Thursday, November 26, 2020

Happy Thanksgiving!

Recorded in 1967, Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant," the 18- minute counterculture anthem recounts the storyteller's real-life encounter with the law on Thanksgiving Day 1965. As the song unfolds, we hear all about how a hippie-bating police officer by the name of William "Obie" Obanhein arrested Arlo for littering. (Cultural footnote: Obie previously posed for several Norman Rockwell paintings, including the well-known painting, "The Runaway," that graced a 1958 cover of The Saturday Evening Post.) In fairly short order, Arlo pleads guilty to a misdemeanor charge, pays a $25 fine, and cleans up the trash. 
But the story isn't over. Not by a long shot. Later, when Arlo (son of American icon Woody Guthrie) gets called up for the draft, the petty crime ironically becomes a basis for disqualifying him from military service in the Vietnam War. 

Guthrie recounts this with some bitterness as the song builds into a satirical protest against the war: "I’m sittin' here on the Group W bench 'cause you want to know if I'm moral enough to join the Army, burn women, kids, houses and villages after bein' a litterbug." And then we're back to the cheery chorus again: "You can get anything you want, at Alice's Restaurant." Who would have thought that a Thanksgiving tradition was born. The song would later become the inspiration for the 1969 cult classic film of the same name.