Listening Comprehension Exercise:
Alice's Restaurant
by Arlo Guthrie

YouTube video:

     "Alice's Restaurant" is a popular song from the 1960s written and sung by Arlo Guthrie, son of the legendary American folk singer Woody Guthrie. It's long - over 18 minutes. There is a recurring refrain that at the end Guthrie gets the audience to join in on and sing with him. The rest is mainly his narration, in a nasal, ironically-intoned speaking voice, first of an incident in which he received a fine and punishment for dumping garbage in the wrong place, and later, how this incident again became important when he was about to be drafted into the military to serve in the Vietnam war.

         This will be an exercise in picking out some of the literary or rhetorical devices in this song, including irony. Some of these devices are listed below. You can look up terms you don't know in the English Prosody and Selected Literary Terms handout. Your assignment is to classify the examples below taken from the song's lyrics and place them under the correct type of literary or rhetorical device they exemplify. Some examples have been given to help you. Some fit under more than one category. In addition to helping you get deeper into this particular song and enjoy it more, this exercise should also give you an idea of the kind of things Americans find funny. Maybe you will find that some of the jokes are very N!

      Because the song is so long, and the language perhaps a bit difficult for second-language learners (though the vocabulary is quite easy), you may refer to the written lyrics, if you wish. You can easily find them on the Internet via a Google search. Note that there are a number of errors, at least in the version I found. You will still need to listen to the song, however, so you can hear the irony in Guthrie's voice; some things may look rather ordinary in writing, but the ironic tone of voice makes them funny, or at least alerts to you to the fact that something is supposed to be funny, or that some people think it's funny! Some of the vocabulary is given to aid you in looking up unfamiliar words and expressions.

Alice's Restaurant
walk right in
it's around the back
railroad track
Fasha the dog
seeing as how = since
a friendly gesture
city dump
half a ton
VW (= Volkswagen) microbus
implements of destruction
to head toward
to drive off into the sunset
side road
that couldn't be beat
  (= that couldn't be better)
Officer Obie
Kid (form of address showing mild contempt)
to arrive at the truth of the matter
to pick up
to give s.o. a medal
to expect
brave and honest
to bawl s.o. out (= to scold s.o.)
to count upon
to be arrested
patrol car
scene of the crime
Stockbridge, Massachusetts
to have s.t. hanging around a place
plaster tire tracks
foot prints
dog smelling prints
8 x 10 color glossy photographs
circles and arrows
approach, getaway,
northwest, southwest corner
that's not to mention
aerial photography
to put s.o. up in
(jail) cell


to make sure
toilet seat
bend the bars
roll the toilet paper out the window
slide down
nasty words
to bail s.o. out of jail
to go to court
All rise.
seeing-eye dog
typical case
American blind justice
to be fined
the draft
New York City
Whitehall Street
to inject
to inspect
to detect
to infect
to neglect
to select
physical examination
to get good and drunk
the night before
to look and feel one's best
all-American kid
man (oy)
to be hung down
to be brung down
to be hung up
to bring down
brung = brought
mean, nasty, ugly things
dead burnt bodies
to jump up and down
to yell
to pin a medal on
down the hall
to proceed

down the hall
to have a tough time
to leave no part untouched

to be arrested
to proceed to + V
full orchestration
five-part harmony
to go to court
Group W
to commit
mother rapers
father stabbers
father rapers
What (punishment) did you get?
to move away from
hairy eyeball
to create a nuisance
to shake one's hand
to have a great time
groovy: 60s slang for 'cool, great'
to smoke cigarettes and all kinds of things (refers probably to drugs like marijuana)
to fill out forms
in parentheses
capital letters
to rehabilitate oneself
to have a lot of damn gall to do s.t.
'We don't like your kind."
to send off to Washington D.C. (probably to the FBI)
to be enshrined in
a study
to be in a similar situation
sick (mentally ill)
in harmony
faggots = homosexuals
a bar of @p`
Allice's Restaurant Anti-Massacre Movement
the next time it comes around on the guitar
with feeling

Exercise: Identifying rhetorical devices
Below are listed a number of different literary and rhetorical devices. Identify the rhetorical device used in each of the examples taken from the song, then write the name of the rhetorical device used next to each example. Some examples may fit under more than one category. For some of the examples exemplifying 'repetition', you may have to refer to the lyrics to see if the lines or any words in it are repeated.

I. Famous allusions G and quotes:
1. 'I cannot tell a lie.' (attributed to the child George Washington, to his father, after supposedly cutting down a cherry tree; this is a fictional incident)

II. Puns:
1. ...the judge walked in and sat down with a seeing eye dog...It was a typical case of American blind justice

III. Clichés: time-worn expressions

1. we drove off into the sunset

IV. Irony:
1. Now friends, there was only one or two things that Obie coulda done at the police station, and the first was he could have given us a medal for being so brave and honest on the telephone...
2. Obie, I don't think I can pick up the garbage with these handcuffs on.

V. Hyperbole (exaggeration):
1. So we took the half a ton of garbage
2. shovels and rakes and implements of destruction
3. with tears in our eyes

VI. Rhyme:
1.'s around the back, just a half a mile from the railroad track

VII. Non-standard word stress, grammar (making Guthrie sound like a country hick)
(a) Word stress:

1. 'gui-tar instead of gui-'tar

(b) Grammar:
1. we found your name on a envelope
2. we was both immediately arrested

VIII. Repetition:
1. This song is called Alice's Restaurant, and it's about Alice, and the restaurant, but Alice's Restaurant is not the name of the restaurant, that's just the name of the song, and that's why I called the song Alice's Restaurant
2. You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant (many times)
3. Now it all started two Thanksgivings ago, was on...two years ago on Thanksgiving

IX. Antithesis: putting contrasting concepts together
1. ...and rather than bring that one up we decided to throw ours down

X. Ellipsis (leaving words out)
1. Didn't feel too good about it.

XI. Made-up words
1. neglections

Examples: which rhetorical devices are used here?

1. good and drunk the night before, so I looked and felt my best when I went in that morning.
2. We was smoking cigarettes
3. ...the approach, the getaway, the northwest corner, the southwest corner, and that's not to mention the aerial photography
4. injected, inspected, detected, infected, selected
5. with full orchestration and five-part harmony
6. mother rapers, father stabbers, father rapers
7. This piece of paper's got 47 words 37 sentences 58 words we wanna know the details of the crime time of the crime...(read so fast as to be incomprehensible)
8. hung down, brung down
9. ...taking plaster tire tracks, foot prints, dog smelling prints...
10. he took out the toilet paper so I couldn't bend the bars, roll the toilet paper out of the window, slide down the roll and have an escape
11. po-lice of-fi-cer 'sta-tion instead of po'lice officer station
12. Group Ws, where they put you if you may not be moral enough to join the army
13. he took out the toilet seat so I couldn't hit myself over the head and drown
14. Proceeded on down the hall...
15. I'm not proud...or tired.
16. injections, inspections, detections, neglections
17. ...being the biggest crime of the last fifty years
18. ...have to take their garbage out for a long time. We got up there, we found all that garbage in there, and we decided it'd be a friendly gesture for us to take the garbage down to the city dump. So we took the half a ton of garbage
19. ...and all kinds of mean, nasty, ugly things (how many times?)
20. 'see-ing 'eye 'dog instead of 'seeing 'eye dog
21. And they was mean and nasty and ugly and horrible crime-type guys
22. "I put that envelope under that garbage."
23. I didn't get nothing
24. We don't want any hangings.
25. in parentheses, capital letters, quotated
26. visit Alice at the restaurant, but Alice doesn't live in the restaurant, she lives in the church nearby the restaurant
27. I wanna KILL...And the sergeant came over, pinned a medal on me, sent me down the hall, said, 'You're our boy.'
28. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said fifty people a day
29. I can understand you wanting my wallet so I don't have any money to spend in the cell, but what do you want my belt for?
30. ...where the pews used to be in. ... seein' as how they took out the pews
31. Until we came to a side road, and off the side of the side road
32. want to know if I'm moral enough to join the army, burn women, kids, houses and villages after being a litterbug?
33. res-tau-'rant instead of 'res-tau-rant
34. another pile of garbage. And we decided that one big pile is better than two little piles
35. so we got in the VW microbus with the shovels and rakes and implements of destruction
36. I want to kill. I mean, I wanna kill. Kill. I wanna, wanna see, I wanna see blood...I mean kill, Kill, KILL, KILL.'
37. brung
38. Obie said he was just making sure...Obie was making sure...
39. ...and it was about four or five hours later that Alice...remember Alice? It's a song about Alice. Alice came by...
40. Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat
41. Shrink, I want to kill....I wanna see blood and gore and guts and veins in my teeth. Eat dead burnt bodies.
42. they was using up all kinds of cop equipment
43. we was fined $50 and had to pick up the garbage in the snow
44. 'three 'stop 'signs instead of 'three 'stop signs
45. twenty-seven 8 x 10 color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one
46. quotated
47. in the bell tower...and livin' in the bell tower like that...
48. another fifteen-foot cliff, and at the bottom of the cliff
49. I was there for two hours, three hours, four hours...
50. 'po-lice instead of po-'lice
51. mother rapers, father stabbers, father rapers! Father rapers sitting right there...the meanest father raper of them all...
52. I mean, I mean, I mean that just, I'm sitting here on the bench, I mean I'm sitting here on the Group W bench
53. tel-e-'phone instead of 'tel-e-phone
54. ...and there, there on the other side, in the middle of the other side, away from everything else on the other side...
55. 'po-lice 'car instead of po-'lice car
56. you may know somebody in a similar situation, or you may be in a similar situation, and if you're in a situation like that...
57. ... we was both jumping up and down...
58. Came to talk about the draft.
59. 'Cause I wanted to look like the all-American kid from New York City, man I wanted, I wanted to feel like the all...I wanted to be the all-American kid from New York
60. You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant...excepting Alice