FOLK, POP, AND THE MEANING OF LIFE

While I was growing up, my world was entirely serious music. I was a piano student and my spare time was consumed by practicing. It wasn’t until I recognized I’d never be good enough to be a professional musician that I started to explore the world of “folk” and “pop.” Tom Paxton, The Chad Mitchell Trio, even the Kingston Trio … followed by a crowd of folk singers from great to not-so-great became the go to people in my musical world. They seemed like personal friends. Joni Mitchell. Judy Collins. Carol King. Joan Baez. Pete Seeger. Linda Ronstadt. Emmy Lou Harris. Maria Muldaur. There were so many, back then.

Now that Judy Collins is 75 and I’m 70, I relate to this song so very well.

The Beatles were the first group in the pop arena I truly loved. After “A Hard Days Night” (I loved the movie and the score), and “Rubber Soul,” I was a fan for life — which means I still am buying remastered Beatles CDs.

beatles-abbey-road-cover

Eventually, I added many other singers and groups, and other categories of music.

John Prine was a latecomer to my “playlist,” but he remains a favorite. Better known as the writer than the singer, here are a couple of songs that I particularly love and always cheer me when I’m blue. Not everyone has heard of John Prine, but he wrote many songs. He sang them himself on various recordings, most of which I once owned on vinyl. Lo and behold, there’s a CD collection of his work available … just $10, double CD. I ordered it. Of course. No, I don’t like to trust my stuff to the cloud. Especially when I’m traveling.

Sometimes, nothing says “life” like music. Maybe more often than sometimes. Maybe always.

And finally, I’d like to add an old song that’s a current favorite. It’s our “road song” and we tend to listen to it over and over again while driving down (or up) the highway. “Pancho and Lefty” is a story song. If you’ve heard it (and many people have sung it over the years, you probably think that maybe it has something to do with Pancho Villa. It ought to. Actually, Townes Van Zandt says it has nothing to do with him unless it fell out of his unconscious directly into the song. Just a song about two loser outlaws in Mexico.

“Pancho and Lefty” written by Townes Van Zandt was recorded by Emmylou Harris for her 1977 album, Luxury Liner, released on Warner Bros and available on CD on Rhino.

Every time I hear it, I see it in my mind’s eye too. The dusty desert where Pancho breathed his last. This is the Emmy Lou Harris version. My favorite, though there are, as I said, many others. Hers may be the most difficult one from which to catch all the lyrics, so I’ll include them for you. You won’t need to, as I did, keep listening and replaying the lines until finally, you get it … only to discover the words are actually printed on the CD’s paper insert.

PANCHO AND LEFTY – TOWNES VAN ZANDT

Living on the road my friend,
Was gonna keep you free and clean
Now you wear your skin like iron,
And your breath’s as hard as kerosene.
You weren’t your mama’s only boy,
But her favorite one it seems
She began to cry when you said goodbye,
Sank into your dreams.

Pancho was a bandit, boys
His horse was fast as polished steel
Wore his gun outside his pants
For all the honest world to feel.
Pancho met his match you know
On the deserts down in Mexico
Nobody heard his dying words,
Ah but that’s the way it goes.

And all the Federales say
They could have had him any day
They only let him hang around
Out of kindness, I suppose.1

Lefty, he can’t sing the blues
All night long like he used to.
The dust that Pancho bit down south
Ended up in Lefty’s mouth
The day they laid poor Pancho low,
Lefty split for Ohio
Where he got the bread to go,
There ain’t nobody knows.1

And all the Federales say
They could have had him any day
They only let him slip away

Now the poets tell how Pancho fell,
And Lefty’s living in cheap hotel
The desert’s quiet, and Cleveland’s cold,
And so the story ends we’re told
Pancho needs your prayers it’s true,
But save a few for Lefty too
He just did what he had to do,
And now he’s growing old.1

And a few grey Federales say
They could have had him any day
They only let him go so wrong
Out of kindness, I suppose.1

A few grey Federales say
They could have had him any day
They only let him go so wrong
Out of kindness, I suppose.

Read more: Townes Van Zandt – Pancho & Lefty Lyrics | MetroLyrics

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Categories: Arts, Humor, Media, Music

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13 replies

  1. Oh Marilyn, I feel so connected! SO much in common from back then except that I never learned to play the piano. I was too busy singing all the current folk songs, especially in high school. I was a member of a 12 person traveling (competing) folk singing group modeled after the Christy Minstrels. I’ve written about this time in my life before, especially about being in “The Duzin Cuzin’s”. ( yeah, yeah I know…) Here is a sample of my personal favorite folk singing duo. I met them over 40 years ago and coincidentally, their very last concert is this weekend as they are finally retiring. I worked at restaurants with them while finishing school and Ginny sang at my wedding. They sing many of the songs you have mentioned as well as some beauties of their own. They are mostly West coast and locally popular, performing at many smaller venues but they have a huge Seattle following so the concert this weekend will be huge and celebratory and very sad!
    Here’s just a sample, but if you like them, explore further. I hope this turns out to be a gift for you as a “thank you” for the many great posts from you I have enjoyed.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. WOW!! All the words to “Pancho and Lefty”. That’s TERRIFIC, Mi Amor. I’ll listen, time after time, on the drive home Thursday.
    Muchas Gracias, Mi Amor!!

    Like

    • Remember how much time I spent listening to each line until I finally figured out the words? I could have just looked them up. AND they are printed on the notes in the CD. I always did things the hard way, but at least now I’ve committed them to memory. That’s something. I can yodel along in the car where no one can look appalled at that awful noise.

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  3. This was educational for me. Thanks, Marilyn.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome. It was a mental challenge for me. Much of this stuff was very long ago in my life. I was a teenager when this musical movement — multiple musical movements — was coming of age. I was still half in the classical music world, and had only one foot wedged in the door of the of popular music. A lot of it passed me by. So these are favorites and not a comprehensive list. It’s just stuff I like (we like) for one reason or another — and which i could find on YouTube!

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  4. Thanks for sharing. I enjoy many of your choices. John Prine is new to me but someone else also recently thought I would like his music.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You probably would recognize many of his songs. He did a lot of writing for others, as did Tom Paxton and Carol King. I’m not as good with this stuff as many other people are. I just have favorites and the rest tend to get lost in the fog of time until someone brings them up and I say OH, Yeah! I remember authors more than musicians. I’m a bit popped. Musically lame.

      Like

  5. We have exactly the same taste in music, except you left Linda Ronstadt out! Do you think Lefty sold Pancho out? I do. Townes himself couldn’t remember what his intention was after his shock treatments. Sad. If you haven’t seen the documentary on Townes, I’ll send you the URL. J

    Liked by 1 person

    • Linda is certainly one of our favorites!!!

      Like

    • I heard an interview with Townes and he didn’t remember anything much about what he was thinking. I didn’t know about the shock treatments. Barbaric. I just forgot Linda, but I added her to the big list later (maybe after you read it). There were a lot more and only my inability to remember names limited the list. It wasn’t on purpose! Linda has a sad story too. Carly Simon should be here too and if we want to get very complete, her sister Lucy as well. Because I still remember them as “The Simon Sisters”!

      And I left out most of the boys including our Nobel prize winning Dylan.

      Like

      • Yes.. I’ve seen an interview with her since the Parkinsons hit her hard…She is still gracious and interesting although sadly no more music from her. If you need the URL for the interview, I’ll send it. Really interesting, of course, and not sad. Also listened to Carly’s autobiography

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