Tuesday, April 24, 2012

when you are having yourself a day

The Ballad of Pancho and Lefty
by Townes Van Zandt
Livin' on the road my friend 
Was gonna keep you free and clean 
Now you wear 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 
And 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 
Well, Pancho met his match you know 
On the deserts down in Mexico 
And nobody heard his dyin' words 
Ah but that's the way it goes

All the Federales say 
Could of had him any day 
Only let him hang around 
Out of kindness I suppose

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

Well, the poets tell how Pancho fell 
And Lefty's livin' in a cheap hotel 
The desert's quiet and Cleveland's cold 
So the story ends, we're told 
Pancho needs your prayer's it's true 
But save a few for Lefty too 
He just did what he had to do 
And now he's growin'old

A few gray Federales say 
Could have had him any day 
Only let him go so long 
Out of kindness I suppose

i heartily recommend sleuthing as many covers as you can of pancho & lefty when you are having yourself a day:  emmylou harris merle haggard bob dylan steve earle willie nelson gillian welch david rawlings sam beam glen hansard clay george rodney crowell halfway home kris kristofferson darius rucker johnny bush jim burns specs hildebrand roger clyne andy hersey the cumberland trio jason isbell browan lollar andrea parodi massimiliano larocca hurray for the riff raff jim dalton johnny hickman ian siegal cody canada stoney larue

the one leading off this post is lovely, by gillian welch and david rawlings, on september 27, 1997, for acoustic stage at the fireman's kitchen, in hickory, north carolina.  that's 30 3rd St NW, Hickory, NC, 28601-6135. 

everything has to happen somewhere.

if you're really havin' yourself a day, about now you'll be wondering what the hell ever happened to that sweet little nanci griffith, so best take a break.  wasn't she a school teacher marm?  just joshing, nanci's got a new album out, intersections, which, unfortunately, is being described as "adenoidal" and "pleasant," not terms you'd expect to share a review.

this is turning into a train wreck.  quick, shift gears!  or, rather, do some activity appropriate to a train.

watch the last waltz, your favorite bits of it, while averaging the manor electric bill for january through march, as you are supposedly working on amending the 2012 utilities budget.  don't throw the paperwork on the floor until you're done with it.

if you are having yourself a day, remember that you were once a member of the afl-cio.  march in a small circle;  nap yourself a power nap and dream you saw joe hill last night.

but mostly, what i do, when i am having myself a real day?  i just sit smack dab in the middle of mr. townes van zandt.  but that's the kind of day i have.

I come from a long line
High and low and in between
Same as you
Hills of golden
Hails of poison
Time's thrown me through
And I believe I've come to learn
That turnin' round
Is to become confusion
And the gold's no good for spending
And the poison's hungry waiting

What can you leave behind
When you're flyin' lightning fast
And all alone? 
Only a trace, my friend,
Spirit of motion born
And direction grown.
A trace that will not fade
In frozen skies
Your journey will be
And if her shadow doesn't seem much company
Who said it would be?

There is the highway
And the homemade lovin' kind
The highway's mine
And us ramblers are getting the travelling down
You fathers build with stones
That stand and shine
Heaven's where you find it
And you can't
Take too much with you
But daddy, don't you listen
It's just this highway talkin'

All things at our life
Are brothers in the soil
And in the sky
And I believe it
With my blood
If not my eyes
I don't know why we can't
Be brothers here
I know we should be
Answers don't seem easy
And I'm wonderin'
If they could be

yep, i'm having myself a real day.  too sweaty from the cold and too shivering hot to get much into complaining.  things hurt, enough said?

my family, by which i mostly mean my brother-units and myself, came individually to love and honor pancho & lefty, itself just a song, to us an archetypal memory. (though none of us remember precisely when, exactly, townes van zandt juiced and sluiced our genes in the hopes of -- in the hopes of, oh i don't know! not slipping away?)

"it came from out of the blue.  it came through me.  it's a real nice song..." says townes, making outrageous claims about pancho villa and being a songwriter and not having had a drink since last night.

i think i adore townes van zandt and appreciate all the time he spent channeling me when he might have been living.

kim ruehl -- who has likely had a few days, herself -- has some thoughts about pancho and about lefty.  (she's one of my favorite writers about the folk, uh, scene.)
"Pancho and Lefty" is confusing. Townes left a lot of the story out, which I believe is the source of the song's strength. You can't do that with any other form of storytelling, not in the same way at least. With novels and poetry, you can only leave things out after you've convinced the reader their opinion is part of the story. With songs, you don't have to involve the listener in order to leave space. You do, however, have to manipulate a melody so that it gives the listener room to fill in the holes on their own while you take a break between verses.
The instrumental breaks in "Pancho and Lefty," at least in Townes' version, seem deliberately un-developed. There's no show-off guitar solo, no sudden, out-of-left-field other instrument to pull your mind along the journey. There's some slight development, but it's so distant and understated that it's easy to not even hear it. You're left to follow your own train of thought.
He sets up the story - about a couple of outlaws, their friendship (if that's what it is...I sometimes think it's a love affair, but that's another matter), their exploits, their mistakes and ultimate failures. He gives you a few context clues, a few verses and lines about their personal lives. Most telling, in my opinion is this line from early in the song: "You weren't your mama's only boy, but her favorite one it seems / she began to cry when you said goodbye and sank into your dreams." It's not clear whether the "you" here is Pancho or Lefty, and it almost seems irrelevant. It's also not clear whether the "you" is the one sinking into their dreams, or whether it's their mother who, no doubt, was more saddened by her son's dreams than he was. Dreams aren't generally something you sink into, unless they're misguided. It's probably one of the most fantastic lines to set up a song that I've ever heard.
Townes had a way of nailing life's complexities and shortcomings, expressing pity for people's personal plights. His songs, all of them, shed light on the numerous layers of everything, underscoring the fact that no story is cut-and-dry. What has made "Pancho and Lefty" more resonant than some of the others is confusing to me. It's not my personal favorite from his body of work. How many of us can truly relate to the overall story? Sure, most people can relate to lines like "Lefty can't sing the blues all night long like he used to." We get the way life changes us, though we often don't understand why. This song nails how it feels for life to slip away on its own, leaving one to catch up to their own self. Early into the final verse, he sings, "The desert's quiet and Cleveland's cold / so the story ends, we're told." Then he continues with the story, which only makes a point that the story never really ends. Nothing ends as simply as a camera panning away on a quiet desert and a cold city. Even a made-up story in a song is more complex than that.
What makes this and, for that matter, all of Townes' songs great, are the spaces he leaves. The unexplainable emptinesses. It doesn't require any understanding or participation from the listener. It simply sheds light on the parts of us which emerge in its presence. When the song backs off, away from the narrative and the lyrics, when it breathes, and when it ends on that unresolved chord, it leaves us with our ideas exposed. In such an unassuming, subtle way, it pulls something to the surface.
not too shabby a post for a day, y'know?  i mean, there's audio,  a video,  an informed quote.  i hammered out a budget, watched the greatest rock film ev-er, and imagined myself sitting alone in the middle of the worn wide boards at the heart of this salvaged pine floor.

oh, i guess i should confess that pancho and lefty have forever been manifestations, to me, of lucky and pozzo.  in fact, i will not be surprised to find, when i reread this later, lucky and lefty, transposed.                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Lucky and Pozzo in Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

and, happy conundrum, townes van zandt makes me think of samuel beckett, were he in a wordy way.  for some of the same reasons put forth by kim ruehl do i think this way, as i have myself quite the damn day.  silences and spaces, literal holes in the story.

like pavlov's dogs, every mention of waiting for godot necessitates the memory of how nary a one of my students ever argued for pozzo to be god, if god had to be godot.  no, my students were too engaged in a sartrean struggle to establish vladimir and estragon as the first homosexual couple of western literature

Definition of SARTREJean-Paul 1905–1980 Fr. philos., dram., & nov.— Sar·tre·an or Sar·tri·an  adjectiveRhymes with SARTREartcartchartChartresdartfarthartHarteheart,kartmartpartsmartstarttartBrowseNext Word in the Dictionary: SassoonPrevious Word in the Dictionary: Saroyan

nearing the end of my having-myself-a-day day, i plugged "what does pancho and lefty mean to you?" into my preferred search engine.  the first of the responses that i read, "meditation on poncho and lefty by fort worth songwriter townes van zandt," did not disappoint. [pOncho?]  but even after straining my poor brain, i cannot reliably report which of my former duke students authored the central probing analysis, cleverly presented as "the editor," though i have pegged a few of the way astute comment writers as core members of my 8 o'clock session, spring semester, 1999 intro to french lit class ["ou l'optimisme..."].  these five "meditation" responders, for instance, are clearly meghan, lorenzo, tom, adele, and constance:

Thanks for the heads up on the author. I never went that deep before now, I just thought it would make a kick-ass video

I thougt it might be lefty dizz or lefty frizell. But just recently another lefty died who may have been him – lifespan alittle longer than lefty dizz. 

I will have to investigate/muse over this.

poncho and lefty were identical twins.werent his mothers only so but the favourite one means that poncho had a brother – probably leftyponcho met his match one day means lefty was his identical brotherthe dust that poncho bit etc means I think that poncho killed lefty , assumed his identity and fled.he cant sing the blues anymore cause he is not lefty he is poncho masquerading as lefty.thats why we say prayers for lefty – he is the dead one

The story of Poncho and Lefty is not about any of those stories mentioned above. Instead it is about Poncho and his friend, Lefty, who may or may not be related to Poncho, and what had to happen as the end for Poncho grew near. Lefty was a Villa sympathizer. What he only did was what Poncho wanted. I know because my grandfather I believe was Lefty and the story that he told is pretty convincing that he indeed was Lefty. As I heard about the story growing up, the song Poncho and Lefty was something neither he, my Dad or I even knew about. It was not until my Dad passed away in 2005 that I heard the song and finally put it all together.

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