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“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.

Find more artists like Townes Van Zandt, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard at Myspace Music.