The Storytelling Singer


So Bob Dylan has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature 2016.   An unusual and unexpected choice because this is the first time the award has been given to a songwriter.  That Bob Dylan is one of the most influential songwriters ever and that he deserves recognition as a poet is in my opinion without doubt.  However, some will criticize the decision.

American comedian Rob Delaney wrote on Twitter “Bob Dylan wins the Nobel Prize for Literature? What’s next, [former baseballer] Derek Jeter wins a Tony for his rice pilaf?”

But since, we are talking about songwriting as good literature, I thought I would share with you one of my favorites which also happens to have an earworm for me for the last few days.

I refer to the 1967 number one hit, “Ode to Billie Joe”, which won three Grammys for its singer-songwriter Bobbie Gentry.  I was just 6 years old when I heard it for the first time and  I had not yet developed my understanding of nor a sense of my personal taste in music but even then I was hooked on this song.  I liked the very simple guitar and strings arrangement  but I was really fascinated with was the story that the song was telling and the way it was being told;  a story of tragedy and mystery being woven in with ordinary, even banal conversation in a very ordinary setting.  Interestingly, it has been reported that Bob Dylan did not think so highly of Bobbie Gentry’s writing style in that song and that he wrote “Clothes Line Saga” (recorded in 1967; released on the 1975 album The Basement Tapes) as a parody of that writing style.   He had originally titled his song as “Answer to Ode”.

Well, ex-cu-se me, Mr. Recently Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, but I like the song and the way Bobbie Gentry wrote it.  Like any other fine literature, it engages, it draws one in, it tells a story about life, it affects us emotionally and it leaves us with as many questions as it answers.

Here without further ado is the work itself……..

It was the third of June,
another sleepy, dusty Delta day.
I was out choppin’ cotton
and my brother was balin’ 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 Tallahatchie 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 I’ve got to plow.”
Mama said it was shame about Billy Joe, anyhow.
Seems like nothin’ ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge,
And now Billy Joe MacAllister’s jumped off the Tallahatchie 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 now you tell me Billy Joe’s jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge.”

Mama said to me “Child, what’s happened to your appetite?
I’ve been cookin’ all morning 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 throwing somethin’ off the Tallahatchie Bridge.”

A year has come ‘n’ gone since we heard the news ’bout Billy Joe.
Brother married Becky Thompson, they bought a store in Tupelo.
There was a virus going ’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’ flowers up on Choctaw Ridge,
And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge.

There!  Did you catch my earworm?

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4 thoughts on “The Storytelling Singer”

  1. I love Bob Dylan but you are write This a nice song and the story is very powerful It keeps lingering in your mind. I had never heard of her before

  2. Scarlet,
    I do like some of Bob’s songs but don’t agree with him being given a Nobel Prize for literature. As some wisecrack suggested, we might as well give Keith Richards the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

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