Jesse Jarnow

“alice’s restaurant” – arlo guthrie

“Alice’s Restaurant” – Arlo Guthrie (File expires on November 30th.)
from Alice’s Restaurant (1967)

It all started 40 Thanksgivings ago — that’s 40 years ago on Thanksgiving — that Arlo Guthrie ran afoul of the law in sleepy Stockbridge, Massachusetts and found himself in jail for littering, an offense that would later free him from the draft, and provide gristle for the above linked-to 18-minute boomer/rockist campfire yarn called “Alice’s Restaurant” (remember Alice?) that doesn’t really have anything to do with Alice or the restaurant. Yeah, you’ve heard the song a million times, so what’s once more for an old friend? On Thanksgiving, no less?

In my last column, I blathered about whether it was possible for digital files to have auras (1). This lo-fi mp3 of “Alice” demonstrates, to me, that they can. I downloaded this from the O.G. Napster one homesick night during (probably) my junior year of college. It’s followed me through three computers, more than a dozen system crashes, three or four different mp3-playing applications and their attendant playlists (its icon belongs to an app whose name I don’t recall), two iPods, without me ever consciously making a back-up.

To me, the shoddy digital flutter on the acoustic guitar is just as distinct as the post-radiator-flood warble on my parent’s vinyl copy. And while I don’t expect all of that to translate universally to whoever downloads this particular copy of “Alice,” I do think that the idiosyncratically subpar sound quality of the recording will have an emotional effect different from a more standard, ripped version. Through mere survival, it has become unique. Yes, most art these days is the product of mechanical reproduction, but not all copies are equal — they all communicate something unique to their medium.

All of which is to say: it’s Thanksgiving and here’s a copy of “Alice’s Restaurant,” where you can still get anything you want.

(1) Don’t feel like giving Google your name?

1 Comment

  1. Randy Ray says: - reply

    We listened to Alice, again, yesterday. My groovy, aging hippie mother-in-law really got into it. She loves Arlo like we do and we talked about him for a while–the sonic ties that bind. My memory of Guthrie’s aura on this particular CD comes from a trip Maija and I made about five years ago down the coast of California from the City to Big Sur. We were in that mood that dictates Dylan–Nashville Skyline>Self Portrait>New Morning–and CSN and Workingman’s Dead and, of course, our old pal, Arlo who jumps out of that CD like a man that will always be sitting across from you, telling a good, funny story, making hard times appear somewhat comical yet bearable, just like dear ole dad, Woody.

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