How (and Why) to Listen to “Alice’s Restaurant” on Thanksgiving

By Steve Safran 

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For many, there’s a particularly odd and wonderful Thanksgiving tradition: listening to Arlo Guthrie’s 16-minute song/story Alice’s Restaurant Massacree on the radio. Sure, you can listen on Spotify or to your own recording. But here in Boston, I grew up listening to it at noon on Thanksgiving Day on the late, much-lamented WBCN.

This is the 51st anniversary of the story of how Arlo Guthrie and his friends “took out the garbage” on Thanksgiving, illegally dumped it, and how – well, it’s actually an anti-war song. Except maybe it’s not.

Radio Survivor has a comprehensive list of online stations playing Alice’s Restaurant Massacree (Or just “Alice’s Restaurant” for short) throughout the day. I had my kids listen to it while they were growing up, well before they understood it. They’re teens and older now, but we still bond over Alice.

Why this song on this date? Let Arlo Guthrie tell you in his own words, in this interview with CBS’s Mo Rocca.

The Boston Globe has a list of 51 Things About Alice’s Restaurant (for its 51st anniversary). Among them:

The church (in the song, where Alice lived) is now The Guthrie Center, a nonprofit devoted to helping people with HIV and other afflictions, including Huntington’s disease, the illness that most contributed to Woody Guthrie’s death.

Guthrie’s biggest hit was “City of New Orleans.” “Alice’s Restaurant” never cracked the Billboard Hot 100. The album peaked at 17.

You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant. (Exceptin’ Alice.)

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