Ian McMillan goes in search of the people and places described in Arlo Guthrie's 1960's ballad, Alice's Restaurant and discovers how this eighteen minute song inspired a generation and still plays a unique part in American life today.
It's a piece that's had a profound effect on Ian ever since he first heard it as a twelve year old in Barnsley; his first introduction to small town America and the anti-war movement.On Thursday it'll be played on radio stations across the States, as America celebrates Thanksgiving. This song, that starts with a visit to the town dump and ends lampooning the Vietnam draft, was based on a true Thanksgiving day incident in Guthrie's life.
In the late 60's and 70's no student, either side of the Atlantic, would be thought to have a respectable record collection without the inclusion of the bright yellow LP with a photograph of the bare-chested, bowler-hatted, cutlery-brandishing singer, on the front.
Ian visits Stockbridge,the setting for the song and is taken to the scene of the crime, by the town's current police chief, Rick Wilcox and he goes to Great Barrington to visit the church where it all began.
He meets others for whom the song has been hugely important, including teacher, George Dunn who remembers being at the Rockport Folk Festival in 1968 when Arlo first performed the song for a live audience.
And in Maine Ian sings along with generations of children who've attended The Children's Garden Pre-school, for whom Alice's Restaurant has always been a key part of their curriculum.
Finally Ian's forty year old dream comes true when he meets Alice, now an artist with a gallery in Provincetown on Cape Cod, they talk about what the song has meant to her over the years.
Producer: Lucy Lunt.
Piers Plowright's Pick
Legendary radio maker Piers Plowright recommends Alice's Restaurant:
"Poet and broadcaster Ian McMillan goes in search of the real Alice and the scene of Arlo Guthrie’s 1967 anti-Vietnam war hit song, Alice’s Restaurant.
"It's a real journey of discovery in the passionate company of Barnsley’s poet laureate to get behind the song that became a cult object for the anti-war movement and a personal passion of his. A lovely example of how a good radio documentary can be like a stone in a pond: a small event whose ripples spread far and wide, and throw up unexpected and unplanned incidents and meetings. And when we meet the real Alice, she’s no disappointment. Also a good example of how to use music in a documentary."