“Go Ask Alice” (1973) offers an anti-drug message with a side of rock ‘n’ roll

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Now streaming on YouTube is a 1973 movie based on the once- alleged true story of a young drug addict named Alice. The movie is based on the book of the same name that was published in 1971. While the book’s origin was once steeped in controversy, it is mostly forgotten now.

“Go Ask Alice” the movie is significant to fans of rock music and history by the way it contextualizes rock music of the late 1960s and attempts to show the means by which even a girl from a good family can fall into the trap of drugs and their attendant misadventures.

“Go Ask Alice” 45 years later

Watching the film version of the book is as close to watching a time capsule as some people will get. There is a bit of editorializing as the opening credits appear and what sounds like a cover version of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” plays. Viewers are shown “examples” of kids of the time period. Kids with glasses, boys with long hair; moody-looking girls with very long hair; there were even two black students. The song “White Rabbit” contains the line from which the title “Go Ask Alice” derives.  The fashions and the moods clue viewers in on what life was probably like 50 years ago. The movie is interesting on that basis alone.

“Go Ask Alice” and controversy

Years before James Frey and the “Million Little Pieces” scandal, there was “Go Ask Alice” and the theories about who wrote the book. The author is listed as “Anonymous.” The book was purported to be the real journal of a 15-year-old girl who was the Alice of the title.

Once thought to be nonfiction, “Go Ask Alice” is categorized as fiction now. The controversy about the book’s authorship has done nothing to negatively impact the book’s popularity. However, the American Library Association challenges the book’s suitability for young audiences because of its language and depictions of sex and drug use.

The movie and book are also criticized for being too heavy-handed in their anti-drug agendas. That point is more easily seen in the movie.

About “Go Ask Alice”

The title character is struggling with her identity as a teenager. The family has just moved, her father is a professor and a dean. Viewers aren’t told exactly where the story takes place, but when Alice runs away and gives her phone number to a helpful priest (played by none other than Andy Griffith), the area code matches up with a part of of Ohio.

Viewers get the idea that Alice is struggling and trying drugs is her way of fitting in. But the way the drug use is shown, or the effects of it, rather, make it seem more like psychosis or a mental breakdown. And maybe there are similarities between the use of drugs and declining mental health, or perhaps the scenes are over-acted, but the antics of a drug user outshine the whole idea of this used to be a regular girl who made terrible choices.

At the end, a narrator discusses Alice in past tense and informs audiences that the events portrayed have come from Alice’s diary after her death, and the voice informs viewers that she is one of Alice’s parents. Alice no longer speaks for herself, or reads from her diary. This adds a bit of darkness to the story and viewers realize that even if this particular story isn’t true, there are thousands of untold stories just like it that are true.

Music and “Go Ask Alice”

While “White Rabbit” predominates, the soundtrack also includes “Mr. Fantasy” by Traffic. The song seems to play every time Alice has an unpleasant “trip.” Other highlights of the soundtrack include “Good Vibrations,” “Just an Old-Fashioned Love Song” (by Three Dog Night), and others. The songs are persistent and up-to-the-minute, just like a teenager’s listening habits.

If the inclusion of certain songs was supposed to make audiences believe that there is a connection between drugs and music, it did not succeed.

“Go Ask Alice” succeeds at telling a private story (fictional or not) for the purpose of giving a face to a problem. The soundtrack reminds viewers that rock music often is the soundtrack of our lives, even the parts that make others uneasy.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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