Alice’s Restaurant Massacree

Now it all started fifty-three Thanksgivings ago . . .

Parts of Arlo Guthrie’s classic “Allison’s Restaurant” haven’t aged will half a century on but it remains the song for the day.

FILED UNDER: Popular Culture,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The true story behind Arlo Guthrie’s Thanksgiving staple, “Alice’s Restaurant”

    In Guthrie’s deadpan delivery, the whole story has a loopy, fever-dream quality, but most of what happens in it is true. Guthrie’s littering made the local paper that fateful Thanksgiving of 1965, with Police Chief William J. Obanhein (the Officer Obie of the song) remarking sternly that he hoped the case would serve “as an example to others who are careless about the disposal of rubbish.”

    And Guthrie was, in fact, disqualified from the draft because of his arrest record. “I just couldn’t believe it,” he told NPR in 2005. “And so I turned it into a song. It took about a year to put together, and I’ve been telling it ever since just about.”

    The song that Guthrie put together and has continued singing ever since is a kind of scathing ode to bureaucratic idiocy, to a system that so prizes conformity that it treats littering as a scandalous sin even as it celebrates military violence. And at the end, it becomes a protest song.

  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    Officer Obie:

    William J. Obanhein (October 19, 1924 – September 11, 1994), sometimes better known as Officer Obie, was the chief of police for the town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts. He was a member of the police force there for 34 years, 1951 to 1985. He is fairly well known for his appearances in popular culture.

    Obanhein was the “Officer Obie” mentioned in Arlo Guthrie’s 1967 talking blues song “Alice’s Restaurant.” Obanhein later stated that some of the events in the song were not completely true; for one, he never “handcuffed” Guthrie during the arrest nor did he remove the toilet seat from Guthrie’s cell to prevent suicide as Guthrie implied (it was instead removed to prevent theft).[1] Obanhein later would note that he would not have actually arrested Guthrie had the amount of garbage been smaller (he would have simply picked up the garbage himself)[2] and meant to use the arrest and subsequent media circus as an example to deter any further large-scale littering incidents.

    Disagreements with Guthrie aside, Obanhein accepted an offer from another Stockbridge resident, Arthur Penn, to appear as himself in a film adaptation of Alice’s Restaurant he was directing and co-writing.[3] He told Newsweek magazine (September 29, 1969, where his photo appears) that making himself look like a fool was preferable to having somebody else make him look like a fool.[4] Working on the film caused Obanhein to develop greater respect for Guthrie, and the two became friends for the rest of Obanhein’s life.[5]

  3. Slugger says:

    I love that song mainly because it reflects when I was young and naive. Was not a bad guy.
    Are there other songs we should play today? I will start with a favorite of my mother, not Thanksgiving but seasonal.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    He told Newsweek magazine (September 29, 1969, where his photo appears) that making himself look like a fool was preferable to having somebody else make him look like a fool

    Words to live by… And I have on more than a few occasions.

  5. Barry says:

    Thanks for posting this, James!

    And to the other commenters, for filling in some cool details.