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Alice at 40

And it's déjà vu all over again for Arlo Guthrie


You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant. Even 40 years later.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Arlo Guthrie's folk classic "Alice's Restaurant." The song is a humorous tale based on events that happened in Massachusetts in 1965: A man gets arrested for littering while trying to help out a friend on Thanksgiving. But the song takes subtle jabs at the war in Vietnam in the second half when the lead character is turned down for the draft because of his criminal record (littering).

"Alice's Restaurant" put Guthrie at the forefront of the anti-war movement. In the song he suggests people start the Alice's Restaurant Anti-Massacre Movement by simply singing the chorus, "You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant," to draft board shrinks.

He has brought the almost half-hour saga out of retirement for the 40th Anniversary Celebration of the Alice's Restaurant Masacree Tour.

Guthrie still spends 10 months a year on the road. This year a portion of the tour will be on the rails when Guthrie and friends travel on The City of New Orleans train from Chicago to New Orleans, making stops along the way to raise money for musicians and venues hurt by hurricane Katrina.

After figuring out how to de-privatize his phone number, Guthrie called to talk about the trip to New Orleans, Alice's relevance at 40, and if you can still get anything you want.

City:So Alice is finally coming out of retirement?

Guthrie: Oh I've retired it more than once. The last time was about 10 years ago. I retired it the first time in around '72 or '73 when the war ended, the draft ended and that was the end of that.

And I brought it back, I think, under the Carter administration when they brought back the Selective Service System --- but nobody seemed very interested at the time --- I dropped it again and have brought it back again on the occasional anniversary and quickly removed it from the setlist mostly because it was taking so long to get through it.

City:Does the song still have relevance today?

Guthrie: Well, I hope there would be for people for whom this is a new era. For some of us this is déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra would say.

City: Like the parallels between Iraq and Vietnam?

Guthrie: Yeah, I would say that. We may not have a draft in the same way that we had it years ago but there's a lot of guys who've been called up after all that time because [they're in the system because] of the first draft.

City:With the ongoing war on drugs, "Coming in to Los Angeles" still makes sense as well.

Guthrie: I don't know, I think both of these songs had some humor attached and I think there's always an occasion to want to laugh at some of the idiocy that's going on whether it's the war on drugs or the war on terrorism or whatever it is.

I think you can get overly serious --- not that these aren't serious subjects --- but for some people who never have a smile on their face or don't have a twinkle in their eye they just become so absorbed in these things, they're not living you know?

City:Where did the idea for the benefit tour on The City of New Orleans come from?

Guthrie: I was sitting around a couple of weeks ago right after the hurricane, wondering what to do. You know you send your money into the Red Cross, and then what? So I thought, 'Well, what can we do that was something only we could do?'

And it occurred to me taking the City of New Orleans down to New Orleans would kill two birds with one stone. First of all, just previous to that they tried to stop funding some of these major routes along the Amtrak line. The City of New Orleans was destined to become a fossil. And I thought how silly that was because after the 9/11 event when the airplanes were all shut down, the roads were all clogged the only thing moving was the trains.

City: And then Katrina hit...

Guthrie: And I thought to stop funding that now is just idiocy. I thought on this occasion it would be great to remind people --- even at Amtrak --- how important the trains are in terms of national security as well as just plain fun.

I was sitting around one day and said, 'Let me call some friends.' I sent out a little e-mail. I didn't ask anyone to forward it but it got forwarded everywhere and within an hour of sending it out I got a call from Willie Nelson and some others. Richard Pryor was the first to respond.

City: So after 40 years can you still get anything you want?

Guthrie: Well yeah. It'll be a lot of fun for us.

Arlo Guthrie with guests The Mammals plays Friday, October 21, at The State Theatre, 109 West State Street, Ithaca, 607-273-6633, at 8 p.m. $29.50. All ages.