Massachusetts

Arlo Guthrie Gets Arrested for Littering

A Thanksgiving dinner clean-up in 1965 launched Arlo Guthrie on a folksinging career, created an anti-war anthem and transformed an old church into a home for a local charity called the Guthrie Center.

Arlo Guthrie

Arlo Guthrie

Guthrie's story about his 1965 arrest for illegally dumping the remains of the Thanksgiving dinner became the cult classic song, Alice’s Restaurant Massacree, or just Alice's Restaurant.

The satirical monologue tells a story set in Great Barrington, Mass., where Alice Brock and her husband Ray lived in a deconsecrated church.

The church started out as St. James Chapel in 1829, and  parishioners renamed it Trinity Church after expanding it in 1866. Alice had bought the small Gothic Revival building with $2,000 from her mother.

Alice was an artist, Ray was a woodworker and architect.  The young couple was influenced by Jack Kerouac and the Beats.  They both worked at the Stockbridge School, a boarding school from which Arlo Guthrie had graduated in Stockbridge, Mass.

Arlo Guthrie, Beatnik

Arlo Guthrie, the son of folksinging legend Woody Guthrie, dropped out of college after his freshman year and came to stay with Ray and Alice for a few weeks. The Brocks acted as surrogate parents to young people like Guthrie who camped out in the church to escape 'Establishment pressures' and the draft.

The neighbors hated the 'Beatnik commune.' They wrote letters to the editor complaining about it, and honked their horns and yelled when driving by.

Guthrie, 18, and his friend Richard Robbins, 19, joined Alice and Ray's Thanksgiving dinner in 1965. Afterward, Alice asked the boys to take the trash to the town dump, but they found it closed. So they threw the trash down a nearby hillside.

Hours later, Stockbridge Police Officer William ‘Obie’ Obanhein called the Brocks. He told Alice  he had just spent two very unpleasant hours going through the trash until he found an envelope with the Brocks' name and address on it.

Alice ratted out Arlo Guthrie and Richard Robbins. Officer Obie, who had modeled for Norman Rockwell, didn't like the long-haired hippies. He decided to make an example of them. He arrested them and put them in a jail cell. Alice, furious with Obie, bailed them out.

You can get anything you want

You can get anything you want

Alice's Restaurant

On the day of their trial, Officer Obie brought detailed photos of the crime to the courtroom. In the song, Guthrie describes his exhibits as

...27 8×10 color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us.

Guthrie described in the song how Officer Obie watched the judge walk to the bench with a seeing-eye dog.

The judge fined Guthrie and Robbins $25 each and told them to pick up the garbage. Later, Guthrie was drafted. He was disqualified from military service because he was ‘morally unfit,’ having been convicted of littering. He was sent to the Group W bench, where, he says in the song,

I'm sittin' here on the Group W bench 'cause you want to know if I'm moral enough to join the Army, burn women, kids, houses and villages after bein' a litterbug.

The chorus, ‘You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant’ begins and ends the song. Guthrie sang it live on WBAI radio in New York some time in 1967. It was so popular it became a staple of non-commercial radio pledge drives, and many classic rock stations play it every Thanksgiving. Pierre Robert on WMMR 93.3 in Philadelphia plays multiple versions multiple times over the holiday.

Alice's Restaurant came out as an album in 1967, but the 18-minute, 34-second song was too long for a single. Later, Arlo Guthrie learned President Richard Nixon owned a copy. He joked that explained the 18-1/2 minute gap in the Watergate tapes.

Afterward

The Guthrie Center

The Guthrie Center

Alice sold the church, and it changed hands several times. Many Alice's Restaurant fans continued to make pilgrimages to the church, including Arlo Guthrie in 1990.

He felt the building nurtured lasting relationships, so he raised money and bought it. He named it the Guthrie Center, and it houses the Guthrie Foundation, an interdenominational interfaith meeting place.

Officer Obie died in 1994 at the age of 69. Years after the Alice's Restaurant incident, he said, "You know, if it had only been a couple of bags of garbage, I would have picked it up myself."

Alice Brock and Ray Brock subsequently divorced.  Now 76, she lives in Provincetown, Mass. Ray Brock died in 1979 of a heart attack.

You can watch Arlo Guthrie sing Alice's Restaurant Massacree at Farm Aid in 2005 here. He will perform at Carnegie Hall on Nov. 24, 2018.

This story about Arlo Guthrie and Alice's Restaurant was updated in 2018.

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Marc Nedboy

    Marc Nedboy

    November 28, 2014 at 10:47 am

    They used to play it every Thanksgiving.I play it off
    You tube.Past a classic.

  2. Brian Ketner

    Brian Ketner

    November 28, 2014 at 10:56 am

    Our only true Thanksgiving song!

  3. Cecily Muller

    Cecily Muller

    November 28, 2014 at 11:44 am

    Listen to it every Thanksgiving and at other times in between 😉

  4. Gail Fungaroli Glazier

    Gail Fungaroli Glazier

    November 28, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    I Remember it well!

  5. Sue Nelson Coleman

    Sue Nelson Coleman

    November 28, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    Our Thanksgiving day tradition is to play Alice’s Restaurant just before we sit down to eat.

  6. Kathleen Nelson Ferranti

    Kathleen Nelson Ferranti

    November 28, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    Love to sing along every Thanksgiving!

  7. Susan Lane Shaw

    Susan Lane Shaw

    November 28, 2014 at 9:41 pm

    Our family watched the movie every Thanksgiving -one of our rituals.

  8. Subhendu Prakash Upadhyay

    Subhendu Prakash Upadhyay

    November 29, 2014 at 12:06 am

    plz donate for cow operation on 0013001500007043 indian name subhendu only one rupees for cow u can donate in one doller too for save cow is a energy drink source and to much

  9. Kathleen Taylor

    Kathleen Taylor

    November 29, 2014 at 3:12 am

    I’ve watched Alice’s Restaurant several times. Good stuff.

  10. Keena Palmer

    Keena Palmer

    November 29, 2014 at 6:56 pm

    I have it on vinyl

  11. Richard Verrochi

    Richard Verrochi

    November 30, 2014 at 9:17 am

    As a Street Musician, “Alice’s Restaurant” is one of my favorites. People know the chorus well and sing along with my harmonica playing. Great fun!

  12. Kevin Waters

    Kevin Waters

    November 30, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant!

    • Robert Wooten

      November 24, 2017 at 8:16 pm

      Excepting Alice

  13. Jim Tatro

    November 26, 2015 at 9:05 am

    WMMR 93.3 in Philadelphia plays the entire Slices Restaurant Massacre three times during the Pierre Robert Show from 10:30 until 3:00. One of which will be at 12. Check the station out on line to listen.

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  16. Jimmy Jones

    October 10, 2017 at 11:24 am

    To think this whole generation of very talented people turned into Stockbridge Mass/Big Government shills. They all became the very thing they correctly protested against in their youth.

  17. Peter

    March 10, 2018 at 3:22 pm

    If you’ve ever listened to this song, you couldn’t possibly believe it’s about “illegally dumping the remains of the Thanksgiving dinner.” The garbage was there for “a long time,” not the garbage produced by the Thanksgiving dinner.

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