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Ode to Billy Joe

Bobbie Gentry
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Ode to Billy Joe

What the hell did Billie Joe McAllister throw off the Tallahatchee Bridge?

Over thirty-five years after the release of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe,” questions linger about her haunting southern-gothic ballad. Decades from now, will anyone still wonder who let the dogs out? Gentry’s #1 single tells the story of a family dinner where the narrator finds out that her boyfriend, Billie Joe McCallister, has jumped off the Tallahatchee Bridge; the day before, people spotted her and Billie Joe throwing an unidentified object off the same bridge. “Everybody has a different guess about what was thrown off the bridge: flowers, a ring, even a baby,” Gentry has said. “What was thrown off the bridge really isn’t that important. The message of the song, if there must be a message, revolves around the nonchalant way the family talks about the suicide. The song is a study in unconscious cruelty.”

Sinead O' Connor 1995 cover version didn’t shed much light on the song’s mysteries, but the 1976 movie adaptation, Ode to Billy Joe (with Robby Benson in the title role), provided some answers. They seem like arbitrary inventions of the filmmakers, but they’re the closest thing the song has to an official “solution”: In the movie, Billy Joe tosses his girlfriend Bobbie Lee’s rag doll off the bridge and jumps the following day, tormented by uncertainty over his sexual identity.
It was the third of June
Another sleepy, dusty Delta day
I was out choppin' cotton
And my brother was bailin' hay
And at dinner time we stopped
And we walked back to the house to eat
And mama hollered at the back door
"Y'all remember to wipe your feet"
And then she said she got some news this mornin' from Choctaw Ridge
Today, Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchee Bridge

Papa said to mama as he passed around the blackeyed peas
"Well Billy Joe never had a lick of sense, pass the biscuits please
"There's five more acres in the lower forty that I've got to plow"
Mama said it's a shame about Billy Joe anyhow
Seems like nothin' good ever comes to no good on Chocktaw Ridge
And now Billy Joe MacAllister's jumped off the Tallhatchee Bridge

And brother said he recollected when he and Tom and Billy Joe
Put a frog down my back at the Carroll County picture show
And wasn't I talkin' to him after church last Sunday night?
"I'll have another piece of apple pie, you know it don't seem right
I saw him at the sawmill yesterday on Choctaw Ridge
And she and Billy Joe was throwin' somethin' off the Tallahatchee Bridge"

Mama said to me "Child what's happened to your appetite?
I've been cookin' all mornin' and you haven't touched a single bite
That nice young preacher, Brother Taylor dropped by today
Said he'd be pleased to have dinner on Sunday. Oh, by the way,
He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge
And she and Billy Joe was throwin' somethin' off the Tallahatchee Bridge."

A year has come 'n' gone since we heard the news about Billie Joe
Brother married Becky Thompson, they bought a store in Tupelo
There was a virus goin' 'round, papa caught it and he died last spring
And now, mama doesn't seem to wanna do much of anything
And me, I spend a lot of time pickin' up flowers up on Choctaw Ridge
And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchee Bridge.

inviata da John Doe - 27/11/2014 - 06:00


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