Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

His Horse Was Fast As Polished Steel

KT McCaffrey (right) and your genial host have been rapping back and forth, on and off, about crime fic song lyrics, with Townes van Zandt a particular favourite of yours truly, in particular St. John the Gambler and Pancho and Lefty. Herewith be KT’s take on Pancho and Lefty, with which I agree for the most part – although I tend to believe that van Zandt’s version is the definitive one. Take it away, KT …

Reading Ken Bruen’s AMERICAN SKIN set me off on the song lyric trail again ... in a roundabout sort of way. Bear with me. You see, Ken and I go back some ways. In 2001, a review for my third book THE BODY ROCK appeared in the Evening Herald, and because it took up half a page and was a particularly good critique, I noted the reviewer’s name: Ken Bruen. I’d never heard of Ken at the time but then I got hold of THE GUARDS and we made contact. We have, over the intervening years, developed a mutual respect for each other's writing. Ken dedicated THE VIXEN to me and worked my name into the text of THE DRAMATIST, while I brought THE GUARDS into the narrative in my last offering, THE CAT TRAP.
  Fast forward to AMERICAN SKIN. Dade is, without doubt, the No.1 bad dude in Bruen’s hierarchy of baddies. Early in Dade’s career, while imprisoned, his cell mate knocks out his teeth, saying, “Don’t need ’em for blow jobs.” Six months later, Dade settles the score by extracting the guy’s eyes with a spoon. Could only have come from the pen of Bruen.
  At one point in the story, Dade, with one eye on the Mexican border, conjures up a line from Pancho and Lefty – ‘All the Federales say ...’ – but can’t remember what comes next. Well, that got me thinking. I unearthed Willie and Merle’s definitive version of the Townes Van Zandt classic and thought I might share the lyrics with y’all.

Living on the road my friend
Was gonna keep you free and clean
Now you wear your skin like iron
Your breath’s as hard as kerosene
You weren’t your mama’s only boy
But her favourite one it seems
She began to cry when you said goodbye
And sank into your dreams

Pancho was a bandit boys
His horse was fast as polished steel
Wore his gun outside his pants
For all the honest world to feel
Pancho met his match you know
On the deserts down in Mexico
Nobody heard his dying words
That’s the way it goes

All the federales say
They could have had him any day
They only let him hang around
Out of kindness I suppose

Lefty he can’t sing the blues
All night long like he used to
The dust that Pancho bit down south
Ended up in Lefty’s mouth
The day they laid poor Pancho low
Lefty split for Ohio
Where he got the bread to go
There ain’t nobody knows

All the federales say
They could have had him any day
They only let him slip away
Out of kindness I suppose

The poets tell how Pancho fell
Lefty’s livin’ in a cheap hotel
The desert’s quiet and Cleveland’s cold
So the story ends we’re told
Pancho needs your prayers it’s true,
But save a few for Lefty too
He just did what he had to do
Now he’s growing old

A few grey federales say
They could have had him any day
They only let him go so wrong
Out of kindness I suppose


Critical Mick said...

Gangsta rap can bite my ass. Country is where stories of wrath, loss and consequences were taught to rhyme.

It all started on "The Banks of the Ohio," then Marty Robbins rode that pale horse south to "El Paso." "Fire on the Mountain" is another tale of gold and the sound of .44 guns. Modern artists like Angry Johnny and the Hellbillies continue the tradition: "Indian Motorcycle"'s tale of love, bank robbery, death and legend could be found for free from the band's website last I checked. Definitely worth pursuing.

My Dad raised me on Waylon Jennigns and Johnny Cash. Many thanks, Declan and KT for giving a classic like "Poncho and Lefty" a well-deserved plug.

Corey Wilde said...

Makes me feel like Judas but I have to disagree, Mr. B. The definitive version of 'Pancho and Lefty' belongs to Emmylou Harris.

John McFetridge said...

"Gangsta rap can bite my ass."

That is a country song, isn't it?

Declan Burke said...

Mickster - I'd forgotten about El Paso. I was raised by my Grandad on Marty Robbins.

Angry Johnny and the Hellbillies? I am so front row ...

Corey? I won't have a word spoken against Emmylou, especially with If I Should Lose Control under her belt. But Townes does Townes songs best. THIS IS A A LAW.

John, there really is no piece of shit so small it's not worth stirring, is there?

Cheers, Dec

Peter Rozovsky said...

Nah, the title is "Gangsta rap bit my ass / and my ass won."

Which reminds me that the Bobby Fuller Four deserve a spot in the crime-song hall of fame, at least until you see that cheesy clip of them performing "I Fought the Law."
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"