In the small canon of Thanksgiving-related popular music, Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” stands out for a few reasons, one of which is that it’s only barely related to Thanksgiving. The other reasons include its 16-minute runtime, and that it’s politically minded art of the sort worth revisiting this particular holiday season.
Guthrie released the story-song in October 1967 as the leadoff to his album Alice’s Restaurant, and it made such an impact that it was turned into a film, some radio stations still play it each Thanksgiving, and Guthrie now has a tradition of performing it once a decade. For last year’s 50th anniversary of the real-life incident that inspired the song, Guthrie told Rolling Stone, “I never expected it to even be on a record, let alone get airplay, let alone have it made into a movie. I mean, that was all like a whirlwind of events that were way beyond my control.”
The lyrics’ synopsis: On Thanksgiving 1965, Guthrie and some pals went to throw out garbage from the church where the titular Alice lived, but the dump was closed for the holiday. So he instead tossed the waste at an unsanctioned site, was caught and arrested, and his arrest prevented him from being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. In the song, he tells this story with heapings of humor and twang, and it culminates in him advising would-be draft dodgers to go into their draft office and sing the chorus of the tune to show themselves unfit for service.