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Fundraiser Gives Back To Alice Brock Of Hit Thanksgiving Song Fame

Nov 26, 2020
Originally published on November 26, 2020 6:54 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This has been a holiday tradition since 1967.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALICE'S RESTAURANT")

ARLO GUTHRIE: (Singing) You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant.

GREENE: Arlo Guthrie wrote "Alice's Restaurant" about a Thanksgiving in western Massachusetts. And it's still a staple on radio this time of year. But the tune's namesake has fallen on hard times. Andrea Shea of member station WBUR has her story.

ALICE BROCK: Well, kids, this is Alice, the famous living legend Earth Mother Alice of Alice's Restaurant.

ANDREA SHEA, BYLINE: The nearly 80-year-old Alice Brock's dry wit comes across as she remembers how her buddy Arlo Guthrie immortalized the church where she lived and her Stockbridge diner.

BROCK: He kind of perfected it sitting around this table, when we were all singing all kinds of songs. But that was a great one 'cause it was, a story and we knew it. So it was like a song about us.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALICE'S RESTAURANT")

GUTHRIE: This song's called "Alice's Restaurant." It's about Alice and the restaurant.

SHEA: It connected with listeners on FM radio and led to a Hollywood film. Alice Brock wrote the spin-off "Alice's Restaurant Cookbook," went on a book tour and became, she insists, a reluctant star. After her diner closed, she opened a larger restaurant where she hired her friends and others in need.

BROCK: If somebody asks me for something, I believe that they really need it, so I give it to them. There are very few things I wouldn't give. So somebody asked me for a job. I gave them a job, like the people on parole or people who didn't have rent money.

SHEA: Now it's Alice who's struggling to pay the rent. She lost the house she owned in Provincetown on Cape Cod and two years ago was hospitalized with heart disease and the lung condition COPD. So friends she's helped over the years are helping her with a GoFundMe campaign.

DINI LAMOT: I came up with a little You Can Give Anything You Want slogan for the title page. Hope Arlo doesn't mind (laughter).

SHEA: Dini Lamot is a former member of the 1970s and '80s new wave band Human Sexual Response and got to know Alice in the early '90s.

LAMOT: I just would hear about all the stuff she did for all the people she took in and her generosity.

WINDLE DAVIS: Lost teenagers.

LAMOT: Yeah, yeah. She took in a lot of wayward souls.

SHEA: That's Lamot's band mate and life partner of 46 years, Windle Davis, chiming in. When they met Alice, AIDS was ravaging the gay community.

DAVIS: Provincetown filled up with people from cities all over the United States of men that said, well, if I'm going to only live another year or two years, I'm going to live it in...

DINI LAMOT AND WINDLE DAVIS: ...Provincetown.

DAVIS: And so we had to do benefit after benefit. And Alice was one of those people who was at every benefit, giving everything she had.

SHEA: Now, Lamot says, it's time to give back with the GoFundMe campaign.

LAMOT: I'm just hoping that it'll take a little spark in people's memory of the '60s of Alice's restaurant and just give something to her, you know?

BROCK: That's so embarrassing. I've always come up with money. And this time, I didn't come up with anything. And I'm not really able to work.

SHEA: Alice just wants to stay in Provincetown, where she's lived for more than 40 years. She always dreamed of being an artist here and made a living selling ink drawings on paper and beach rocks from the home gallery she lost years ago.

BROCK: People would come in. And they'd look around. They'd see the cookbook, and they'd go, are you the Alice? Everybody told me what they were doing in the '60s. It was great. So I said, hey, this isn't bad. All you need to do is say my name, and people start to smile.

SHEA: Alice Brock can't draw anymore because of the tremors in her hands, but she's still cooking. For NPR News, I'm Andrea Shea. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.