Thursday, November 25, 2010


Arlo Guthrie On Macy's Parade

by Wayne Robins

Arlo Guthrie and his daughter, Sarah Lee Guthrie, were on NBC just after 10 a.m. at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, singing Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land." Riding on the Ocean Spray float, they got their minute before being preempted by Kermit the Frog, but that minute would have never happened back in 1967, when Arlo first released his 19 minute Groucho Marxist comedy manifesto, "Alice's Restaurant."

A counter-culture Thanksgiving tradition in its day, "Alice's Restaurant" is a wily folk humor narrative backed by his guitar strumming about the protagonist,
Arlo, going to jail for littering in a Berkshire mountain village. The absurdities pile on: the police take his belt, because they don't want a suicide in the cell, in case he decides to kill himself for littering. Later, at a New York draft center (this is the peak of the Vietnam War), attempts to portray himself as an insane G.I. Joe ("I wanna kill. Kill!) does nothing to discourage an army psychiatrist from finding our protagonist fit for military service. I guess I should toss in a spoiler alert, if you can't see it coming, but the narrator is found unsuitable to serve in Vietnam or even be in the army because he is a moral hazard, as the result of his criminal record: his arrest and incarceration, for littering.

As TV entertainment, Arlo and Sarah Lee's minute was a cleansing karmic balance to the season of Bristol Palin nearly winning "Dancing With the Stars." Bristol, apparently, had what used to be known as two left feet compared to many more clearly talented contestants. But the judges disdain for Bristol's dancing was overwhelmed, until the final week, by the Internet popular vote, which was so overwhelmingly pro-Bristol that it is now clear that her success on the show was the result of what could be considered an arm of her mother's political action committee and can be seen as part of a soft launch of the 2012 Sarah Palin for president campaign.

This all makes me miss the absurdity of Arlo's plight even more. I miss the relevant sanity of the 60s war years. Say you what you will about our decade of assassination, war, riot, protest, 55,000 dead young Americans dead in Vietnam, and the endless collateral damage—we were one nation. Divisible, for certain—not since the 1860s had we been more divided. But at least we were one country.

Not even Richard M. Nixon at his most toxic would identify with the venomous Republican party today, whose strategy for America is similar to the one our military pursued in Vietnam: To destroy the country in order to save it.

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