PROVINCETOWN — Alice Brock came of age in the 1960s, which everyone knows because one of the most famous songs of that era was named after her.
The song, of course, is “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” Arlo Guthrie’s 18-minute ballad about his arrest in Stockbridge for illegal trash dumping the day after Thanksgiving 1965, following a feast “that could not be beat” at Alice and Ray Brock’s house, a former church. It’s where Alice did the cooking and the dishes, while, she said, the boys played music.
Now, at age 79 and a Provincetown resident for more than 40 years, Brock reflects on the lessons learned from being an innocent hippie, and how she found real freedom from husband Ray (an architect she met at age 19), restaurant ownership, and her own image as a frozen 1960s relic.
Money, something she has never respected — “until now,” she laughs, — is in such short supply that her friend Dini Lamot, a.k.a. Musty Chiffon, a former member of the late 1970s punk band Human Sexual Response, has organized a GoFundMe campaign titled “You Can Give Anything You Want” to help her.
Brock was recently discharged after nine months in Cape Cod Hospital, where she was treated for stage four chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Yes, she smoked — three packs a day until age 50, when “the Mad Russian,” Yefim Shubentsov, kind of hypnotized her, she says.
“He was in Brockton and you paid $60,” she says. You sat and listened to him expound on his ability to read and control people’s minds, after which he waved his arms. She has not touched a cigarette since.
Brock is reluctantly asking for help now. The GoFundMe campaign as of last week had raised $27,675 of its $120,000 goal.
“It’s very embarrassing to me, because I was always on the other end,” she says.
Comments on the GoFundMe page detail her many generosities. One is from Rex Richards, who now lives in Kittery, Maine. Brock gave him a job, he says, that he was not qualified for when he badly needed it. He applied during a snowstorm in Lenox, Brock says. She later took him to the bank in Lenox and helped him open his first bank account.
“She told me I needed to learn how to save money,” Richards says. “As long as I’ve known her, for 43 years, she’s always just taken care of people who have needed to be taken care of. She would give them a job, give them a twenty, and she would do it if she had it and even if she didn’t have it. Even in the song, she is bailing people out of jail. That’s just her.”
Brock is disillusioned with the 1960s, in both a personal and a political way. She said Ray (now deceased) was a bully, like her father, and they divorced. She owned a series of restaurants, thanks in part to her famous name; the last one, Alice’s at Avaloch in Lenox, left her bankrupt and shellshocked.
So, she came to Provincetown, a beloved childhood vacation spot where her artistic salesman father worked for the folk artist Peter Hunt. A prep cook and an artist, Brock ran a gallery out of her Commercial Street home for years.
Though she has lived in Provincetown for half her life, the Berkshires are still the place “with dream comfort memory to spare,” as Neil Young wrote in Helpless.
The Berkshires are where she has spent most of her Thanksgivings. It’s where she met her best friends, many of whom were part of the rotating cast of youth from the 1960s that included Arlo Guthrie, the son of folk legend Woody Guthrie. He attended the Stockbridge School, where Alice and Ray both worked. The job at the school, and the converted church, enabled Ray and her mother to keep Alice under their thumbs, she says, and away from New York City, where she craved to return.
The church became a magnet and crash pad for a band of Stockbridge students and young people, including Guthrie. Brock’s scrubbed wooden kitchen table in Provincetown is where Arlo wrote the song, her song.
“I thought Arlo was just a funny-looking kid with a guitar,” Brock says.
They are still friends, though Guthrie doesn’t do Thanksgiving dinners with the gang because he is usually off playing Carnegie Hall or something, she says.
“He’s got such an imagination, and he can put such things together that you would not think would go together,” she says. “I’m still close with those kids.”
They come from California and from Europe for the holiday feast, which often has been at the Sheffield home of the artist Benno Friedman, with Brock cooking.
The last Thanksgiving, though, was in Provincetown, catered by PB Boulangerie, which Brock raves about. About eight of the Berkshire regulars attended.
“I think I preferred the last two Thanksgivings because we had so many memories together,” Brock says. “We laughed and we cried, and it was just wonderful.”
What does her favorite Thanksgiving menu look like?
She prefers a traditional turkey (cooked with rosemary and butter under the skin and roasted breast-down first). The stuffing has bread, onions, celery, dried fruit, and fresh apples.
No Eastham turnip, no marshmallows in the sweet potato, or fried onions on top of string beans. But yes to creamed onions, mashed potatoes, and sweet potatoes. The gravy is made with the giblets and the neck of the bird.
Others bring the desserts.
And one of the best tips taken from America’s holiday heroine: know what to let go of.
“I was very attached to my parents,” she says. “But that happens when you don’t have good parents — you’re always trying to please them. My whole life, I’ve only known a few loving, wonderful families. I don’t know why anyone talks about family values.”
Happy Thanksgiving, Alice.