You Can Get Anything You Want

There’s been one aspect of preparing Jane for college this summer that has me singing. A very specific song. A song that has come up in multiple situations recently. That’s kind of the cool thing about this song. It’s as versatile as quoting The Princess Bride.

The first sing-along moment came while I regaled a co-worker with my tale of a frustrating phone call with the tech support person responding to my emailed problem. She basically called and asked, “So what’s the problem?” I hate it when she does that. I had described the problem in the email.

“I mean,” I said to the co-worker, “I sent her an email detailing each step she needed to reproduce it, including screenshots with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one describing what each one was so that it could be used as evidence…”

I was rewarded with only a weak smile. He knew but didn’t sing along.

The next usage was better rewarded. This time, I was talking about a person who had received a valid request for equipment from my group. It had all the management approval signatures it needed and all the paperwork was correct. Yet she had sat on it for months because she had decided on her own that we had plenty of that type of equipment and didn’t actually need what was in the request.

The song popped into my head and formed the next sentence before I stopped to think about how obscure the reference might be: “She’s got a lot of damn gall…”

The co-worker responded gleefully and with just the right tone: “I mean! I mean! I’m sitting here on the bench. I’m sitting here on the group W bench.”

Much more satisfying.

That afternoon, a co-worker originally from Louisiana said something about a task going “horribly wrong.” He says it more like “har-ible” and it always transports me to the end of the most popular live recording of Alice’s Restaurant when he’s trying to get the crowd to sing the chorus with him. The first attempt is lackluster. He responds by saying, “That was har-ible” in exactly the same accent as my friend.

But that’s not what I’m here to tell you about. I was telling you about Jane heading to college. Remember Jane? This is a post about Jane.

You see, Jane owns a lot of clothes, and havin’ all those clothes (seein’ as how she always claimed she needed more), she decided that she didn’t have to do laundry for a long time. For her entire senior year of high school, it seems.

See what I did there? I’m telling you, the song is versatile. When you know it by heart like all red-blooded Americans should, you can apply it to almost every facet of your life. And as I helped sort through the large trash bags she had put her clothes in to make some semblance of order out of the chaos of her room and then ran 12 loads of laundry through and folded all the clothes and carted off all the stuff too small or no longer desired, his lyrics about Alice and her husband’s penchant for not taking out the trash sang right into my head.

Having proved the powerful versatility of the song, I shall quote it once more.

You can get anything you want. From Alice’s Restaurant.

Alice’s Restaurant with Lyrics on YouTube for the Unenlightened

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Remembering Alice’s Restaurant

Most of my blog posts are easy and quick to write. I’m retelling a true story that happened to me – typically that day. Occasionally, I will philosophize about something, which takes more work. But rarely do I desire to write about a topic that takes planning, research, outlines, etc. And on the rare occasion that desire presents itself, I take a few notes and then wait for the feeling to pass.

I’m not intentionally waiting. It’s just that writing takes time and energy and that kind of writing takes a lot of energy and more time. As a married mother of three, working full time and then shuttling kids around, all while trying to find time to finish remodeling projects and handle other commitments that I perhaps shouldn’t have made, I rarely find a large enough block of time to give those ideas life. Eventually, I move on.

One of those ideas concerned my favorite songs. I made a tentative list, trying to force myself to narrow the list down to ten. Eventually I decided that there was no way to compare Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony to Joe Walsh’s Life’s Been Good. Then my husband suggested I consider why I like the songs. Do they have some great import? Do I like the lyrics? Or the music? The list grew. And then sat. And now it’s misplaced somewhere on the computer desk. At least, that’s where I hope it is.

A song that I knew, without a doubt, would be on that list regardless of whether I categorized the list in any way was Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie. If you aren’t familiar with it, you should stop reading this and go watch it on YouTube. Actually, don’t. The song is like 23 minutes long and you might not come back to me.

Anyway, I considered this song to be a cultural icon. A song that everyone knew and all the cool people could sing along with. It’s huge and surely only the hopelessly clueless or the young had failed to hear it. I had had very little opportunity to determine my view was mistaken.

That brings me to a recent conversation with two coworkers, both originally from Louisiana, which might have explained the problem if I hadn’t found the problem pervasive throughout my workplace, including some Oklahomans who without question should not have been living in this particular ignorance. One of them made a comment about something being “horrible”. With his New Orleans accent, it sounded like “har-ible” (the ‘har’ rhyming with ‘car’).

I was transported to the end of Alice’s Restaurant where Arlo tries to get the audience to sing along with him. They don’t do a very good job so he announces “That was har-ible. If you want to end war and stuff, you have to sing louder. We’ll do it again the next time it comes around on the guitar. This time with feeling.” (That’s a rough paraphrase, for any of you purists out there).

So I commented on it and they both gave me blank looks. I started talking about the song. More blank looks. I gave them the title and Arlo’s name. More blank looks. I began to panic. “Arlo Guthrie?” I asked. “Folk singer from the sixties?… Um… Woody Guthrie’s son?… Surely you’ve heard of Woody at least?” One of them had not and the other looked uncertain.

I turned to the Oklahoman in the cubicle across from us. He at least knew Arlo and could name a song of his but did not know his seminal work. I asked another Oklahoman as he walked by. No. A couple of other folks. No.

My boss, originally from some place north, knew it but admitted that it was only because his father-in-law forced him to listen as he sang it, that he had never heard Arlo sing it and had obviously never gotten to the end, as he deemed it pointless. Technically, most of the song is pointless (although entertainingly so), but the ending makes it clear that there is a point. It was a war protest song during Vietnam.

Dismayed, I turned to my Facebook friends. I was soon able to make some generalizations. If you had been an adult or near-enough in the late sixties or early seventies, especially if you were in the folk song or hippie crowd, you knew it. If you were not around back then but had a particularly hippie-ish parent or are a major music buff, you knew it. Or if you spent any of your life in Oklahoma City, listening to KRXO, the classic rock station, you knew it because they play it every year at noon on Thanksgiving.

I’m still amazed how many people are unfamiliar with the song. It was a significant part of my childhood. We’d listen to it in the car on the way to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving. When my husband and I found it on Thanksgiving while riding in the car with our kids, we made everyone stay seated when we reached our destination, so that we could sing along. Every lyric. Exactly. Our kids thought we were insane.

So go check it out now. I really don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

SIDE NOTE: Even the people unfamiliar with Woody Guthrie’s name, knew one of his songs: This Land Is My Land. What many don’t know is that Woody was a bit of a subversive and that song, now one of our great patriotic songs, was actually a protest song of sorts. He originally titled it “God Blessed America” and considered it a direct response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”, which he despised. He hated “God Bless America” because he felt that it was demanding more blessings on a country that was already covered in such extreme blessings that it was obscene to request more. I’ve often wondered what he would think about his song’s position in society now.