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:
- 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.
- Pancho is Jesus and Lefty is Judas.
- Pancho faked his own death and is now living in hiding as Lefty.
- “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!