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Alice's Restaurant Massacree by Arlo Guthrie

Album: Alice's RestaurantReleased: 1967Charted:
97
Get some Geography in the Alice's Restaurant Massacree Songplaces
  • Running 18 minutes and 34 seconds, this song is based on a true story that happened on Thanksgiving Day, 1965. Arlo was 18, and along with his friend Rick Robbins, drove to Stockbridge, Massachusetts to have Thanksgiving dinner with Alice and Ray Brock. Alice and Ray lived in a church - the former Trinity Church on Division Street in Stockbridge - and were used to inviting people into their home. Arlo and Rick had been traveling together, Arlo working his way up in folk singing and Rick tagging along. A number of people, Arlo and Rick included, were considered members of the family, and so they were not guests in the usual sense. When Ray woke up the next morning, he said to them, "Let's clean up the church and get all this crap out of here, for God's sake. This place is a mess," and Rick said, "Sure." Arlo and Rick swept up and loaded all the crap into a VW microbus and went out to the dump, which was closed. They started driving around until Arlo remembered a side road in Stockbridge up on Prospect Hill by the Indian Hill Music Camp, which he went to one summer, so they drove up there and dumped the garbage. A little later, the phone rang, and it was Stockbridge police chief William J. Obanhein.... "I found an envelope with the name Brock on it," Chief Obanhein said. The truth came out, and soon the boys found themselves in Obanhein's police car. They went up to Prospect Hill, and Obie took some pictures, and on the back he marked them, "PROSPECT HILL RUBBISH DUMPING FILE UNDER GUTHRIE AND ROBBINS 11/26/65." And took the kids to jail. The kids went in, pleaded, "Guilty, Your Honor," were fined $25 each and ordered to retrieve the rubbish. Then they all went back to the church and started to write "Alice's Restaurant" together.... "We were sitting around after dinner and wrote half the song," Alice recalls, "and the other half, the draft part, Arlo wrote."
  • Guthrie greatly exaggerated the part about getting arrested for comic effect. In the song he is taken away in handcuffs and put in a cell with hardened criminals.
  • The following appeared in the local paper:
    Saturday, Richard J. Robbins, 19, of Poughkeepsie, N. Y., and Arlo Guthrie, 18, of Howard Beach, N. Y., each paid a fine of $25 in Lee District Court after pleading guilty of illegally disposing of rubbish. Special Justice James E. Hannon ordered the youths to remove all the rubbish. They did so Saturday afternoon, following a heavy rain. Police Chief William J. Obanhein of Stockbridge said later the youths found dragging the junk up the hillside much harder than throwing it down. He said he hoped their case would be an example to others who are careless about disposal of rubbish. The junk included a divan, plus nearly enough bottles, garbage, papers and boxes to fill their Volkswagen bus. "The stuff would take up at least half of a good-sized pickup truck," Chief Obanhein said. The rubbish was thrown into the Nelson Foote Sr. property on Prospect Street, a residential section of Stockbridge consisting largely of estates on the hill across from Indian Hilil [sic] School. Chief Obanhein told the court he spent "a very disagreeable two hours" looking through the rubbish before finding a clue to who had thrown it there. He finally found a scrap of paper bearing the name of a Great Barrington man. Subsequent investigation indicated Robbins and Guthrie had been visiting the Great Barrington man and had agreed to cart away the rubbish for him. They told the court that, when they found the Barrington dump closed, they drove around and then disposed of the junk by tossing it over the Stockbridge hillside. (thanks, Mike - Mountlake Terrace, WA, for all above)
  • In the song, Guthrie avoids the draft and did not have to serve in Vietnam because of his littering arrest. In reality, he was eligible, but wasn't drafted because his number didn't come up.
  • Many radio stations play this on Thanksgiving. This is usually the only time they play it, since the song is over 18 minutes long.
  • Guthrie is the son of legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie, who was a big influence on Bob Dylan.
  • This reflected the attitude of many young people in America at the time. It was considered an antiwar song, but unlike most protest songs, it used humor to speak out against authority.
  • After a while, Guthrie stopped playing this at concerts, claiming he forgot the words. As the song approached it's 30th anniversary, he started playing it again.
  • In 1991, Arlo bought the church where this took place and set up "The Guthrie Center," where he runs programs for kids who have been abused.
  • Guthrie made a movie of the same name in 1969 which was based on the song.
  • Over the years, Guthrie added different words to the song. He recorded a new, longer version in 1995 at The Guthrie Center.
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Comments: 35

It is not Officer Obenheim in Rockwell's painting, The Runaway, as Beverly in Norfolk, VA said. It is Massachusetts State Trooper Richard J. Clemens, a neighbor of Norman Rockwell. You can read all about the history of the painting here: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/Norman-Rockwells-Neighborhood.html#Roann - Apalachin, Ny
Yes, Don Frankland, MA. You did hear this on KSHE 95 in the early 80s. I stayed out all night on Wednesday, for the unknown holiday, of everyone staying out for the bar party,the night before Thanksgiving.
All of the friends in college come home to party hard that night. When I was in 7th grade,we had a young female teacher,that brought her little record player to school. Her name was Ms.Glen, we listened to ALICE's Restaurant and wrote a paper on it. We wrote what we thought it was about. CLOUDS, by JONIE MITCHEL was next. That was in 1969, I joined the army in 1973 when I seen the HELECOPTERS thrown off the side of the aircraft carriers, as people were hanging on the landing skids to get out of HANOI VEITNAM. The class before me was drafted to go to that war. NIXON was a proven crook, They had killed KENEDY in DALLAS TX.
A lot of young men had been shot for nothing, other than being brave! I had thought this song was the smartest thing to get out of the draft, you can pull. I called MARK KLOSE @ KSHE95 from my shop to help all.
Maybe you do not understand the war, but to be forced to participate, in your death, has real meaning to yourself, and others. That night I almost died, partying so hard, I learned my lesson, turned to GOD!
P.S. = We made fun of the old guy at the dump, we called him ; THE DUMP GOMER, What a proud man, not a FOOL!
Robert J - Columbia , Il
Brilliant song!! Met Arlo in Cape Town in 1999 where he played a one off gig!! Photos are somewhere!!!Steve - Cape Town, South Africa
When I hear this song, it reminds me of the late, great guitar player, Mike Reilly of Depew, NY
Love you Mike and miss you and your Dad, Archie....
Brady - Niagara Falls, Ny
Whatever happened to Ray and Alice Brock? More than likely without Ray amnd especially Alice there wouln't have been an "Alice's Restaurant" or an "Alice's Restaurant Massacre."Charles Hollingswort - Leeds, Al
"They got 3 stop signs, 2 police officers, and 1 po-lice car. But when we got to the scene of the crime, there was 5 police officers and 3 police cars..."

I always wonder "how many stop signs are there now?" lol
Harold - University Park, Pa
My parents listen to "Alice's Restaurant Massacre" every year on Thanksgiving day - now I understand why. I just did a research paper based on Arlo's great antiwar song!!Tyler - Corinth, Tx
I would like to re-re-dedicate this to Ted Johnson (1955- ?)of Redmeat.com fame. He, Milkman Dan, Mister Wally and myself would cruise around town in our barely street-legal '76 Vega while listening to this song, sniffin' glue and tossing chicken embryos at unsuspecting mimes.Mike - Matawan, Nj
Does anyone know why this song was not performed at Woodstock? Arlo performed on day one and it is my understanding that the performers were asked to play extended sets that day, so it would make sense to play something long and something that was a hit. The movie came out a little later that year, right??Greg - Franklin, Ky
A Thanksgiving CLASSIC to listen when your eating your Thanksgiving Dinner with your family. I Love Listening to Alice's Restaurant Massacree Every Thanksgiving Twice At 12noon and 6pm on 101.5 WPDH.Joey Freer - Kingston, Ny
This is one of the best anti-war songs ever recorded. Even pro-war people get a kick out of it.Ted - Phoenix, Az
How good is this song! He's so funny! "We talked about father rapin' mother stabbin' and all kinds of groovy things" hahahahahaha lawdy! The Motorcycle Song is also pretty damn hilarious "Now as you all know, and as fate would have it, I didnt die, I landed on top of a po-lice car....and he died" ahahahahaha please somebody stop meNady - Adelaide, Australia
I have noticed a few comments mention this lyrics/story are this and that.
Just thought i'd mention that i've seen Arlo play three times and had at one time or another between 1/2 Doz too a Doz live bootlegs, ranging from the terrible to amazing.

The one constant thing about all these gigs (apart from enjoying every min') is that he never plays the song the same way twice!
Graham - Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom
I first heard this song in St. Louis, on KSHE-95 back in the mid-80's, and when I enlisted, I had to remind myself not to sing a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walk out. I was volunteering, after all.
I find it funny now how much attitudes have changed. I mean, from a 21st century perspective, its commendable that Officer Obie was so forward thinking as to take such an environmentalist view of illigal disposal and use every means available to persue those responsible. Hippies talked big about loving the Earth, but Obie did it.
Don - Franklin, Ma
I would like to re-dedicate this to Phil Johnson (1955-2003). Phil introduced me to this song 14 years ago, it was one of his very favorites. He used to quote from this song's lyrics often. Phil was a big Bob Dylan fan (Woody Guthrie was a big influence on Dylan) and a big fan of Arlo Guthrie too. Thanks Phil! We remember you often.Mike - Mountlake Terrace, Wa
I was in Nam in 65 and 66 and first heard this song in 1990, I think it is hilarious. We need some levity now and then. Arlo, Woody and Dylan are the best. Capt Walt, Roswell, GaCapt Walt - Roswell, Ga
Officer Obanheim was also the subject of a Norman Rockwell painting called the Runaway. He is sitting at a lunch counter where he and a short order cook are trying to talk a young boy out of running away. You can find more information on him here. http://www.arlo.net/obie.shtmlBeverly - Norfolk, Va
He wasn't really ineligible for the draft because of his 'criminal past' but because his father suffered from Huntingon's disease.Boris - Gent, Belgium
I was ineligible for the draft, but I tried to rough up a State Trooper back in 1962. Littering? Poppycock!Darrell - Eugene
this songs hilarious! we just got to listen to it in my history class and what a great way to study war protest songsShannon - Sioux Falls, Sd
It was 27 8x10 color glossy photographs....Larry, Escondido, CALarry - Esconddido, Ca
Trinity Church on Division St. isn't in Stockbridge, it's in HousatonicPatrick - Housatonic, Ma
I faithfully listened to this song every Thanksgiving until my cassette tape broke in 1998. I still use the term, "28 color glossy photos with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one . . ." whenever my boss wants to over-powerpoint a presentation. Fewer and fewer people get the joke as time goes on. Thanks, Arlo, for the lesson in civil disobedience.Lalah - Wasilla, Ak
Mark, hate to break it to you, but Woody Guthrie is played by an actor named Joseph Boley for the movie. See allmovie.com. The movie was made after Woody's death. I'm sure it was a faithful reenactment. Bob Dylan also visited Woody in the hospital, and describes in his book Chronicles meeting a twelve year old Arlo when going to Woody's home, per Woody's suggestion, to gather some unused music scores of Woody's, though he never found them (he says they were found and used by someone else years later). Not being an 18 year old hippy in the sixties, I wouldn't take such a cavalier attitude about dumping a bunch of crap on somebody's property, even if there was already trash there, but it sure *is* ironic that it kept him out of the war!!Fyodor - Denver, Co
ARLO Guthrie is best! =)
I have seen his Woodstock performance for so many times and i simply love it! =)
arlo so rocks, man! mnuah!
Can you dig it?
Kirsten - Ddorf, Germany
Sure will make me think about where to dump my garbage if the dump is closed--especially on Thanksgiving!Dave - Oak Park, Mi
I love this song! What really hits it is that I live in the area where this all took place. Stockbridge probably did have 1 stop sign back then, maybe 4 or 5 now that I can recall, and if you've seen the movie, that's how the Lee District Court still looks today, a narrow hallway leading to a small room that can seat maybe 50 people at most.James - Lee, Ma
Arlo Guthrie rules! This is such a cool song and as someone else mentioned, a great example of hippie use of humor to lampoon authority and protest wrongs. I found an early live version of this from 1966 at Gerdes Folk City (a long gone coffeehouse in Greenwich Village where everyone who was anyone in folk music used to play) where the spoken part is totally different..nothing about the littering or the draft, but just an ad-lib about how the song would spread all over the world once the crowd at Gerdes that night started singing it!Jerrybear - Flint, Mi
Arlo mentions during the song that he has been playing the song for 25 minutes and could continue to play this song for another 25 minutes. This statement is made 16 minutes and 56 seconds into his epic song.Barry - New York, Nc
In the South, "motorcycle" ALWAYS rhymes with pickle. The correct pronunciation is "motuhsickle" or "big Harley" See Ray Stevens' song "Shriner's Convention" for further details. Y'all have a nice day, y'heah?Jude - Thomasville, Ga
Chief Obanheim was nothing if not a good sport. He portrayed himself in the movie of the massacree appearing as "Officer Obie." Alice Brock also made a cameo appearance, and, of course, Arlo made a touching visit on camera to see his father Woody shortly before his death in October 1967.Mark - Falls Church, Va
I happen to like the invented rhyme of motorSICKLE in the song "I Don't Want a Pickle".
Great stuff!
Susy - New York, Ny
Arlo followed this up with "I Don't Want a Pickle", met with less enthusiasm than "Alice", perhaps due to his choice of rhyming ... "... I just want to ride on my motorSICKLE."Sled - St. Louis, Ne
I love this song, great use of comedy as a tool against war. It's impossible to stop listening to this song once its started, even if you know how the story goes you have to listen to how it ends.
I really love the way he sends up the police officer, and the military people.
Geoff - Adelaide, Australia
I would like to dedicate this to Phil Johnson (1955-2003). Phil introduced me to this song, it was one of his very favorites. A big Dylan fan (Woody Guthrie was a big influence on Dylan) and a big fan of Arlo Guthrie too.
Thanks Phil!
Mike - Mountlake Terrace, Wa