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Alice's Restaurant: Historical anti-war album

Updated on June 10, 2015

Arlo Guthrie's anti-Vietnam song from the 1960s

I wonder how many people today remember this song? Until a couple of years ago, I had more or less forgotten about it - even though I'd owned it (on vinyl) way back when.

Then I was reminded a couple of years ago when, of all things, I was at our local farmer's market. One of the vendors, a lovely chap called Jim, was playing his guitar.

Suddenly, I was back in the 1960s

Jim and I talked about the song and its importance at the time. It seems such a shame that it's now a forgotten period-piece, we decided. It was more than just a protest song.

Vietnam protests songs

There were hundreds over the years. But Alice's Restaurant was different for many of us. It was funny, it was politically incorrect and it had the supreme irony. Arlo Guthrie recounts how he was drafted, but not allowed to join the army, because of his criminal record.

Littering on Thanksgiving

The song is more of a monologue, set to guitar music, and lasts for the whole side of the album - maybe just under twenty minutes. Set in 1965, eighteen year old Guthrie visits his friend Alice for Thanksgiving dinner. To do her a favour he takes her garbage to the local dump but oh dear, it's closed for the holiday. Undaunted, Arlo dumps the garbage elsewhere. And later, he's arrested for it, fined a grand total of $50 and made to clean up the mess.

The draft

He then describes how he was drafted and went for medical inspections (which is a very funny section of the song) and how finally, he is asked if he's ever been arrested. When he tells the officer that he has, he's asked if he's ever been to court, which of course he had. Because of this, he was (happily) refused admittance into the army. He avoided Vietnam.

Not moral enough to join the army

Now, Guthrie really goes to town in the song. He's not moral enough to kill, burn and destroy. Dropping litter, it seems, precludes him. This isn't lost on Arlo and hence, today we have Alice's Restaurant to remind us about the futility, irony and utter ridiculousness of the Vietnam war.

It should be in every music collection - we must not forget

Alice's Restaurant: The Massacree Revisited (30th Anniversary Edition)
Alice's Restaurant: The Massacree Revisited (30th Anniversary Edition)

Thirty years later, Arlo Guthrie made an anniversary edition. As you can see, the cover shows him in the same pose but looking just a little older! I haven't heard this but the Amazon reviews are excellent. It has additional material too.


The video that you see below will give you some idea about the song and the way that Arlo Guthrie was able to satirise his experiences.

Luckily for us, most of us didn't go through the draft selection process in order to be sent to the Vietnam war.

Because I haven't, then I cannot say with any accuracy that the video below is a precise picture of what went on when young men were inspected to discover their suitability for raping, looting and pillaging.

Somehow it seems believable to me. Oh well,maybe a little exaggerated! What do you think? Let me know in the comments section below.

Two other products

These might also interest you. Apocalypse Now is the classic film about the situation in Vietnam. It's very different to Alice's Restaurant although some might see similarities in the way that the subject is treated.

There are many people today who remember the horrors of this war. There are many who actually experienced it. As it has now become a classic, it's an important part of my own DVD collection.

Alice's Restaurant
Alice's Restaurant

For the complete set, there is also a movie of the song. I didn't care as much for the film (I loved the song so much) but it gets good reviews and is certainly a period piece. At time of writing it is no longer produced but new and used examples are available.

Apocalypse Now 2-Film Set [Blu-ray]
Apocalypse Now 2-Film Set [Blu-ray]

Almost by way of contrast, this is the classic Vietnamese war movie. If you've seen this as many times as I have, you think about it every time you hear a helicopter or hear music by the Doors.

Just as Alice's Restaurant tells us a great deal about the war and the times, so does this unforgettable movie. A must.


© 2013 Jackie Jackson


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    • BritFlorida profile image

      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @grannysage: Hi grannysage - it's lovely to meet someone who feels the same way! I love the group W segment in the movie. I like it when we 'old hippies' talk in code and youngsters don't understand :)

    • BritFlorida profile image

      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Nancy Hardin: Thank you for dropping by!

    • profile image

      grannysage 4 years ago

      My husband and I are known to break into a chorus of Alice's Restaurant at a drop of the hat. And since our last name is Wallace, we usually say "I going to go sit on the group W bench." Young people today have no idea what we are talking about. Great album and the movie is good too.

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 4 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Well done, thanks for sharing.