“Pancho and Lefty” — Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard (written by Townes Van Zandt)
As it turns out, I don’t know any lullabies. Also, I can’t sing. This was never a problem for me before, but on the day our son Tommy was born I found myself in quite a pickle:
So my wife is exhausted and in need of sleep after the delivery. As the dutiful husband and doting father, I’m going to take control of the situation and get the baby to go to sleep. Easy enough: just plop down in the rocking chair and give the little guy a bottle. Maybe walk around the room with him. Problem solved.
So I’m holding this baby and I have my strategy to get him to sleep, and for some reason I feel like I’m supposed to be singing him a lullaby, of which I know exactly zero. I know there’s the one about a baby in a tree but that seems incredibly dangerous and I don’t know all of the words. And it’s late and I’m tired and I need to sing a song so I open my mouth and this is what comes out:
“Livin’ on the road my friend
Was gonna keep you free and clean
Now you wear skin like iron
And your breath’s as hard as kerosene
You weren’t your mama’s only boy
But her favorite one it seems
She began to cry when you said goodbye
And sank into your dreams”
Shit, this isn’t even close to a lullaby.
I should mention that I have this odd condition: sometimes when I have a few beers, I find myself listening to incredibly sad songs. I am not a sad person and I don’t get sad if I drink. I just like a good sad song with a cold beer and I am quite the connoisseur of sad songs. Unrequited love? Good. Drunk and broke in a gutter? Great. Bandit dies in the desert down in Mexico after being sold out to the Federales by his best friend who then grows old and lives with his constant guilt – in Cleveland? Fucking amazing. As far as sad songs go, “Pancho and Lefty” doesn’t stab you in the heart. It goes for the gut with a dull blade and then twists. And I love every line.
Here is how I justify “Pancho and Lefty” as a lullaby. First, I know all of the words and it only requires that you can barely sing. The lyrics are simple and meaningful. Not a single line is frivolous. It tells a story with just enough information for us to know the important parts of the story and allows us to fill in the gaps.
Second, there are several lessons to be learned. Don’t break your mother’s heart. Don’t betray your friends. Pray for those you love. Pray for those you hate. Don’t move to Cleveland.
Tommy is one and a half now. I still have not bothered to learn any lullabies. We don’t need them. We have Pancho and Lefty and the Federales and the lessons we have learned. And I know that Tommy will not remember any of the times I sang “Pancho and Lefty” to him. That first night in the hospital. All the nights at 3:00 AM when I have work the next day. Yesterday. That’s okay. I’ll remember for the both of us.
- Merle Haggard: Working in Tennessee (Review) (popmatters.com)
- Willie Nelson pays tribute to Merle Haggard @ Kennedy Honors (stillisstillmoving.com)
- Announcing Country Legend Merle Haggard at Uptown Theatre Napa on 9/30 (prweb.com)
- Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis, ‘Two Men With the Blues’ (stillisstillmoving.com)
- New Merle Haggard Release Coming Oct. 04 (roastbeefvampire.wordpress.com)
- Straight Out Of the Country Closet: Merle Haggard “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here & Drink” (wycd.radio.com)
- Willie Nelson’s, ‘Night Life’ (stillisstillmoving.com)
Posted on 08/27/2011, in Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes, Family Moments and tagged Cleveland, fatherhood, Federales, lullaby, Merle Haggard, Mexico, new baby, Pancho and Lefty, sad songs, Townes Van Zandt, Willie Nelson. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.