My housemate decided to play Alice's Restaurant tonight. I haven't listened to it in ages but all the words came flooding back, filling me with nostalgia for that summer afternoon when I first heard it.
I was 12 and my life was never quite the same afterwards.
My brother was outside, washing his VW GTI. He was 17, my idol. I wanted to be just like him when I grew up. He had his JVC boombox outside with him. Playing at the loudest possible volume was Alice's Restaurant.
I had never heard of such a song, a song that was essentially a story. It was a completely revolutionary concept to me. I wandered outside to ask him who this was, this avant garde story teller.
He rewound the tape and started it over again. "Arlo Guthrie," was all he said. We both sat on the concrete of the driveway for twenty minutes while the song played, laughing at the funny parts.
"Yes, sir, Officer Obie. I cannot tell a lie. I put that envelope under that garbage."The intangible thing about this song, the genius of this song, is the subtle, radical nature of the story. It's a simple enough story about a guy who was, fortuitously as it turns out, arrested for littering. That turns out to be the reason he was rejected from the draft. The messages are clearly relevant to the 60's anti-war movement, but if you listen carefully, they are still applicable today.
"Obie, I don't think I can pick up the garbage with these handcuffs on."
"Kid, we don't want any hangings." And I said, "Obie, did you think I was gonna hang myself for littering?"
And the meanest, ugliest, nastiest one, the meanest father-raper of 'em all, was coming over to me and he was mean n' ugly n' nasty n' horrible and all kinds a things and he sat down next to me and said, "Kid, whaddya get?" And I said, "I didn't get nothin'. I had to pay fifty dollars and pick up the garbage." He said, "What was you arrested for, kid?" And I said, "Littering."
"I mean, I mean, I mean, I'm sittin' here on the bench, I'm sittin' here on the group W bench 'cause you wanna know if I'm moral enough to join the army, burn women/kids/houses n' villages after bein' a litterbug." He looked at me and said, "Kid, we don't like your kind."
"If you wanna end the war and stuff, you gotta sing loud."I think the seeds of my liberal activism were already planted, maybe they had always been there, but they certainly blossomed a little that afternoon in the driveway.
I didn't grow up to be exactly like my brother, but we are very close. He's been pretty sad lately, which makes me sad for him. We were IMing tonight and I randomly typed some of the above lyrics. He immediately got the reference. It made him smile.