22 November 2007

The Meaning of Thanksgiving

In ancient times, people of many cultures (including the ancient Greeks, Romans, Hebrews, Egyptians and Chinese) gave thanks to their god or gods for a successful harvest, and some of the traditions associated with modern Thanksgiving celebrations have their roots in these ancient festivals.

The roots of the American Thanksgiving celebration date back to 1621, near the end of the Plymouth colony's first year in America, when the settlers gave thanks for a plentiful first harvest. The pilgrims and the natives celebrated together (they had arranged a peace treaty), and everyone feasted on geese, ducks, deer, corn, oysters, fish and berries.

Thanksgiving became an official holiday in 1863. During the Civil War, Lincoln proclaimed that Thanksgiving should be a national observance. To some degree, this was a way to brighten the spirits of the American people, who were dealing with a great deal of difficulty and deprivation.

Thanksgiving to you might mean something else, but to me, its all about 18 minutes of Arlo and "Alice's Restaurant".

Keep your ears on CBS-FM, Q104.3, NPR and other like minded stations today to hear this great tune and Thanksgiving tradition.

It's Almost Time For Alice's Restaurant

Download the tune here

Well its nearly Thanksgiving and that means it's nearly time for Arlo Guthrie's famous song "Alice's Restaurant".

Ever year and only once a year on Thanksgiving "Alice's Restaurant" is played in its entirety on several NYC radio stations. It's a great tradition and a great song that easily gets stuck in my head until the following October.

The song clocks in at 18:20 and starts to get annoying around 18:15 so it works out nicely.

Arlo's cadence and delivery is just so intoxicating. It's probably one of the catchiest tunes written in the most unorthodox way. It's basically just Arlo rambling for 20 minutes but the rhythm of his ramble is incredibly infectious.

"Alice's Restaurant Massacree" (commonly referred to simply as "Alice's Restaurant") is one of Arlo Guthrie's most prominent works, a musical monologue based on a true story that began on Thanksgiving Day 1965, and which inspired a 1969 movie of the same name.

At 18 minutes, 20 seconds, the song occupies the entire first side of Arlo's 1967 debut album. It is notable as a satirical, first-person account of 1960's counterculture, in addition to being a hit song in its own right. The final part of the song is an encouragement for the listeners to sing along, to resist the draft, and to end war.

The song recounts a true but comically over exaggerated Thanksgiving adventure.

"Alice" was restaurant-owner Alice M. Brock, who in 1964, using $2,000 supplied by her mother, bought a deconsecrated church in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where Alice and her husband Ray would live. It was here rather than at the restaurant, which came later, where the song's Thanksgiving dinners were actually held.

On that Thanksgiving, November 25, 1965, the 18-year-old Guthrie and his friend Richard Robbins, 19, were arrested for illegally dumping some of Alice's garbage after discovering that the dump was closed for the holiday.

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 the judge being unable to see the "27 8x10 colour glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us".

In the end, Guthrie and Robbins were fined $50 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 on Whitehall Street.

The punchline of the story's denouement is that because of Guthrie's criminal record for littering, he is first sent to the Group W Bench (where convicts wait) then outright rejected as unfit for military service.

The final part of the song is where Arlo tells the 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. Thus is born, "the Alice's Restaurant Anti-Massacree Movement, and all you got to do to join is sing it the next time it comes around on the guitar."

As of 2005, Alice Brock lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts and owns an art studio and gallery at 69 Commercial Street. She illustrated a children's book written by Guthrie in 2004 called "Mooses Come Walking".

I'm not positive who plays it but I'm sure Q104.3 will, NPR definitely will, FUV will - if you have some tin foil and a coat hanger, CBS-FM might. Just flip around the dial on Thursday afternoon and you'll hear it.

Alice's Restaurant is to Thanksgiving what A Christmas Story is to Christmas.

Arlo Guthrie, Remembering "Alice's Restaurant" {NPR}

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