I’m sure most of you have heard of the song ‘Ode to Billie Joe’ or at least seen the movie, which I have never seen because I don’t WANT to know what was thrown off the Tallahatchie Bridge!
The song was written and sung by Bobbie Gentry along with ‘Fancy’
Not only was she a talented and intelligent songwriter, but she had knock-out good looks was intelligent, a GREAT songwriter a had what I would call ‘Country Soul’
Of Portuguese descent, Gentry was born Roberta Streeter in Chickasaw County, MS, on July 27, 1944. The 1952 film Ruby Gentry lent the singer her stage surname
'Ode’ was a monster hit in 1968. Then, in 1975 she simply checked out. Few people know where she is now and I have a feeling that’s just fine with her. Rumor has it that she is living somewhere in Los Angeles
Below is what Bobbie said about the meaning of the lyrics...
“Those questions are of secondary importance in my mind. The story of Billie Joe has two more interesting underlying themes. First, the illustration of a group of people's reactions to the life and death of Billie Joe, and its subsequent effect on their lives, is made. Second, the obvious gap between the girl and her mother is shown, when both women experience a common loss (first, Billie Joe and, later, Papa), and yet Mama and the girl are unable to recognize their mutual loss or share their grief.
Ode to Billie Joe
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"
Then she said, "I got some news this mornin' from Choctaw Ridge
Today Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge"
Papa said to Mama as he passed around the black-eyed peas
"Well, Billie Joe never had a lick o' sense, pass the biscuits, please
There's five more acres in the lower forty I've got to plow"
And Mama said it was a shame about Billie Joe anyhow
Seems like nothin' ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge
And now Billie Joe McAllister's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge
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
Mama said to me, "Child what's happened to your appetite?
I been cookin' all mornin' and you haven't touched 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 throwin' somethin' off the Tallahatchie Bridge"
A year has come and gone since we heard the news 'bout 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 want to do much of anything
And me I spend a lot of time picking flowers up on Choctaw Ridge
And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge
Below is Reba MacEntire's version of 'Fancy'
* More of what Bobbie Gentry said about the interpretation:
“The song is sort of a study in unconscious cruelty. But everybody seems more concerned with what was thrown off the bridge than they are with the thoughtlessness of the people expressed in the song. What was thrown off the bridge really isn’t that important.
“Everybody has a different guess about what was thrown off the bridge—flowers, a ring, even a baby. Anyone who hears the song can think what they want, but the real message of the song, if there must be a message, revolves around the nonchalant way the family talks about the suicide. They sit there eating their peas and apple pie and talking, without even realizing that Billie Joe’s girlfriend is sitting at the table, a member of the family.”