City Planning Commission
A Great Notion
the contrariness of the mad fanner
I am done with apologies. If contrariness is my
inheritance and destiny, so be it. If it is my mission
to go in at exits and come oat at entrances, so be it.
I have planted by the stars in defiance of the experts,
and tilled somewhat by incantation and by singing,
and reaped, as I knew, by luck and Heaven's favor,
in spite of the best advice. If I have been caught
so often giggling at funerals, that was because
I knew the dead were already slipping away,
preparing a comeback, and can I help it?
And if at weddings I have gritted and gnashed
my teeth, it was because I knew where the bridegroom
had sunk his manhood, and knew it would not
be resurrected in a piece of cake. "Dance" they told me,
and I stood still, and then while they stood
quiet in line at the sate of the Kingdom, I danced.
pray" they said, and I laughed, covering myself in the earth's brightnesses, and then stole off gray
into the midst of a revel, and prayed like an orphan. When they said "I know that my Redeemer liveth," I told them "He's dead." And when they told me "God is dead," I answered "He goes fishing every day in the Kentucky river. I aee Him often." When they asked me would I like to contribute I said no, and when they had collected more then they needed, I gave them as much as I had. When they asked me to join them I wouldn't, and then went off by muself and did more than they would have asked. "Well, then" they said "go and organize the International Brotherhood of Contraries," and I said "Did you finish killing everybody who was against peace?" So be it. Going against men, I have heard at times a deeo harmonv thrumming in the mixture, and when they ask me what I say I don't know. It is not the only or the easiest way to come to the truth. It is one way.
PROGRESS R OGRESS HGRESS BRESS BESS BBS BS
sd. one redneck Mid-West farmer to another while looking at the sun set (speaking in metaphor)
Let's shave all those hippy heads ft with their hair make the biggest goddamn tumbleweed ever to blow across the face of this earth
then drop it on the Russions tiie t'other exclaimed feeling mighty proud of hisself
from Glossary of the Everyday Jonathan Greene
by J. S. Willoughby
"Woody was involved with unions getting people together. He was interested in getting people together in numbers. I'm interested in getting people together with themselves. It's the same thing.
Alice's Restaurant is a film about American life. It is the odyssey of another American seeker, Arlo Guthrie (played by himself), and it is the story of Alice and Ray Brock (Pat Quinn and James Brod-erick) attempting to find peace and beauty with their young friends through the American tradition of self-reliance and communal living. This division of the action makes the film episodic, but it is precisely because of its episodic character that the film captures the reality of American life: it is through this division that the film achieves its sanity of vision.
While Alice and Ray's experiment with communal living in a defrocked episcopalian church in Stockbridge, Mass., is a microcosm of American self-reliance, it is through Arlo's adventures that we see the turbulence of the larger American scene. In the opening scenes he goes off to college to escape the draft. But he is hassled for his long, flowing black hair" first by the Yellow Springs police, who run Arlo's friend, Roger, out of town, then by red-necked restaurant-hanger-ons who throw him out of the restaurant through a rather high, closed window, and finally the College authority who will "believe him this time" but...
So Arlo leaves to go and see Woody, his hospitalized and dying father, himself a former traveler and folk poet, and to seek a more gentle scene. But aside from the warmth and peacefulness he finds in Woody and the Stockbridge church, he finds only an absurd, chaotic, noise-racked world"the world of the teeny-bopper who wants to make it with him because she figures hell be at least an "album," the world of the lady coffeehouse owner who calls him "not much of an entertainer" when he refuses her advances. It is a world where there is little natural response and genuine emotion.
Despite this, Arlo's adventures in the great American scene are conducted with compassionate good humor, a humor that achieves grotesque hilariousness in the enactment of episodes taken from the record, Arlo and Roger's arrest for littering, and Arlo's trip through the draft induction center. It is a humor build upon the juxtaposition of Arlo's natural looseness and ease against the up-tightness of American bureaucracy; "But Officer Obie," he comments lightly, "how am I
going to pick up the garbage with these handcuffs on?"
But America has its darker side as well, portrayed through Alice and Ray's friend Shellev. a not quite ex-iunkie. Shelley enters the picture through a rear door of Bellevue Hospital; he emerges into a world resonant with the noise of jack-hammers and autohorns, curiously pointed up by a sign on the hospital building that reads "hospital: quiet zone." The roar of his motorcycle amidst flashing freeway lights, as he rides to his lonely suicide later in the film, is a clear and awful alternative to. the serenity , posed by the film's music.
It is from this noisy, chaotic America that Alice and Ray are attempting to retreat. Their experiment with the defrocked Episcopalian church in Stock-bridge is one Emerson would have approved; using their skills as cook and carpenter, lover and doer, they attempt to create a more harmonious, beautiful -life, a life in which people can live naturally and compassionately with each other, a life with some grace. This is Alice's world and she tends to it vigorously. She cooks soup for Arlo and Ray, puts a blanket on a cold horse, congratulates a winner, operates a restaurant, handles public relations with the town of Stockbridge (Officer Obie), cooks a Thanksgiving and a wedding night dinner, bails people out of jail and confronts the police (Officer Obie, who arrested Arlo for littering and plays himself in the film, and rather sympathetically at that), gets people together with each other and with themselves, makes love herself, and suffers and provides a home for everyone.
Alice's presence is the dominant and most beautiful element of the film. She gives naturally of herself rather than harshly demanding. Hers is the peaceful sleep that follows making love, and her warmth and vitality provide a particular alternative to the chaotic greater American scene. But if she is all this in particular, it is through the music and presence of Arlo and Woody Guthrie that we see her in moral perspective, understand her amazing grace.
"Woody used to come home all the time. We went to visit him when he couldn't make it home. We didn't compare notes on singing; we used to sing all the time. His friends would come and we'd all sing. It was groovy. I liked all his stuff."
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Few moving pictures depend on music thematically as heavily as does Alice's Restaurant. But music of the kind created by Arlo and his father is a natural element of American culture; it is one of the finest and most beautiful outgrowths of American life. This music provides part of the structural framework of the film, creating a bridge between Alice and Ray and the scenes in Woody Guthrie's hospital room, where Arlo frequently goes to visit and seek support from Woody's quiet, warm eyes. And not only does Alice's Restaurant derive its existence from Arlo's monologue, it derives its notion of value from it as well; Arlo's easy good humor, and, above all, his naturalness and sentimentality, his openness and warmth are what Alice and Ray seek to embody in the defrocked Episcopalian church.
But Arlo's music is Woody's music, too. Early on in the picture, as Arlo is hitchhiking back from his college experience, he is dropped off on his way in the vicinity of an evangelical tent meeting. As he watches, the song leader, played by ex-Weaver Lee Hays, strikes up a rendition of "Amazing Grace," a song which the film later finds being sung in the church after the much heralded Thanksgiving dinner. The tawdry aspects of the tent meeting drop away as Lee Hays rhythmically chants each verse while the the ensembled group of worshippers sings out the refrain. The scene suddenly becomes one of great musical beauty and the camera draws away to a long shot of the tent in the night, dwelling lingeringly on the old hymn and Hays' beautiful voice. While the healing offered by the preacher may not be real, the song still has its enchantment. "Seems like Woody's road might a run through here sometime," Arlo comments as the singing dies away.
And that, of course, is the point; gongs like "Amazing Grace" are Woody Guthrie, just as Woody's frivolous car-car song, sung by Pete Seeger, is Arlo's "Alice's Restaurant Masacree." The simple, native love of country, the rural sentimentality, the gentleness and human-
ity, all the beautiful and tortured America that speaks in Woody Guthrie's music, all that Woody has come to symbolize provides a tradition and source of value for Alice and Ray and the church commune.
But the harmony at the church cannot last, indeed, it barely gets into the air. People demand too much of Alice. Ray is not as free as she is, either, and is constantly and belligerently on edge. The ultimate course of things is downward; jealous and maddened by the realization that Shelley is still on junk, Ray creates a confrontation that leads Shelley to his death.
Woody dies then, too, and ironically it is into his death that the noisy outside world intrudes, in the person of an inquisitive and obnoxious friend, while in death Shelley's friends bring him what peace they can; snow falls softly and whitely on the cemetary, a girl with a guitar sings of Aging Children, and his friends drop flowers on his crude wooden coffin.
Ray and Alice try one more time to begin again and have a second wedding in the church. But as the night wears on Ray becomes drunk and despairing; he confides to his friends that he wants tc sell the church, to get an even bigget place, as though a change of scene will make the difference.
Arlo leaves, Alice and Ray following him outside into the morning. "I'll be back," he says. But the light is wan, Ray is dejected. It is winter, the trees are bare, the chalked, weathered, peeling white paint of the church stands out prominently. "If only we could stop bugging each other," Ray mourns, and goes back inside. Alone, Alice stands there on the church steps, still, before the moving camera, but troubled; she remains the bride of life, the strong, American, pioneer woman, but this is not the still peacefulness that follows the communion of body and spirit; that stillness recedes even as the camera draws nearer to her. Whatever harmony there was in the church dies away with Arlo's going.
Such has been the treatment of the so-called youth revolution by the mass media. The external elements have been ripped out of their moorings and pushed off as saleable commodities.
Yet, while these obvious aspects of the movement (life style, language, etc.) were blatantly co-opted and pushed hard as the quintessence of hippdom, the substantive aspects, namely the concern for self-development and the quality of American life, have been conveniently ignored by the exploiters. Controversy doesn't sell, you know, and, well, we've got a business to run, and while I like you people and respect your love of freedom, etc., etc.
In this manner the alternate life style has been left to develop as a virtual parasite to the established institutions. Lacking its own viable institutions, the scene Ken Kesey fathered has been prime fodder for exploitation. So, now we're all looking and talking alike again, even if our thoughts travel the same gray circles.
In fact, it now requires about as much thought to don hair, bells and beads a' going to the bathroom.
This sad exploitation of the movement., this crass rape that dissipates life energies, is just the illness that is so upsettin many of the more concerned hair people sending them in quiet droves to the hills.
One clings to the pollyannaish hop that American musical institutions wi! develop and accurately represent what lot of young people are saying, and, mor importantly, feeling. Until that time there remains a very exploited mass represented only as a forlorn group with a penchant for hair, drugs and astrology"the sam trilogy that so fascinated Adolf Hitler.
But, hell, lots of folks sure do tap the. feet to this music, so let's all tote da. record, lift dat wallet for de massai record man, cause he's our friend, an. he's, well, heavy, and, ah, Led Zeppelin plays the music.
Don't follow leaders, watch the parking meters.