Alice's Restaurant Massacree

Album: Alice's Restaurant (1967)
Charted: 97
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Songfacts®:

  • 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, 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 attended 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. On the back he marked them, "PROSPECT HILL RUBBISH DUMPING FILE UNDER GUTHRIE AND ROBBINS 11/26/65." He 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, the son of legendary folk singer Woody 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. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Mike - Mountlake Terrace, WA, for above 2
  • In the song, Guthrie gets drafted and tries to get out of it by pretending to be unhinged, telling the psychiatrist he wants to "eat dead burnt bodies." Turns out he didn't have to go to the trouble - after that meeting, another functionary asks if he's ever been arrested. By dint of his littering arrest, he is deemed not worthy of the Army. "It was the military that brought up my arrest for littering, as it seemed absurd that the crime would disqualify anyone from service," Guthrie explained. "That, in large part, is what makes the song work."
  • 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 performed this song for the first time on July 16, 1967 at the Newport Folk Festival.
  • 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 and has been ever since.
  • In 1991, Arlo bought the church where the story took place and set up "The Guthrie Center," where he established programs for kids who have been abused.
  • Guthrie starred in a movie called Alice's Restaurant in 1969 that is based on the song. It was directed by Arthur Penn, who made Bonnie and Clyde in 1967. The soundtrack includes a new version of the song.
  • Over the years, Guthrie added different words to the song. He recorded a new, longer version in 1995 at The Guthrie Center.
  • The strategy of acting mentally unstable or drug-ridden to avoid the Vietnam War became known as "pulling an 'Alice's Restaurant'" because it was popularized in this song. The technique worked for some high profile rockers: Ted Nugent and Bruce Springsteen both used it. Springsteen told UPI: "I pulled the whole 'Alice's Restaurant.' 'I'm sorry, sir. I don't understand what you are saying because I am high on LSD.'"
  • The song's success took Guthrie by surprise. "I never expected it to be so popular," he said in bonus content for the 50th anniversary release of the Alice's Restaurant film. "An 18-minute song doesn't get airplay. You can't expect that. So the fact that it became a hit was absurd on the face of it. It wasn't part of the calculation."

Comments: 35

  • Roann from Apalachin, NyIt 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#
  • Robert J from Columbia , IlYes, 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!
  • Steve from Cape Town, South AfricaBrilliant song!! Met Arlo in Cape Town in 1999 where he played a one off gig!! Photos are somewhere!!!
  • Brady from Niagara Falls, NyWhen 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....
  • Charles Hollingswort from Leeds, AlWhatever 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."
  • Harold from University Park, Pa"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
  • Tyler from Corinth, TxMy 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!!
  • Mike from Matawan, NjI 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.
  • Greg from Franklin, KyDoes 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??
  • Joey Freer from Kingston, NyA 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.
  • Ted from Phoenix, AzThis is one of the best anti-war songs ever recorded. Even pro-war people get a kick out of it.
  • Nady from Adelaide, AustraliaHow 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 me
  • Graham from Glasgow, Scotland, United KingdomI 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!
  • Don from Franklin, MaI 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.
  • Mike from Mountlake Terrace, WaI 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.
  • Capt Walt from Roswell, GaI 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, Ga
  • Beverly from Norfolk, VaOfficer 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.shtml
  • Boris from Gent, BelgiumHe wasn't really ineligible for the draft because of his 'criminal past' but because his father suffered from Huntingon's disease.
  • Darrell from EugeneI was ineligible for the draft, but I tried to rough up a State Trooper back in 1962. Littering? Poppycock!
  • Shannon from Sioux Falls, Sdthis songs hilarious! we just got to listen to it in my history class and what a great way to study war protest songs
  • Larry from Esconddido, CaIt was 27 8x10 color glossy photographs....Larry, Escondido, CA
  • Patrick from Housatonic, MaTrinity Church on Division St. isn't in Stockbridge, it's in Housatonic
  • Lalah from Wasilla, AkI 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.
  • Fyodor from Denver, CoMark, 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!!
  • Kirsten from Ddorf, GermanyARLO 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?
  • Dave from Oak Park, MiSure will make me think about where to dump my garbage if the dump is closed--especially on Thanksgiving!
  • James from Lee, MaI 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.
  • Jerrybear from Flint, MiArlo 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!
  • Barry from New York, NcArlo 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.
  • Jude from Thomasville, GaIn 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?
  • Mark from Falls Church, VaChief 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.
  • Susy from New York, Ny

    I happen to like the invented rhyme of motorSICKLE in the song "I Don't Want a Pickle".
    Great stuff!
  • Sled from St. Louis, NeArlo 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."
  • Geoff from Adelaide, AustraliaI 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.
  • Mike from Mountlake Terrace, WaI 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!
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