Alice's Restaurant

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This article is about the song "Alice's Restaurant Massacree,". For the album, see Alice's Restaurant (album). For the film, see Alice's Restaurant (film).
"Alice's Restaurant Massacree"
Song by Arlo Guthrie from the album Alice's Restaurant
Released October 1967
Recorded 1967
Genre Talking blues, folk music
Length 18:34
Label Warner Bros.
Writer Arlo Guthrie
Producer Fred Hellerman

"Alice's Restaurant Massacree", commonly known as "Alice's Restaurant", is a musical monologue by singer-songwriter Arlo Guthrie, released on his 1967 debut album Alice's Restaurant. It is notable as a satirical, first-person account of 1960s counterculture, in addition to being a hit song in its own right and an inspiration for a 1969 movie of the same name. The song is one of Guthrie's most prominent works, based on a true incident from his life that began on Thanksgiving Day 1965 with a citation for littering, and ended with the refusal of the U.S. Army to draft him because of his conviction for that crime. The ironic punch line of the story is that, in the words of Guthrie, "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." The final part of the song is an encouragement for the listeners to sing along, to resist the draft, and to end war.

Apart from the chorus which begins and ends it, the "song" is in fact a spoken monologue, with ragtime guitar backing. It lasts 18 minutes and 34 seconds, occupying the entire A-side of the Alice's Restaurant album.


"Alice's Restaurant" is a satirical, deadpan protest against the Vietnam War draft, in the form of a comically exaggerated but true story from Guthrie's own life.


When Guthrie was 18 years old, he found himself spending Thanksgiving Day in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and having his Thanksgiving meal at a diner, "Alice's Restaurant". As a favor to the proprietor, Guthrie volunteered to take the diner's trash to the local dump, not realizing until he arrived at the dump site, that it was closed for the holiday. He proceeded to an illegal dump site in the nearby town of Stockbridge, deposited the trash there, and was arrested for littering.

The song describes to ironic effect the arresting officer's frustration at the ensuing "typical case of American blind justice", in which the officer was prepared to present at trial "27 8×10 color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us", only to have the judge enter the courtroom accompanied by a seeing-eye dog. Guthrie plead guilty, was fined, and was ordered to pick up the garbage.

The song goes on to describe Guthrie's subsequent experience before the Vietnam-era draft board, and the surreal bureaucracy at the New York City induction center at 39 Whitehall Street.[1] Initially, Guthrie attempted to dodge the draft by appearing for his physical exam while hung over. For his second attempt, he attempted to convince the psychiatrist that he was homicidal, which only earned him praise. Finally, when asked whether he had ever been convicted of a crime, Guthrie mentioned the littering incident, and learned that incident was bureacratically indistinguishable from a violent felony - he might be eligible to evade the draft by qualifying for a moral waiver. In Guthrie words, they "want to know if I'm moral enough to join the Army - burn women, kids, houses and villages - after bein' a litterbug." The draft officer does, in fact, reject Guthrie for military service, declaring "we don't like your kind." Guthrie then claims that the draft officer sent "a study in black and white" of Guthrie's fingerprints to Washington (thus hinting at the then-active but still secret COINTELPRO project; public knowledge about COINTELPRO, which investigated numerous Vietnam protesters in the 1960s, would not come until 1971).

In the final part of the song, Guthrie tells the live audience that should they (or someone they know) find themselves facing the draft, the draftee should walk into the military psychiatrist's office and sing, "Shrink, you can get anything you want at Alice's restaurant," and walk out. Guthrie notes that the military would not take it seriously unless "fifty people a day" followed Guthrie's instructions, at which point they would realize that it was "the Alice's Restaurant Anti-Massacree Movement". He then instructs the audience to sing along with him as he performs the chorus, after it "comes around on the gee-tar". He afterward playfully declares to the audience "that was horrible", and buoyantly demands they do it again, which ends the record.[2]


"Alice's Restaurant" was first performed publicly with Guthrie singing live on New York radio station WBAI one evening in 1967.[3] The song proved so popular that for months afterward the non-commercial station rebroadcast it only when listeners pledged to donate a large amount of money. It has become a tradition for many classic rock radio stations to play the song each Thanksgiving.[4] At one point in the song, Guthrie notes that if two draftees sing the line in harmony the military will consider them "faggots" (a slur less acceptable in modern parlance than it was in 1967) and, because open homosexuals were not allowed in the armed forces until 2012, reject them as soldiers. The song is nonetheless always presented uncut and the Federal Communications Commission has never punished any radio station for playing the song.

The original album rose to #17 on the Billboard chart.[5] The song itself was far too long to be released (or even fit) on a 45 rpm single, and so never made the Billboard Hot 100 (because of this, Billboard classifies Guthrie as a one-hit wonder for his later hit, "City of New Orleans," without regard to his success with "Alice's Restaurant").[6] Two years after the album came out, Guthrie released "Alice's Rock & Roll Restaurant" as a single—a much shorter (4:43) tune that incorporated the chorus, removed the entire monologue, used a significantly different arrangement, and added extra verses (all of which do little but advertise the restaurant). It peaked at #97 on the Billboard singles chart.[7]

"Alice's Restaurant" was performed at the Newport Folk Festival in a workshop or break-out section on "Topical songs," where it was such a hit that he was called upon to perform it for the entire festival.

After the release of the original album, Guthrie continued to perform the song in concert, frequently revising and updating the lyrical content. In 1969, for instance, he performed a 20-minute rendition of the song which (instead of the original narrative) told a fictional story on how Russian and Chinese military operatives attempted to weaponize "multicolored rainbow roaches" they had found at Alice's restaurant, and how the United States defended itself. A recording of this version, given the title "Alice: Before Time Began", was released in 2009 on a CD distributed by Guthrie's own Rising Son Records label.[8] By the late 1970s, Guthrie had removed the song from his regular concert repertoire, cutting it back to the point where he only performed it every ten years, usually coinciding with the anniversary of either the song or the incident.[9] For the song's 20th anniversary in 1985, Guthrie again updated "Alice's Restaurant" years later to protest Reagan-era policies, but this version has not been released on a commercial recording. The 30th anniversary version of the song includes a follow-up recounting how he learned that Richard Nixon had owned a copy of the song, and he jokingly suggested that this explained the famous 18½ minute gap in the Watergate tapes. Guthrie re-recorded his entire debut album for his 1997 CD Alice's Restaurant: The Massacree Revisited, on the Rising Son label, which includes this expanded version. The 40th anniversary edition, performed at and released as a recording by the Kerrville Folk Festival, made note of some parallels between the 1960s and the then-present day Iraq War and George W. Bush Administration. Guthrie will revive the song for the 50th anniversary edition in 2015.[9]

Artist's reflections[edit]

Guthrie later pointed out that he believes that there are such things as just wars and that his message was targeted at the Vietnam War in particular.[9]

Guthrie has said that because of the long length of the piece, he never expected the song to be released, much less become a Thanksgiving tradition, because such extended monologues were extremely rare in an era when singles were typically less than three minutes in length.[9] He cited as his inspiration the long-form monologues of Lord Buckley and Bill Cosby when writing the song's lyrics, and by a number of different musicians in writing the accompaniment.[9]


Alice, and the restaurant[edit]

Sign to restaurant

The Alice in the song was restaurant-owner Alice Brock, who in 1964 used $2,000 supplied by her mother to purchase a deconsecrated church in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where Alice and her husband Ray would live. It was here rather than at the restaurant—which came later—where the song's Thanksgiving dinners were actually held. The restaurant is currently Theresa’s Stockbridge Cafe on 40 Main Street in Stockbridge, located in back of a row of stores, as stated in the song lyrics. Alice was a painter and designer, while Ray was an architect and woodworker. Both worked at a nearby private academy, the music and art-oriented Stockbridge School, from which Guthrie (then of the Queens, New York City neighborhood of Howard Beach) had graduated. Alice Brock went on to live in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and owns an art studio and gallery at 69 Commercial Street. She was diagnosed with emphysema in the mid-1990s.[10] She illustrated the 2004 children's book Mooses Come Walking, written by Guthrie.

In 1969, Random House published The Alice's Restaurant Cookbook (ISBN 039440100X) which featured recipes and hippie wisdom from Alice Brock, as well as photos of Alice and Guthrie, and publicity stills from the movie.[11] A tear-out record was included in the book with Brock and Guthrie bantering on two tracks, "Italian-Type Meatballs" and "My Granma's Beet Jam".[12]

The church[edit]

The former church where the story begins, located in Great Barrington, Massachusetts; the building later became the Guthrie Center.

The church, originally built as the St. James Chapel in 1829, was enlarged in 1866 and renamed Trinity Church. Ray and Alice Brock purchased the property in 1964 and made it their home. The building has had several owners since the early 1970s.[13]

In 1991, Guthrie bought the church that had served as Alice and Ray Brock's former home, at 4 Van Deusenville Road, Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and converted it to the Guthrie Center, a nondenominational, interfaith meeting place.

The church's exterior is covered with white vinyl siding with the original cornerstone dedications still intact. There are two public entrances, a ramp for guests with disabilities on the side of the building and another consisting of two large wooden doors. The entrance from the side leads directly into the chapel. The front entrance leads into a living room with couches and a kitchen to the left. Bathrooms are located down a straight hallway to the right. Above this hallway is a sign that reads "One God — Many Forms / One River — Many Streams / One People — Many Faces / One Mother — Many Children -Ma".

In the main chapel area is a stage on which Officer Obie's chair sits as a reminder of the arrest. In the rear of the chapel is a set of stairs and a loft area. A set of private rooms in which Alice and Ray once lived remains.

In later years, the Guthrie Center became a folk music venue, hosting a Thursday evening hootenanny as well as the Troubadour Concert series annually from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Musical guests have included John Gorka, Tom Paxton, Ellis Paul, Tom Rush, The Highwaymen folk group and, of course, Arlo Guthrie. The Troubadour series helps to support the church's free community lunch program which is held at the church every Wednesday at noon. On Thanksgiving, the church hosts a "Thanksgiving dinner that can't be beat" for the local community. The annual "Garbage Trail Walk", retracing the steps of Arlo and folksinger Rick Robbins (as told in the song), raises money for Huntington's Disease research.

Feature film[edit]

The song was adapted into the 1969 movie Alice's Restaurant, directed and co-written by Arthur Penn and starring Guthrie as himself, Pat Quinn as Alice Brock and James Broderick as Ray Brock, with William Obanhein ("Officer Obie") and Judge James Hannon appearing as themselves and the real Alice making a cameo appearance.

The movie was released on August 19, 1969, a few days after Guthrie had appeared at the Woodstock Festival. A soundtrack album for the film was also released by United Artists Records. The soundtrack includes a studio version of the "Massacree", which was originally divided into two parts (one for each album side); a compact disc reissue on the Rykodisc label presents this version of the song in full and adds several bonus tracks to the original LP.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Yarrow, Andrew L. (May 26, 1989). "Out of New York's Military Past". The New York Times. Retrieved July 12, 2010. 
  2. ^ Lyrics, Alice's Restaurant at, Official Arlo Guthrie web site
  3. ^ Jeff Land, Active Radio: Pacifica's Brash Experiment, Minnesota (1999), page 116
  4. ^ "As a holiday staple, 'Alice's' lives here evermore"
  5. ^ "Reprise Album Discography, Part 3: R/RS-6200 to RS-6399 (1966–1970)", by David Edwards, Patrice Eyries, and Mike Callahan
  6. ^ Jancik, Wayne (1997). The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Richard Marcus (2009-08-07). "Music Review: Arlo Guthrie – Tales of '69". Retrieved 2010-05-14. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Doyle, Patrick (November 26, 2014). Arlo Guthrie looks back on 50 years of Alice's Restaurant. Rolling Stone. Retrieved November 29, 2014.
  10. ^ Alice Brock official site
  11. ^ as stated on the front page of Alice's Restaurant Cookbook. Some of the pictures have word balloons drawn on them.
  12. ^ "An Introduction by Arlo Guthrie to Alice's Restaurant Cookbook." The tracks are credited to Guthrie-Brock.
  13. ^ The Guthrie Center official site.

Further reading[edit]

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