulations, the madness that humanity can inflict upon itself and each other. In today’s world we don’t have a war on-going with defined enemies. The battle instead being waged by smoke curl ghosts wafting up from deep dark depths defined by religious fervor and misunderstanding. Perhaps we’re even witnessing a version of what some consider as Hell; or a statement or study of how a civilization sequestered might tend to breed a people whose radicalism born of insanity creates a monstrous thought process and a bastardization of a religion known for celebrating peace.
I’m thankful my Pops did not get destroyed by a random grenade in Vietnam. I’m thankful that there has not been another 9-11 in our country. I’m thankful for the love of my family and kin. I’m thankful to be here to celebrate my relatively safe and comfortable lifestyle. I’m thankful for the ability to carry on with those day-in day-out mundane activities such as going to the grocer’s or ferrying my kiddo back and forth to school in an environment where no threat of guns or bombs need be considered on an average day.
I’m thankful Arlo Guthrie wrote “Alice’s Restaurant” and that I had someone to make me listen to the song even times I did not especially want to – traditions are psychologically powerful no matter in what form they may take. What this tune represents to our familial group, it’s a look at a serious situation with a very large grain of humor. I’m thankful for having a guy like Pops who raised me always with a smile and sometimes a silly joke and an appreciation for a nice dry, wry sense of humor.
The full version of the song for your listening enjoyment, come on give it a listen, even if you don’t want to:
An added bonus, footage shot at Tipitinas – “Shit Makes the Flowers Grow”. Inspires me to seriously want to take up the Ukelele:
Now Happy Thanksgiving, I have pumpkin pies and a nice nutty pumpkin bread to prepare.