May 292014

In the past few days, I’ve become obsessed with the song “Pancho and Lefty,” by Townes Van Zandt. The lyrics contain some great lines, but the more I listen to it, the more I wonder, what is this song really about? It should be noted that I usually take narratives at face value and have trouble reading into subtext and symbolism.

The several accounts that Townes himself gives don’t really shed any light, so here’s a few theories that I’ve formed and/or collected on the internet:

  1. The narrator is telling someone a cautionary tale about the dangers of living outside the law. Pancho and Lefty are two bandits. Pancho was killed by the Federales after being betrayed by Lefty, who is allowed to keep Pancho’s money in exchange for the betrayal. Lefty’s fate is arguably not any better than Pancho’s since he’s relegated to living in a cheap hotel in Cleveland, in hiding and with the guilt of betrayal on his conscience.
  2. Pancho is Jesus and Lefty is Judas.
  3. Pancho faked his own death and is now living in hiding as Lefty.
  4. “Pancho” is a Walter Mitty-like fantasy of Lefty’s.

Any additional theories? Which one do you think is the most accurate interpretation? The lyrics follow…after the jump!

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May 152014

I am hoping that this will become a recurring feature here, in which I summon the collected wisdom of the Hall to help me understand what certain songs are actually about. Mostly these will be very familiar songs, some of them songs I like very much; but songs which, if push comes to shove, I actually have no idea what they are about. This isn’t to say that a song actually has to be about anything, or maybe better to say that it doesn’t have to be about any one thing. Anyway, you probably get the idea.

I want to start with “Happy Jack” by the Who. A good song, short and to the point. Can someone tell me what this song is about?


Sep 242013

My 6-year-old son asked me the other day, Why you do always call me “little friend?”

Well — here’s the answer, my little friend.

Another one that I share with my brothers is the phrase “New Kid in Town” — if you don’t want to hear about something — there’s “a new kid in town.” As in “I don’t wanna hear it…”

What lyrics do you throw out there on a regular basis in various situations?

May 132013

Greetings, fellow Townspeople! I come before you with the latest edition of yet another long-running feature here in the Hall, entitled “Hidden Meanings.” Long-timers will know what is expected of them here: we are required, as enquiring rock nerds, to try and parse out what authors of noteworthy lyrics really mean by the words they write. So, jointly, we set our minds towards the collective (re)interpretation of words that may have passed the critical community’s gaze without the careful scrutiny which they may have deserved.

In this case, the words we need to parse for hidden, double meanings are offered by Dennis DeYoung, of Styx. The song is “Come Sail Away.” My question for the collective is as follows: one might think that this song is about sailing away — or, if you’re able to stick around for the shock twist ending, about space aliens. But what does a more serious study reveal? What does DeYoung really mean by the following:

I’m sailing away
Set an open course for the Virgin Sea
‘Cause I’ve got to be free
Free to face the life that’s ahead of me

On board, I’m the captain
So climb aboard
We’ll search for tomorrow on every shore
And I’ll try, oh Lord, I’ll try to carry on

I look to the sea
Reflections in the waves spark my memory
Some happy, some sad
I think of childhood friends and the dreams we had

We lived happily forever
So the story goes
But somehow we missed out on the pot of gold
But we’ll try best that we can to carry on

A gathering of Angels appeared above my head
They sang to me this song of hope and this is what they said

They said, “Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me lads
Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me
Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me baby
Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me”

I thought that they were Angels, but to my surprise
We climbed aboard their starship, we headed for the skies

Singing, come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me lads.

I look forward to your responses.


Apr 232013


I know you’ve been saving your celebrating until now. I feel embarrassed that it slipped my mind until NPR reminded me: Today is Shakespeare’s birthday!

In honor of Avonian Willie and his prolixity, let us celebrate with a Last Man Standing that features lyrics penned by The Bard.

Yes, Cliffs Notes are allowed, but no, you can not include broadcasts of Shakespeare productions, or movies and their soundtracks. Subtle paraphrasing is also permitted.

I start you off with Rush, “Limelight.”

Mar 282013

I’m always amazed by well-crafted story songs. This goes back to one of my original favorite songs from childhood, The Band‘s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” I’ve never been much of a story teller. Stories are important. A well-told story set to great music simply dazzles me.

I even appreciate story songs that I can’t stand, such as Don McLean‘s “American Pie” and Billy Joel‘s “Piano Man.” The latter, for all its relative Joel merits, quickly falls prey to the high bar set by telling a story song from the perspective of an old man when the songwriter is, in fact, a young man. That “when I wore a younger man’s clothes” line in “Piano Man,” for instance, is one of the song’s many deal-breakers for me.

Last night, as “Piano Man” played on the radio after a fun dinner out with the family, even our 11-year-old son began cutting up on the lyrics. “The music’s good,” he said, “but the lyrics are stupid.” In the front seat my wife and I began talking about Olde Thyme-themed story songs of our youth. “Midnight at the Oasis” came on next, and we all got a chuckle out of that one, reminding ourselves that it was supposed to be silly.

“‘Mr. Bojangles’!” I exclaimed.

“Yeah,” my wife replied, “what was the deal with ‘Mr. Bojangles’?”

What was the deal with “Mr. Bojangles”?

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Mar 042013

Easy as 1-2-3. Simple as do-re-mi. That’s how easy this little game can be.

Here’s all you got to do: I’ll start with a line from a noteworthy song, starting with the letter “A.” For good measure, and to show you how this game is played, I’ll give you another line, from another song, this time starting with the letter “B.” You’ll note that the second line makes sequential sense after the line that precedes it. This is an important rule! You are free to start a new “verse” once we’ve collectively strung together at least four lines.

To make this contextually relevant, I urge you to copy and paste the lines preceding the one (and only one!) you add, so we can watch the A-B-C of it unfold.

We’ll start with a free-for-all — any band, any song, just make sure you follow the alphabet and remember we each get just one line per post. As we progress through the alphabet a few times, we can get fancy, restricting the lines to just one genre, or artist, or just artists with beards who wore platform shoes and so forth.

Here’s my first line, and a further one to show you how this game is played:

Accidents will happen
Because the night belongs to lovers

I look forward to your responses.



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