For many Americans, Arlo Guthrie is as much a part of Thanksgiving as turkey, stuffing and an all-day NFL TV marathon. Ever since Guthrie released "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" in October 1967, spinning the marathon 18-minute-plus song has become an annual tradition for countless FM radio stations across the country.
The epic tune about a group of teens getting arrested for illegally dumping trash on Thanksgiving Day is based on a true story. It was Thanksgiving 1965 when Guthrie and a friend drove to Massachusetts for Thanksgiving dinner with friends. The friends lived in a church, which Guthrie and his pal helped clean up as a thank-you for dinner. When they did indeed get arrested for abandoning the trash along a highway when the local dump was closed, it became the basis of the classic track.
The catchy tune uses humor to deliver a poignant anti-war message, with Guthrie trying everything in the book to avoid getting drafted, and ultimately it's his arrest record that saves him from a trip to Vietnam.
"It was the military that brought up my arrest for littering, as it seemed absurd that the crime would disqualify anyone from service," Guthrie would explain later. "That, in large part, is what makes the song work."
The song's legacy looms larger than just FM radio. Guthrie starred in a movie based on the tune, Alice's Restaurant, in 1969.
In 1991, he bought the church that sparked the incident, turning it into the Guthrie Center. He's updated the track more than once, most recently with this 2017 live version.
None less than Bruce Springsteen cited the song in regards to own attempts at avoiding the draft, going on to inspire the song "Born in the U.S.A.":
"I pulled the whole 'Alice's Restaurant.' 'I'm sorry, sir. I don't understand what you are saying because I am high on LSD.' I did everything in the draft-dodger's text book," Springsteen told UPI in 2017. "So, perhaps, I felt guilty about that later on. I had friends who went. I had friends who went and died. I had friends later on who were seriously hurt. And whether it was that or whether it was just the fact it was an event that defined a generation and if you were going to write about the world, if you were going to write about who we are at this this particular moment, if you were going to write about your place, if you were going to try to seize your little moment in history, which were all things I wanted to deliver to my audience, it was something that needed to be reckoned with. ... And, so, it was something that I felt I had to come to terms with myself and I needed to sing about."