As I see it, the song is about two incidents: 1) the arrest for littering (& exagerated response by the cops), and 2) the impact this “criminal history” had when Guthrie subsequently went before the draft board.
The part Alice herself played is very minor - she hosted Guthrie at the Thanksgiving dinner, it was her garbage that he illegally dumped, and she bailed him out of jail.
But the song is titled “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” and repeatedly states that “this is a song about Alice … and the restaurant”. And the protest song that he proposes singing when summoned to the draft is all about Alice & the restaurant: “You can get anything you want, at Alice’s restaurant …”.
Is there some meaning to this that I’m missing? Or is the pointlessness of it the whole point?
He went to Alice’s Restaurant and it’s the story of events that ensued as a result of that visit. It’s actually about the war in Vietnam, but it’s a good setup to get people interested and receptive to the message. Maybe Alice represents the simple life we knew in this country before the war or something like that, but you’re asking what does pie have to do with the day the music died.
“Massacree” is a colloquialism for “Goat Rope”, “Fubared”, “Snafued” or “Clusterfuck”.
The point of everything is the protest - “The Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacree Movement”:
It’s a song about Alice, who lives in an abandoned church, but gives the world’s best thanksgiving dinners. It’s a song about trying to do good and getting it all wrong. It’s a song about how, even when you get it wrong, military stupidity will come in and fuck it all up and somehow that will make it all work out.
It’s a song about how just a few people, standing up to stupidity, becomes a movement and how the movement gives thanks, with their friends, in an unused church.
Since I know it will come up, here’s what Arlo had to say about the word, “faggots”, in a recentish interview -
It was a hell of a restaurant, you know? You could get anything you wanted there! Well, except Alice.
He probably had the song and the words to the song hanging around mentally ever since he wrote and recorded them for a radio spot for Alice’s restaurant. Though the words would have been different because Alice’s Restaurant wasn’t the name of the restaurant, it was just the name of the song. That’s why he called it “Alice’s Restaurant”. What else was he going to name those two interconnected stories told to that musical background?
I believe I recall him saying the infamous draft physical took place in 1965, which was before LBJ’s escalation of troops in Viet Nam; a more innocent time when a mere minor misdemeanor conviction and a bad attitude could get one a 4-F classification.
After looking through Wikipedia, I suspect the answer has to do with this:
I’m guessing that the earlier versions of the song focused more heavily on Alice and the restaurant. And that the restaurant was depicted as a free and easy anything-goes place (where “you can do anything you want”), and thus the antithesis of the overly restrictive and illogical rules-oriented establishment being mocked in describing both the over-the-top response to the littering and the draft process approach to prior “criminal” history.
So in that context, walking into the shrink and hummin’ a few bars of “you can do anything you want at Alice’s restaurant” was an expression of defiance for establishment rules and power. In the final version the role of Alice and the restaurant was edited down a lot, but the refrain remained.