Bobbie Gentry: Ode to Billie Joe

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A novel of a song (1967) by Mississippi songwriter Bobbie Gentry, contrasting the tragedy of suicide with banal everyday talk round the kitchen table.

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 Billy 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 Billy 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 Billy Joe was throwing somethin’ off the Tallahatchie Bridge”

A year has come ‘n’ gone since we heard the news ’bout Billy 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

song of the week 🙂 englisch lernen mit liedern


3 Responses

  1. I noticed a search looking for the meaning of these lyrics, so here are some notes:
    Delta = Mississippi Delta, northwest region of Mississippi that lies between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers
    chop cotton = Today machines pull cotton, but years ago, cotton was chopped (geschnitten) and picked (gepflückt) by hand.
    bale hay = make bundles of hay
    holler = call out
    y’all = you all, the way Southerners address people
    blackeyed peas = typical southern vegetable
    not a lick of sense = not a bit of sense (keinen Funken Verstand)
    biscuits = rolls (Brötchen)
    five acres in the lower forty = The “lower forty” is the 40 acres of land at the lowest point of the farm; 40 acres = 160,000 square meters. In the Homestead Act of 1862, 160 acres was the amount allocated to each settler, known as a quarter section. 40 acres is a quarter of a quarter.
    plow = pflügen
    it’s a shame = was für ein Jammer
    Seems like nothin’ ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge
    = Anscheinend gehen die Dinge auf Choctaw Ridge einfach nie gut aus; nothing + no good: double negatives don’t make a positive in the southern dialect, they make the negative stronger.
    recollect = remember
    put something down someone’s back = jmdm. hinten in die Kleidung stecken
    you know it don’t seem right = da ist was faul
    not touch a single bite = kein bißchen essen
    drop by = vorbeischauen
    wanna = want to

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