Monday, June 3, 2013

It Was the Third of June...

sexy, sultry UCLA philosophy major
It was during the so called, Summer of Love, 1967;  August of that year to be precise, when a singer/songwriter from Chickasaw County, Mississippi knocked the Beatles, “All You Need Is Love” out of the number one spot with a moody little tune about a poor southern family dealing with the apparent suicide of a troubled young man.

The moody little tune entitled, “Ode to Billie Joe” was recorded by a former UCLA philosophy major named Roberta Streeter who would perform under the name of. Bobbie Gentry.

Gentry’s silky, smoky voice coupled with the song’s somewhat vague and disturbing lyrics served to create a Delta Goth Ballad, the likes of which have never been heard again.

Rumors abound about the actual meaning of the song (so what did Billie Joe and the unnamed narrator of the song throw off that bridge the first time – an aborted fetus? A body?). An even more intriguing rumor states that the original version of “Ode…” is more than seven minutes long and that it spells out much more of the mystery. Apparently, Gentry has denied that rumor.

In the 70’s, “Ode to Billie Joe” was turned in to a dreadful film that, among other things, attributed Billie Joe’s suicide to his having had sex with a man … to make matters worse, it turned out, he never actually had sex with a man, he was drunk and assumed he did … go figure.

Bad movie notwithstanding, “Ode to Billie Joe” stands on its own as one of the best tunes ever written. And every June 3rd, I think of it, and am haunted by it.


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 walked back to the house to eat
And Mama hollered out the back door "y'all remember to wipe your feet"
And then she said "I got some news this mornin' from Choctaw Ridge"
"Today Billie Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge"

And 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"
And Mama said it was shame about Billy Joe, anyhow
Seems like nothin' ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge
And now Billie Joe MacAllister's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge

And Brother said he recollected when he and Tom and Billie 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 Billie Joe's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge"

And 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 Billie Joe was throwing somethin' off the Tallahatchie Bridge"

A year has come 'n' gone since we heard the news 'bout Billie Joe
And 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

1 comment:

  1. I always loved that song. Sends chills up my spine. Always wondered what happened to Bobbie Gentry.