Arlo Guthrie

Alice’s Restaurant: Original MGM Motion Picture Soundtrack (50th Anniversary Edition)

(Omnivore Recordings)

The story of Arlo Guthrie’s song “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” has passed into folk music folklore (or just folklore, we guess). But the passage of time has somehow masked the fact that it’s a really weird story. For the unfamiliar, Guthrie was at a restaurant on Thanksgiving and, upon leaving, he noticed a pile of garbage outside. Ever the conscientious soul, he loaded it into his van and drove to the local dump but, upon arriving there, he found that it was closed for the holiday.

So, he set off to look for somewhere else to get rid of it, and couldn’t, but he saw another pile of garbage at the bottom of a cliff. Deciding that there was no real harm in adding to the existing pile (flawed logic for sure), he tipped what he had on top. Amazingly, the cops found his name on an envelope in the trash (so it wasn’t all restaurant garbage then), and they called him and, later, arrested him for littering.

Guthrie turned that into an 18-minute, mostly spoken-word antiauthoritarian anthem, which is an impressive feat. It became a phenomenon, which is less surprising when you consider that Guthrie suggested that very thing:

“And can you imagine fifty people a day? I said FIFTY people a day
Walkin’ in, singin’ a bar of ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ and walkin’ out? Friends
They may think it’s a Movement, and that’s what it is THE Alices’s
Restaurant anti-massacre movement! And all you gotta do to join is to
Sing it the next time it comes around on the guitar.”

So that’s the basics of it. But the story gets weirder still. Two years after the song’s release, Guthrie’s ode to unfair littering arrests was turned into a movie, earning director Arthur Penn (of Bonnie and Clyde fame) an Oscar. The soundtrack was basically that song, the “Amazing Grace” opening credits theme, some sweet, folky incidental music, and then some awesome guest spot from the likes of Al Schackman and Pete Seeger.

This 5oth Anniversary Edition from Omnivore is packed with extra tracks, a massive 22 in total, and is essential listening for Guthrie fans. But to think, it all stems from a littering ticket in the ’60s.

“I never expected it to be so popular,” says Guthrie in the new liner notes. “‘Alice’s Restaurant’ was a surprise. An 18-minute song doesn’t get airplay. You can’t expect that. So the fact that it became a hit was absurd on the face of it. It wasn’t part of the calculation but it did take me for surprise.”

Remember kids — dispose of your trash properly or you might end up with a ticket, a hit single, a movie and a soundtrack album.

(Courtesy of Omnivore Recordings)

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