Charles R. Private investigator John McAlister is looking for something different. Something that doesn't involve the divorce surveillance work he is so good at. What was cool was that a friend of ours, a guy who was the organist at a nearby Church, and I rode around beforehand and smoked a fine bowl of nice hashish before the show, and he was generous enough to play the string section part on my el-cheapo Casio synth. I would say, "You can just imagine," but after I finished my performance, there was about 15 seconds of shocked silence - then I received a standing ovation.
Other people can interpret it as they will. I would say that they could go throw stuff off the Tallahatchee Bridge themselves, but it's not standing anymore. Persons of Indian ancestry hid this, wearing long-sleeved shirts so their skin would not darken considerably during the summer. They experienced tremendous prejudice. For a 'white' girl to be dating a Choctaw or Cherokee boy would be out of the question. It would be interesting to know if Bobbie Gentry has some Indian heritage. Her looks indicate this might be a possibility.
If so, she would have been sufficiently motivated to write such a song of depth addressing this issue, and she would not want to talk about it, as she has not, remaining curiously quiet and withdrawing from the public eye. You have to have been in this part of the country to a little bit understand its strange dark nuances.
Swirling waters of its rivers run deep. There is a lot of true mystery and darkness that are a way of life of the people who grew up in these areas.
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The story is about a little white girl, just coming into her girlood, who begins to hang around Billy Joe, up on Choctaw Ridge, fooling around, falling in love. Dark, mysterious, hidden, shameful, yet she cares for him. She is in a conventional family and a conventional part of society. She cannot marry an Indian boy. She must grow up, marry a preacher boy, be a good little Southern girl who goes to church and takes apple pie to church socials and wears white shoes in summer.
That is her life. There is no part for her in a life with an American Indian boy. That is why there is no question from the family that the girl seen with him would actually be her…. Also how a young girl growing up in the South had a course she was expected to follow She had to put her own feelings aside. But she did love Billy Joe and would never forget him, would always hold him in her heart.. Just a few thoughts to add to your excellent page Folks are innocently misinterpreting parts of the song as they are not from the South.
My history hails from Mississippi and Tennessee in small cotton and bean farming towns, so I know just a bit about it though not an authority! The narrator was "chopping cotton" not "picking cotton".
Chopping cotton is simply going up and down the rows chopping out weeds with a hoe. It is a very standard thing for a teen to have done at that time. I did it; believe me, it's hot work! It's just a regular chore that that a farm family would have to attend to. Black-eyed peas means nothing either; it as a staple. Many small southern churches could only be assigned or "draw" in the vernacular very young preachers that were new to thier calling.
They could hardly support older, more experienced clergy. Further, it was a regular occurrence for a southern family to invite the preacher to supper lunch or dinner. Preachers were often guests at various family homes as I was growing up, so there is nothing to imply a relationship. A simple southern man's attitude was often that anyone other than himself that did anything stupid displayed a lack of sense. Bobbie Gentry has nailed the wording. I've heard my grandfather say just those exact words "hasn't a lick of sense" many times to describe everyone from fellow farmers, to insurance agents, to the President!
It's a mystery, apparently on purpose by Bobbie Gentry. I cannot believe that a young girl in Mississippi could have hidden a pregnancy; everyone paid attention closely to everyone else. I also don't think it was something as innocuous as flowers; nobody would pay that any attention. It might be evidence of another sort though. Perhaps a blood-stained sheet or undergarment from a first love-making? In the time present by this song, that would have to be done away with! Neighborhoods get reputations in the South.
No one could really say why except that there was "nothing good for you there". It was only years later that I heard the year-old stories of ruffians and rum-runners in Samburg. They were long gone, but the aversion persisted. I stumbled across your site and wondered if you still took comments on the lyrics to 'Ode to Billy Joe'. I remember listening to the song endlessly as a child of about 8 or 9 years old. I believed I understood the song - but my interpretation seems to be very different than what others have written. I was sure that there was no 'throwing anything off the bridge' but instead, the narrator pushed Billy Joe off the Bridge no suicide here for an unclear reason, but certainly in the context of a relationship.
The preacher showing up at the house and saying that 'He saw a girl a lot like you The loss of appetite was due to the shock of learning that there was a witness to the event. The time spent back on the bridge was in prayer for Billie Joe and to atone for her sin. There is no mention of her appearing pregnant- I would expect something like mama saying something about her gaining then losing weight suddenly. There is nothing like that so we have to presume that whatever happened was before she started showing.
So she could have a spontaneous early-term miscarriage, but if it was early enough in the term that her weight didn't show, the fetus would be pretty small. I remember the song clearly from when I was a boy growing up in rural Michigan in My father in law swore to his dying day that the girl and Billie Joe had thrown the baby off the bridge, but i cannot accept that I agree with many of your letter writiers, that the speaker and BJ have a growing relationship, that has moved from "Frogs down the dress" to sparking after Church, and that this is the key to the tragedy.
I read that while life moves on, Poppa dies, as a result Momma doesn't want to do much of anything. Brother married Becky Thompson and left the immediate family household, leaving the speaker trapped, carrying for her aging, depressed mother. Her dreams of romance and escape with Billie Joe have been dashed by the suicide. I think the debate over what was thrown over the rail of the bridge ignors the obvious The fact that the father doesn't like Billie Joe may be disapproval of the relationship with the speaker, but the fact that the family is obvivious to her sorrow, distress and loss of appetite, is significant that she has not spoken of her affection to anyone, Momma, Poppa nor brother.
Yes, Mamma is impressed with that nice young Brother Taylor, and is probably hoping for something to grow with her daughter Just as life moves on, Brother marries, Poppa dies, the crops came in, nothing much is going on in the speakers' life when she spends a lot of time upon the ridge That's all I read into this song That's such a dark and evil act, I doubt they'd do it on a public bridge, in broad daylight, where the preacher might happen to see them.
Perhaps the singer threw a promise ring or other token of his love off the bridge, causing Billie to end his life. Theories on this song continue. Has anyone suggested that what was thrown off the Tallahatchie Bridge was not a literal item or "thing. I have certainly driven -- rather been driven -- across the Tallahatchie Bridge, and that country is much like the Capleville Tenn Mineral Wells Mississippi area I grew up in. As it happens I read your web site tonight and found it interesting.
A couple of points. It is not possible that Billie Joe was black, because a black lad would not have participated in putting a frog down a middle school white girl's dress. You may eliminate that speculation. The current in that river is very strong, as it is on high land -- the bluff -- above the delta. The water becomes slow and sluggish in the delta but it is fairly rapid with undertows until it reaches that. It is not water anyone ought to be swimming in, and although the fall from the bridge wouldn't kill anyone, the current would more likely drown you than not unless you were a strong and determined swimmer.
I find the speculation that an aborted or still born infant was what they threw off the bridge quite unlikely. I knew a number of Tennessee and Mississippi farm girls of that age, and those were the time when there were girls you could sleep with and girls you could marry, and they were not the same girls. Nearly all 'decent' girls of that era were virgins until they got married. Obviously there were exceptions, but there's no indication in the song that the narrator was one of them.
The narrators father owned enough land to talk of a lower forty, which probably meant that he had 80 to acres, possibly in the delta area. This would be a respectable holding. If Billie Joe lived up on the ridge his parents holding would not have been worth as much. The girl wasn't likely to be an heiress -- land usually went to the oldest boy in the family -- so she would be expected to marry someone with an income or land enough to support her.
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Billie Joe probably didn't have that expectation. Of course that wouldn't keep them from falling in love, at least temporarily. What they were throwing off the bridge might well have been a ring. Wearing a boy's ring was fairly common and returning it would be the breakup, and throwing it off the bridge wouldn't have been that uncommon.
It's likely that they broke up, and he might well have jumped off the bridge the next day. Pure speculation of course. Thanks for an interesting discussion. It was a great song.
I left the South in and having knocked about the country for a while had just moved to California when the song became a big hit. I liked it then and still do. I've been working on that song since it came out. To be honest with you I was a child when it was released. I think I have read every article and seen every web site except yours until recently. I want to thank you for your efforts and excellent work on starting a great discussion about this song. But this is and has been my theory for years. After the time I've spent listening and dissecting the lyrics I think I've got a simple theory.
I'm a contractor by trade and I try to look for the simplest solutions to problems that pop up in my daily grind. Usually the simplest solutions are the right ones. I don't think but I feel that Bobby Gentry lived this ordeal, music was her whole outlet from the time she was a child. She has been asked numerous times about the meaning of the song. She has denied the meaning, claimed there was no meaning and has never discussed with anyone what the song was really about.
I think it was fate, unwanted attention and fame that brought her to a very lonely life.
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Living with a simple twist in a young girls life during a very confusing time in the south. She Carys that song around her neck like an albatross. I've felt that way for years. Weather or not he was black or slow, bad kid.. Who knows she wont tell. I think the song speaks for its self. But I have to say I always got a chill thinking of a still born baby being tossed off that bridge and the overwhelming guilt and sadness not to mention confusion it must have stirred to create such a chilling, haunting song. It's just one of the things in life that we could ponder for ever and she will probably take that secret to the grave with her.
But the hopes that one day she can get her peace and people will finally forget about Billy Joe McAllester. I read every possible opinion about The Ode to Billy Joe. I know I'm coming in really late on this. You may be dead for all I know. If you answer this, then maybe you're not. If you are dead, I do still accept email, but not visits. Let me give my take on this. The clue is in Brothers' response.
Everyone assumes that she was talking to Billy Jo, but suppose she was talking to Tom. In the South it was improper for a girl to go to the movies with 3 guys, even if her older brother was along. There must be at least one other girl. The person that Brother saw at the sawmill was Tom, not Billie Jo. Again everyone assumes that he saw Billie Jo. He could have saw Tom and Tom did not indicate there was anything wrong between himself and Billie Jo.
If Brother was talking about Billy Jo at the sawmill, there would be no need to mention him again by name, when the word "He", would fit much better. Everyone ask what were they throwing off the Bridge? A bouquet of flowers. The singer could not accept flowers from another girl. There would be some awkward questions to answer. Now here is the epilogue: Brother talked about business the picture show and the sawmill ; he's now in business. Most girls don't learn how to swim in the south, it's mostly a guy thing. I think I've covered all of the bases and if you make Billie Jo a girl, that jumps from a bridge into 20 feet of water and she can't swim.
Billie Jo couldn't live a life of pretend for other people. But the singer is caught and picks flowers and gives them to Billie Jo the only way she knows how, dropping them into the Tallachatie River off the Bridge. Return to jjmccullough.
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This is indeed a fascinating song, and you are lucky to have so many intelligent readers with so much insight. My take on the song is similar, but I think people are reading too much into some details and missing others. Going to the same church, and the kids playing together and going to the same picture show is proof enough that nothing racial is intended. The hard work they do, plentiful food and the brother buying a store suggest they are a farming family, likely of middle-class resources. Did she say something that made him jump, or did she push him? She is the only one counting time since that event.
Overall, I do suspect that it just a vivid vignette of ordinary life and the world going on when individuals are hurt. Far more interesting than the unsolved riddles is the hierarchy of knowledge that's going on: The speaker most likely knows the answer to these questions, but there's no way we're going to find out. So we're stuck in the middle. Being from the rural south Texas and of the generation covered in the song I feel I have a little insight to the song, though that hardly makes me an authority.
I agree with one of the other posters that conjecture about the song is over-thought. It is entertaining to think that the song might have been about a mixed race relationship, but the lyrics don't seem to suggest that the narrarator was black, and it was generally true in in the south that black and white people attended separate churches. In addition a song about a mixed race relationship probably would not have played well to a country music audience in I was still marginally controversial when Spike Lee made the movie "Jungle Fever" and Madonna sang a song and did a music video several years ago.
No one seems to touch on the subject of teen suicide that the lyrics of the song discuss. Teenagers are very prone to emotional problems at their time of life, and many stem from relationship problems. Most of the previous posters seem to feel the song was near a Romeo and Juliet theme, however. I think the lyrics simply suggest that Billy Joe was in love with the narrarator, but she was not romantically interested in him. That theory is supported by the seeming indifference that the family had towards Billy Joe's death. If Billy Joe committed suicide due to a romantic rejection, then the narrarator would react with shock and guilt, but not be crushed as the song suggests.
This hypothesis doesn't address what Billy Joe and the narrarator might have thrown off of the bridge, which is a great deal of the mystery. The fact that "it" was thrown off the bridge, then later Billy Joe jumped off the same bridge is a huge tie and carries a great deal of weight.
Hardcover , pages. More Details Original Title. Other Editions 2. Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Bluff Walk , please sign up. Lists with This Book. This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Community Reviews. Showing Rating details. Sort order. May 06, Adrienne rated it liked it. It's a great big whack job of a city It is difficult to say whether Memphis creates characters or characters create Memphis, but there are few places with such vibrant lives and tales.
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At one point in my life, I hated Memphis. Now I know I took her for granted. So, Bluff Walk was a pleasant trip down memory lane.