Thanksgiving is coming up this Thursday, so we’re kicking off the week with the (only) classic Thanksgiving song, a rambling story lasting nearly twenty minutes (despite his assertion that he’d been talking for much longer), and it’s always worth the time.
“Alice’s Restaurant Massacre,” despite the title, does not contain a massacre. It does contain, however, an epic about good food, good people, and breaking the law. It’s all played for humor, of course. Guthrie tells the tale in spoken word, except for those few places where the “chorus,” as it were, appears. The folksy music is really just background noise, unless you really focus on it. There’s no rhythm or melody involved in anything other than the chorus, so there’s no need for the music to do anything other than sound nice layered behind the words.
Arlo Guthrie, like his father Woody, was a big part of folk music, which these days i s a rather underappreciated genre. It’s the home of the story song, something which isn’t quite as common in other genres (and often shows up more as a concept album than as a single song). Harry Chapin and Jim Croce are just two of the artists that come to mind when talking about the story song, but with “Alice’s Restaurant Massacre,” Guthrie blows everyone else out of the water. The story is fully fledged– it’s more a short story than it is a song, which makes sense given how long it is. It may not be sung, but that’s a technicality. It is a song, and a damn good one.
So take a some time today to listen to a story and get into the Thanksgiving spirit. And remember: you can get anything you want, at Alice’s Restaurant — excepting Alice.
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