Alice’s Restaurant: An Illustrated Version of Arlo Guthrie’s Thanksgiving Counterculture Classic

Alice’s Restaurant. It’s now a Thanksgiving classic, and something of a tradition around here. Recorded in 1967, the 18+ minute counterculture song recounts Arlo Guthrie’s real encounter with the law, starting on Thanksgiving Day 1965. As the long 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 thrash. But the story isn’t over. Not by a long shot. Later, when Arlo (son of 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.”

We have featured Guthrie’s classic during past years. But, for this Thanksgiving, we give you the illustrated version. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who plans to celebrate the holiday today.

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