42 years ago, or 42 Thanksgivings ago, I was in my childhood kitchen tearing slices of stale white bread into little pieces. Three loaves worth. I was half asleep wondering why we even had to stuff a turkey and also wondering how long the song on the radio would go on. It was already playing for what seemed like an hour. I asked if we could find another station and Mom said no, that this song was a Thanksgiving tradition. So there I stood, listening to Alice’s Restaurant, tearing slices into little pieces into my Dad’s big bread raising pan. But that’s not what I am here to talk about.
My mom and dad would listen to Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant every Thanksgiving morning. I am not sure which radio station (she thinks maybe Y94) it was on. My mom would get up at the crack of dawn (OK, around 7 a,m.) in order to cook a turkey for the 9 of us as well as any number of strays who would join us. Stuffing was quite an undertaking, she mixed copious amounts in the bread raising pan and after the bird was stuffed, she put the rest in a bowl to bake (my favorite part of dinner, I didn’t like all the moist stuff that came out of the bird.) And Arlo would sing.
Fastforward 40 years. I was listening to Alice’s Restaurant for what seems like the very first time. At least the very first time I can remember. Teenagers categorically denounce any music parents think is cool, (except for Neil Diamond, in my case!) so I really don’t remember anything about those early Thanksgiving broadcasts. I became interested in Alice’s Restaurant when my friend Lisa Kane talked about how she loved Arlo and listened to it every year on Thanksgiving. I thought I had better check it out, so I found it on youtube. I found it fascinating.
Of course, any song that included a load of garbage being brought to the dump is close to my heart… I do a lot of cleaning at my job and am known as Queen Pee (that tells you what kind of things need to be cleaned up). Picking up garbage every day is how I roll.
Arlo starts singing about Alice and her restaurant, but gets distracted by the story of a particular Thanksgiving when Arlo and his buddy thought they would do a good deed and take a load of garbage to the dump. They were arrested for littering (long story) and as Arlo says, “but that’s not what I came to tell you about. I came to talk about the draft.”
Then Arlo sings about draft notices and then draft tests, at the New York City Induction Center, which was on Whitehall Street, where “you get injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected,” and finally selected. After some shenanigans there where Arlo tried to NOT be selected, his is faced with this query, “Kid, we only got one question…have you ever been arrested?” That brings us back to Alice’s restaurant and the story of that particular Thanksgiving.
I had no idea this spoken word performance was so entertaining and it definitely stands the test of time. Arlo does a tour for the song every ten years. Here’s a performance from 2005 at Farm Aid.
2015 marks the 50th anniversary of that fateful holiday where Arlo got arrested and Officer Obie had those 27 8′ x 10′ color glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against them, and I am happy to carry on the tradition. Earlier today I listened to Alice’s Restaurant while making stuffing (Mom’s recipe) to deliver to my sister and my dad for their celebrations. I will leave you with one of his latest performances, this one from Blissfest 2015. Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!!