It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving Day without hearing Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant.  Here is the true incident that led to the song. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice%27s_Restaurant

Arlo Guthrie at Woodstock, 1969

Arlo Guthrie at Woodstock, 1969

“Alice’s Restaurant” recounts Guthrie’s true, but comically exaggerated, Thanksgiving Day adventure as a satirical, deadpan protest against the Vietnam War draft. On November 25, 1965, the 18-year-old Guthrie and his friend Richard Robbins, 19, were arrested by Stockbridge police officer William “Obie” Obanhein for illegally dumping some of Alice’s garbage after discovering the town dump was closed for the holiday.

"Policeman and Boys" Policeman: the late Chief William Obanhein boy nearest policeman: Robert Mackie other models not known Photo courtesy of Norman Rockwell Museum Licensed by Norman Rockwell Licensing, Niles, IL

“Policeman and Boys”
Policeman: the late Chief William Obanhein
boy nearest policeman: Robert Mackie
other models not known
Photo courtesy of Norman Rockwell Museum
Licensed by Norman Rockwell Licensing, Niles, IL

Two days later, they pleaded guilty in court before a blind judge, James E. Hannon. The song describes to ironic effect the arresting officer’s frustration at this “typical case of American blind justice”, in which the officer was prepared to present “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. In the end, Guthrie and Robbins were fined $25 and told to pick up their garbage.

The song goes on to describe Guthrie’s being called up for the draft and the surreal bureaucracy at the New York City induction center at 39 Whitehall Street. Guthrie’s first stop is a physical examination, which he passes despite the lingering effects of getting drunk the night before. Guthrie is then sent for a psychological examination; in an attempt to portray himself as insane, he indicates to the psychiatrist that he is homicidal, which (to Guthrie’s disappointment) the examiner views favorably. In the final line of questioning before induction, the officer asks Guthrie about any record of arrests. Guthrie tells the story of the littering incident, which proves significant enough a criminal offense to potentially disqualify him from military service. He is first sent to the Group W bench, where those draftees wait who cannot be inducted except under a moral waiver then are rejected as unfit for military service. 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 officer rejects Guthrie for military service, declaring “we don’t like your kind” and sending his fingerprints to the FBI.

In the final part of the song, Guthrie tells the live audience that should they find themselves facing the draft they 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-Massacre Movement”. He then instructs the audience to sing along with him as he performs the chorus, declares to the audience “that was horrible”, and demands they do it again, which ends the record.

Lyrics available here http://www.lyricsty.com/arlo-guthrie-alices-restaurant-lyrics.html

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