Friday, January 13, 2012

Protest Arts -- Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant"

Less known today, Arlo Guthrie was a major figure of the 1960's protest movement in the United States. This status is largely due to one song -- a song that at almost twenty minutes long is more like an ambling tale told to the rhythm of a guitar. Quirky, catchy, but poignant, "Alice's Restaurant" encapsulated for many the spirit, and also the pitfalls, of the era. Below is a version in two parts, nicely illustrated by Andrew Colunga.

An interesting aspect of the song is the subtle way it presents issues. At heart a confrontation of world-views, the authoritarian police and military figures are set against the free living, food-sharing co-operative at the church. And although the anti-war message would have resonated with many of his listeners, just as important was the alternative offered in the narrative: the re-occupied church (or any such re-occupied space) where you could crash and get food and interact with community; notions of free love and moving from one place to another; in short, a counter-culture lifestyle. This aspect was played up more in a film based on the song (in which Guthrie playing himself).

In the last number of years, Arlo Guthrie has been more active as a public figure. He came out in support of Ron Paul's Presidential Campaign (and is a registered Republican), and has also shown support for the Occupy movement: see this video of Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, and other singers and musicians at OWS (Arlo is the guy in the white floppy hat). Whatever this all says about the maturing of the flower generation, or the dandelion-like appearance of left-leaning Republicans, in the end takes nothing away from what the song was (and is) all about. Something of that seems to apply to Occupy as well, and "You can [still] get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant."

Protest Arts is a citizen journalism column exploring the intersection of art and activism. Check back for more in this category. If you have an idea for a Protest Arts write-up, please get in contact with us here on the blog.


tbaird said...

Great post! I really loved that song.

Anonymous said...

thx. t,

more fun stuff coming!

Newer Post Older Post Home