All This Stuff Takes Time

Here’s some scary information for those of us of a certain age.

Alice’s Restaurant is fifty years old.

Remember Alice? (The song’s about Alice.) Arlo Guthrie’s eighteen minute anti-war folk song that reduced radio program directors to tears, spawned a movie, and–as Arlo assures us–brought down Richard Nixon.

Arlo is currently doing the fiftieth anniversary tour. It’s a trifle premature*, but I realize all this stuff takes time.

* The Font of All Knowledge tells us that the song commemorates an event from Thanksgiving Day in 1965 and that the song was first performed in 1967. Take that latter date with the proverbial grain of salt. A little googling will turn up bootleg recordings of prototype performances dating from early 1966 and a radio performance in February 1966. There’s also a claim that WPKN radio beat WBAI to the air with the song. Either way, the tour is a little early.

For the tour, Alice has been reworked as a multimedia extravaganza with, according to an article in today’s SF Chron, “lights, videos, film clips, [and] archived photographs”, assembled by Arlo’s son Abe. The show hits Berkeley tomorrow, and yes, I’m going.

I confess to being an unrepentant Arlo fan. I have all of his albums, even the evangelical ones. I keep hoping he’ll pull a fast one at a show and replace Alice’s Restaurant with The Story of Reuben Clamzo & His Daughter in the Key of A*.

* A justly-neglected piece of Arlo’s oeuvre. It’s funny, but comes off as a case of trying too hard. Despite its flaws, though, I’d hate for this tale of “humongous giant clams” spreading their shells, flying cross-country, and eating unwary settlers to be totally forgotten.

Last month I mentioned that my second novel is approaching completion. Many books in its primary genre include a playlist of what the author was listening to while writing it. Most of those lists are heavily loaded with either Top 40 hits or classic rock. I’ll probably skip that tradition. I don’t want to get chased out of town by readers who couldn’t handle a list consisting of approximately equal parts Arlo Guthrie, Apocalyptica, Mike Oldfield, and Mariners’ games.

But I digress.

Over the years, I’ve listened to the original recording of Alice’s Restaurant many times. I’ve also listened to the twenty-fifth anniversary version Arlo started performing in the nineties (the one that presents proof of the song’s contribution to Nixon’s downfall) almost as often. I’m looking forward to the new sound-and-light version. It’s a shame that Alice’s message is still relevant after half a century, but it’s good to know that it’s changing with the times.

6 thoughts on “All This Stuff Takes Time

  1. Just yesterday, I made a reference to a friend to “the Group W bench”, and we both understood the reference perfectly, though she is 20 years younger than I. I hope the youngsters, (who won’t get off my lawn) still understand it!

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    • It’s all a matter of proper upbringing. That’s why I’m pleased that Arlo is keeping up with the times–though I really hope he doesn’t come out with a ten second version suitable for animated gifs.

      And keep in mind that those who don’t remember history are forced to retake it in summer school. Kids, don’t let that be you. Learn your Alice’s Restaurant by heart, just like your parents and (Goddess help us!) grandparents did. Yes, Simon, I’m looking at you.

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      • Be careful what you ask for, Casey. I know every word of “Alice’s” because I was stoned to the gill slits every time I heard it, and the words (with accompanying images), slipped, effortlessly into my unconscious, from whence to emerge at odd times. To paraphrase Hunter Thompson, I don’t advocate using psychedelics as a learning tool, but it’s worked for me (sort of).

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      • “Don’t do drugs, kids, m’kay?”

        Nonsense. You know every word despite having been stoned to the gills.

        But, whatever learning methods work for the individual… Just be careful, gang. In the immortal words of Tom Lehrer, “Keep those reefers hidden where you’re sure / That they will not be found / And be careful not to smoke them / When the scoutmaster’s around / For he only will insist that it be shared”

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    • I worry that the dollar values may not have much resonance for today’s youth.

      $50 in 1965 is about $375 today, but that doesn’t scan worth beans. In light of the modern tendency to tack on all kinds of fees and service charges to fines, maybe Arlo could update the song to $500.

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