“Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” by Arlo Guthrie (Amazon Advent Calendar day 4)
Finally, after going back and forth on this for a while I thought “**** it: I’m going with ‘Obvious’.”
Of course I love this song: I’m a thoughtful American. It’s gone beyond “like” and made into part of my user interface to the world. When I’m facing down the maw of a deadline and confronted by a piece of equipment that refuses to do something simple that it’s done a million times in non-critical situations, I find myself quoting this song to my monitor.
I adopt an incredulous, slightly high-pitched tone.
“I mean,” I say. “I meannnn, I’m just sittin’ here on a bench. I’m just SITTIN’ here on the Group-dubbya bench…”
This song is so well-known that my computer immediately recognizes what I’m getting at. It acknowledges that it’s being silly and petulant. It immediately cuts the crap and starts behaving in a rational manner.
So how does a song make it to this spot in the cultural consciousness? It’s a tricky road for a song to navigate. It needs to become successful enough that everybody’s heard of it, but not so over-played that everyone’s sick of it. I guess the smartest thing Guthrie did here was make the song run for about 18 minutes. That’s a mighty long time to expect a radio station not to run an ad for a tire store.
The other key move is to file the right paperwork with the appropriate government office to register your song as a Beloved Holiday Tradition. That $40 filing fee money well-spent: once you’ve set your commercial hooks into somebody’s childhood, you’ve got ‘em for life. I’m doing a slow 180-degree pan of my living right now and the Boba Fett cold-cast minibust, the Chewbacca Rumph Originals milk mug and the big R2-D2 cookie jar silently agree with me on this point.
(They also remind me that the new “Clone Wars” Lego figures are pretty cool and shouldn’t I keep an eye peeled for them the next time I’m at the mall?)
I’m sure that nearly everybody can remember hearing this on the radio every Thanksgiving. As soon as that acoustic guitar starts to ramble, you immediately get a mental image of your parents’ stereo, or the car stereo, or the radio in your room, and the floor you sat on while you listened to the whole thing from start to finish.
“Alice’s Restaurant” is the great American cultural equalizer. If you had a great childhood, you associate this with memories of the whole family pausing during a hectic morning to smile at this enduring tale of a Sixties Antiestablishment Thanksgiving. If you had a tough one, you cherish the memory of those lone 20 minutes of solace you had upstairs in your room, pressing your Walkman headphones deep, deep against your ears to blot out the noise of your Dad and his drunken new girlfriend arguing about who left a carton of cigarettes in the oven and forgot to take it out before putting in the turkey.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard lots of people — lots of little, whiney people — shouting that the only way to Send A Message to the TSA about how The People Shan’t Stand For Their Tyrrany, etc, is to stage a massive slowdown at all TSA checkpoints on the busiest travel weekend of the year.
I say thee Nay. For one, the TSA won’t notice if an additional 3 out of every 10,000 people ask to opt-out of the backscatter-imaging scanner. For another, delaying allllll of your fellow passengers just to make a flaccid and unnoticed point is silly and selfish.
No, if you’re really upset with the new “scanner or patdown” rules, here’s what you should do:
Step into the scanner, put your arms above your head as requested, and then do what Arlo did at the induction center. Sing a bar of “Alice’s Restaurant”…and walk out.
(Er, after the TSA has cleared you, obviously).
If just one person does it, they’ll think he’s crazy. But if fifty people do it, why, it might be recognized as a movement. The Alice’s Restaurant Massacree Anti-TSA Advanced Screening Movement…
One note about the following song link: there are two versions of this tune on Amazon. You really want the live version. It just plays so much better when Guthrie is working with an audience. (“I’ve been singing this song for 25 minutes. I could sing it for another 25 minutes. I’m not proud…”). Alas, it’s only available with the purchase of the whole album.
(Which, I needn’t remind you, is exactly the sort of crap that The Man is always pulling on us.)
Maybe you should just go ahead and buy the whole album, though. I mean, c’mon: like getting another eight dollars into debt is really going to matter at this point. It’s a $7.99 album. Plus, Amazon is doing a special deal where you get $5 in credits toward video-on-demand titles with an album purchase.
Furthermore, Amazon is offering $3 in free MP3 credits to anybody who claims a code and makes their purchases before Monday. You could actually wind up in profit. Click here for the details.
As usual, any Amazon purchases you make after clicking these links will result in my getting a small kickback, in the form of Amazon gift credits. Keep that in mind if you were planning on buying your grandparents something pricey this holiday season.