Wednesday, June 15, 2005

It all started 40 Thanksgivings ago

Tonight I had the privilege of seeing Arlo Guthrie, who did a free concert in Rockefeller Park for the River to River Festival and the Alice's Restaurant 40th Anniversary Massacree Tour. Earlier today, we were saying "Wait a second, has it really been 40 years? Were they talking about the draft like that in 1965? [google google] No! Alice's Restaurant came out in 1967! This is only the 38th anniversary! It's all marketing!" So then tonight, he began the title song with "It all started 40 Thanksgivings ago, that's 40 years ago on Thanksgiving..." Aha! The original in 1967 was "It all started two Thanksgivings ago"! So the Alice's Restaurant Massacree itself was in 1965 and we're celebrating 40 years!

Parts of the song, originally in the present tense, were poignantly transformed into the imperfect. "Alice didn't live in the restaurant, she used to live in the church nearby the restaurant." "There used to be a building not far from here, on Whitehall Street, where you would go to get injected, inspected..."

Other updates to "Alice's Restaurant" (paraphrased - does anyone have a transcript?):
"But that's not what I came to tell you about, I came to talk about the draft. Maybe you think we don't have a draft anymore, but ask the guys who are being called up after 30 years."
"You may know someone in a similar situation, or you may be in a similar situation, sooner than you want to think about."
"If just one person does it, they'll say 'You're 40 years too late'. And if two men do it, hand in hand, I don't know what the policy is these days, but if you tell them, you're not going!"
"...and if 50 people walk in, sing a bar of Alice's Restaurant, and walk out, then they may think it's a movement, even if they're too young to know what a movement is. And that's what it was, that's what it is, and that's what it always will be, the Alice's Restaurant Anti-Massacree Movement."

The crowd was filled with aging hippies and their children (including at least two of my students).

Arlo Guthrie also sang a number of covers that are staples at my family's Thanksgiving celebration: "City of New Orleans", "This Land Is Your Land", and "Goodnight Irene". He interrupted in the middle of his father's most famous song "This Land Is Your Land" to give the best d'var torah ever. He told the biblical story of Joseph in full orchestration and five-part harmony, and I really want a transcript, because I'm not going to do it justice, but it included Pharaoh's "fiddlers three". Joseph's brothers were out in the field, and Joseph must have slept in or something, and his father told him to get out there to work, and he saw an anonymous man who said "They went that way." (See Genesis 37:17) So then his brothers sold him to a wagon train or safari, and then he was in prison next to two big brutes ("Nothing ever changes!"), and then the rest of the story, and the whole family moves down to Egypt, and then Moses, and David and Goliath, and Jesus, and 2000 more years of history.... And the whole thing shows how much of a difference one person can make, because without that one guy who said "They went that way", none of this would have happened. ("I should have given him my name! I could have been somebody!")

A completely different musical experience was last night, when we did private-room karaoke in Korea Town. Oh my. The private-room kind is much better, because you don't have to wait 45 minutes for your song to come up. You can just keep it coming, song after song, and it's only $6 per person per hour. The downside is that they had nothing by The Who or Digital Underground. But they had plenty of other stuff, with highly appropriate videos such as a happy couple dancing in the mountains for "I Am a Rock".

Update: Steve reports on the same show.

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