“Now it all started two Thanksgivings ago, was on — two years ago on Thanksgiving, when my friend and I went up to visit Alice at the restaurant …”
So begins Arlo Guthrie‘s infamous, epic 1967 “talking blues” single “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” (its full title). For many, the song is as much a part of Turkey Day celebrations as roasted turkey, stuffing or Dallas Cowboys football.
If you’d like to gather your friends and family and thrill to the tales from “Alice’s Restaurant,” the surreal, 18-minute track will be heard in full at noon and 6 p.m. on KXT.
“The tradition continues,” said Brad Dolbeer, KXT’s assistant program director. “It is a brilliant live recording that uses the folk tradition to tell a story of littering, a church, the Vietnam draft, fingerprinting and, somewhat anti-climatically, Alice’s Restaurant. It is a piece of American songwriting history that KXT is very proud to present each Thanksgiving.”
You can get an advance taste below:
Arlo, the son of iconic folk musician Woody Guthrie, retired from touring in 2020. But for many years, this sprawling song was a feature of his live performances, although the singer-songwriter would withhold it from set lists until a “decade” anniversary year (the 30th, 40th, 50th, et cetera) came around. In 2017, the song was added to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
“A monologue set to music — and epic in length at 18 minutes — Guthrie’s song is both a neo-comedy and an anti-war statement,” the Library of Congress wrote at the time.
The song also inspired a wild 1969 film of the same name from director Arthur Penn (of Bonnie and Clyde fame). Arlo Guthrie had a starring role.
“For the most part ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ is a warm and alive film,” the late Roger Ebert wrote of the film upon its release. “You can feel Penn trying to portray a lifestyle rather than a plot with characters in it.”
As for its enduring status as a Thanksgiving classic, Guthrie claims complete befuddlement, although as he told Rolling Stone in 2014, he’s grateful “Alice’s Restaurant” continues to resonate with new generations of fans.
“I don’t know where that [Thanksgiving tradition] comes from,” Guthrie told the magazine. “That was certainly not by my design. I think it’s just one of those funny, crazy coincidences that you have an event that takes place on Thanksgiving; therefore it becomes associated with the holiday. If I go back and look at the hits to the website for example, they will spike one day a year. I always thought, ‘Hey if they’re gonna play one song of yours on the radio one day a year, it might as well be the longest one you wrote!'”
Preston Jones is a freelance writer and regular contributor to KXT.
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