Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Pancho and Lefty

Certainly not my favorite TVZ song, but the most well-known to this point, so lets really kill it.
"I realize that I wrote it, but it's hard to take credit for the writing, because it came from out of the blue. It came through me and it's a real nice song," -Townes Van Zandt

First Willie and the sometimes bizarre delivery of Bob Dylan:

Townes Van Zandt had a number of "true stories" about things, none of which were the same. I have some bootleg live performances and the story below is sometimes over 9 minutes long, always different, filled with exquisite details, but I'll be damned if I'm going sit down and transcribe 9 minutes of drunken rambling, so this is from To Live's To Fly - by John Kurth:
First verse is in the second person - apparently autobiographical, then it shifts to third person, telling us a tale of desperadoes, of selling out friends - of secrets from the past. The choruses change with every verse, subtly moving us forward in time until it's just "a few gray federales say". Townes insisted it wasn't about Pancho Villa, but...? Sometimes it was about Judas and Jesus, sometimes about his manager (a really, really poor manager) and him, or two of his college friends - always changing to whatever the questioner seemed to want. Whatever it started as, at some point, it's just an old song with rhyming patterns that are all over the map.

Living 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

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
That's the way it goes

All the federales say
They could have had him any day
They 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

All the federales say
They could have had him any day
They only let him slip away
Out of kindness I suppose

The poets tell how Pancho fell
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 prayers it's true,
But save a few for Lefty too
He just did what he had to do
Now he's growing old

A few gray federales say
They could have had him any day
They only let him go so wrong
Out of kindness I suppose


As Townes got older, remarkably he could still write songs and poetry through the vodka, heroin haze, but the live performances were very uneven. Here's the original cut from 1973 when Townes was still sober, could remember lyrics, and played clean, sweet guitar:
Speaking of poor managers, the reason so few people are aware of Townes, he spent most of his life playing small clubs and dives, and I don't believe he ever sold 10,000 copies of a record while he was alive. Okay, drugs and alcohol may have contributed to it too.

No comments: