Saturday, November 25, 2023

Alice’s Restaurant and the Return of the Murfin Winter Holidays Music Festival

                                                        Arlo's original album cut of Alice's Restaurant.

Those all-Christmas music radio stations are already churning out their short rotation of holiday hits.  TV specials from highbrow to hip are on almost every night.  There are plenty of ways for you to get your jolly Jones for Yuletide tunes satisfied.   But if you are in the mood for a quiet moment each day with a steaming mug of coffee, cocoa, mulled something, or something stronger and more adult, Murfins Annual Winter Holidays Music Festival is for you!

Murfin's Winter Holidays Music Festival is back!

This is how it works: Every year beginning on the day after ThanksgivingBlack Friday if you must—until the Feast of the Epiphany—the Day of the Three Kings—on January 6, I will post a seasonal song, not only sacred and secular Christmas favorites, but songs celebrating the many winter festivals observed during this time of year including Hanukkah, St. Nicholas Day, Santa Lucia, Winter Solstice, Boxing Day, and the New Year.  I try to mix the familiar with what might not be so well known including songs from different cultures and new music.  Of course, there will be plenty of time and space for the old chestnuts.   Regular followers know that I am especially fond of the secular songs of the Golden Age of American Christmas Music which stretched roughly from the early 1930’s to the late 1970’s.

I am also eager to get suggestions and requests.  You can message me on Facebook, e-mail , or post a comment to a blog entry.

This year let’s kick things off with a Thanksgiving song while the leftovers are still in the fridge.

The Thanksgiving Song of Baby Boomers was Alice’s Restaurant, which WFMT in Chicago obligingly plays each Turkey Day.  Plenty of aging hippies cue up their venerable vinyl, find a CD, or maybe even pops in an ancient cassette tape into a surviving player to hear it one more time.  

The hippy Thanksgiving feast at the Church in Stockbridge, Massachusetts as seen in Arthur Penn's 1969 film Alice's Restaurant .

Arlo, the son of the legendary Woody Guthrie and modern dancer Marjorie Mazia, was only 18 years old at Thanksgiving in 1965.  He was trying to stake out his own identity independent of the long shadow of Woody, who was already hospitalized in the last stages of his battle with Huntingtons Chorea.  Away at college in far away Montana he watched other acolytes, notably Ramblin Jack Elliot, and Bob Dylan sit by his dad’s bed-side and appropriate his musical mantle.  Arlo was playing and singing around school and small coffee houses but had no reputation of his own when he decided to hitch-hike back East for a possible last visit to his Old Man, and to settle into communal living in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.  He attended a joyous holiday feast in the old church building where he and many of the others crashed.  Alice Brock, the former librarian at a boarding school in town that Arlo had attended, and the proprietor of a new counter cultural restaurant supplied most of the food.

After the dinner Arlo and a pal loaded what he described as “half a ton of garbage” into a ramshackle truck to take it to the local dump which they found closed for the holiday.  Not knowing what to do, the pair simply dumped their load in a ravine just off the road, not uncommon then in much of rural America.  But when the local constable found a letter addressed to Arlo in the mess, he arrested him, took him to jail, and charged him with illegal dumping.  Arlo was convicted by a Justice of the Peace, fined, and ordered to clean up the mess.  All of which Arlo did with more or less good humor, amused that he had been made a convicted criminal for what he called littering.  By the end of the decade many hippies swept up in the emerging ecological movement, including Guthrie, recognized the offense as far more serious than it seemed at the time.  But that was in the future.

Arlo Stripped for induction in the Penn film.

Having dropped out of college, Arlo was called up for induction in the Army while the Vietnam War was raging and being drafted has serious, even fatal consequences.  Arlo showed up for his induction physical with no real plan of what to do, and a cheeky, irreverent attitude.  The scrawny kid who had a good chance of inheriting his father’s fatal genetic condition somehow passed.  Then his record turned up and he was rejected as unfit for military service as a result of a criminal record consisting solely of one conviction.

All of which Arlo described in detail in a rambling 18 minute story/song Alice’s Restaurant Massacree he began to perform at his small gigs around the northeast.  Boston WBAI Public Radio host Bob Fass got a hold of a tape of the song from a live performance and played it repeatedly on his overnight broadcasts.  It became an instant word-of-mouth countercultural phenomenon his and led Arlo to being signed to a major record labelWarner Bros. which released the song as the entire A side of Guthrie’s debut album, Alice’s Restaurant in 1967.  It became an instant classic.  Two years later in 1969 director Arthur Penn adapted the song into a movie with Arlo playing himself.

Arlo quickly became a major star on the festival and concert circuit.  He performed Allice’s Restaurant at almost every performance until the end of the Vietnam War made it less relevant.  He also realized “I would never sing the song for a virgin audience again.”  He stopped performing it by the mid-70’s and resisted all pleas or demands that he do it.

Arlo shortly before his retirement.

Eventually, he decided that he would include it on tour for every 10th Anniversary of the song.  He did it for the 30th, 40th, and 50th tours.  His last public performance of it was at his annual Thanksgiving concert in 2019.  After the Coronavirus pandemic canceled his planned 2020 farewell tour and a series of strokes impeded his ability to walk and play guitar up to his own standards.  Arlo announced that he would no longer book any new shows.

Meanwhile there is an active campaign to have Arlo named to the Kennedy Center Honors.  A lot of us geezers think it would be well deserved.



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