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I wrote this little tribute to Townes Van Zandt's song "Pancho and Lefty" about ten years ago for another website. Forgive the clumsiness of the formatting. When it comes to formatting, this website is as ornery as a set of mismatched 8417 output tubes...
To my eyes, the power of Townes Van Zandt's Pancho and Lefty derives not from the “who does what to whom” aspect of the lyric as much as it comes from the emotions the lyric expresses and the uncompromising world view it evokes.
To me, the most important verse is the first one, which is one of my favorites in all of song.
“Livin’ on the road, my friend was gonna’ keep you free and clean.
Now you wear your skin like iron, 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.”
The verse gives us the theme of the song. It tells of the headstrong idealism of the young, and how it is ultimately supplanted by weariness and cynicism. Lefty, and all of us, go out into the world thinking we’re its master. In time, the world masters us. Mom understands this. But there’s nothing she can do.
Another key verse is the one that begins, “Lefty he can’t sing the blues all night long as he used to. The dust that Poncho bit down south, ended up in Lefty’s mouth.”
In other words, whatever treachery or betrayal Lefty
might have perpetrated on Poncho (and it could have been as relatively innocent as
being unable to come to Poncho’s aid when Poncho needed him), it eats away at
Lefty for the rest of his days. Once
upon a time, Lefty might have been able to carouse and sing all night long (sure,
blues songs are known as sad songs, but I don’t think Townes Van Zandt means it
this way here), but Lefty’s guilt has robbed him of his zest for life. Ironically, in allowing Poncho to be killed,
Lefty dies as well.
@edsyn, so you're saying that it doesn't end well for Lefty despite the fact that he ends up in Cleveland?
Seriously, TVZ was a talent for sure. I knew nothing of him prior to watching the PBS video, after which, I bought a copy of the Late Great Townes Van Zandt. Great songwriting for sure. He more than does justice to Hank Williams and the delta blues.
For those of you who know his music well, what other albums should I be looking into?
@brownsfan , I recommend Rearview Mirror. It was the first Townes I ever heard. I was in a music store in Iowa City, and they had it playing on the PA. I went over to the guy and said, "What is this??" He grinned and said, "I know, isn't it great?"
I've seen some negative reviews on it, but they didn't ring true to me. The thing I like about it is there's very little production involved. It's very stripped down and simple and immediate, which, if you ask me, is exactly how his music ought to sound.