“Alice’s Restaurant” – The Story Behind The Song
“Alice’s Restaurant” is MOSTLY based on a true story. Alro Gutherie (son of legendary Woody Gutherie) may have greatly embellished the part about getting arrested and taken away in cuffs, but the story’s bones are true. If this is part of your Thanksgiving Day tradition, listen to WCSX at 10am and 4pm to hear the song. Also, don’t litter.
The Story of “Alice’s Restaurant”
This 18-minute and 34-second classic recounts the events of Arlo’s Thanksgiving Day in 1965. He was 18 years old. Arlo and a friend, Rick Robbins drove to Massachusetts to have dinner at Alice and Ray Brock’s home. The Brocks lived in a church.
According to Learningfromlyrics.org, “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.’ 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. They drove up there and dumped the garbage.”
But then… the cops called.
Stockbridge police chief, William J. Obanhein said, “I found an envelope with the name Brock on it.” Chief Obanhein came to the house, put the boys in the back of his car, and took them to where they dumped their trash. The chief took pictures and then took Arlo and Rick to jail.
The kids went in and pleaded, “Guilty, Your Honor.” They were fined $25 a piece and told to go pick the trash back up. Afterward, the boys returned to the church and started writing “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.”
In the song, Arlo pretends to be mentally unstable to dodge the draft, but in reality, the arrest is all it takes. “It was the military that brought up my arrest for littering. It seemed absurd that the crime would disqualify anyone from service,” Arlo said the events. “That, in large part, is what makes the song work.”
Arlo Never Thought It Would Be a Hit
The song is considered an anti-war song. The use of humor to make its points is something that sets “Alice’s Restaurant” apart from other anti-war songs. Arlo Gutherie never thought it would get airplay because 18-minute songs don’t normally get airplay, but it did. Arlo even starred in the movie “Alice’s Restaurant” in 1969. Arlo’s movie was directed by the same person who directed “Bonnie and Clyde.” Here’s the trailer:
SIDE NOTE: There is a real “Alice’s Restaurant,” that was run by Alice Brock, but its real name was “The Back Room.” The name changed AFTER the song became a hit. Alice’s Restaurant exists today as “Stockbridge Cafe.”
As we celebrate this Thanksgiving tradition… you know what’s coming next: