View Full Version : What was thrown off the Tallahatchie Bridge?

06-03-2008, 07:52 PM
Since it's the third of June....

Any ideas about what thrown into the river?

(a truly great song imo, transcends pop, country and just about anything else)

Ode To Billie Joe
( Bobbie Gentry )

It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day
I was out choppin' cotton and my brother was balin' hay
And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat
And Mama hollered out the back door "y'all remember to wipe your feet"
And then she said "I got some news this mornin' from Choctaw Ridge"
"Today Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge"

And Papa said to Mama as he passed around the blackeyed peas
"Well, Billy Joe never had a lick of sense, pass the biscuits, please"
"There's five more acres in the lower forty I've got to plow"
And Mama said it was shame about Billy Joe, anyhow
Seems like nothin' ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge
And now Billy Joe MacAllister's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge

And Brother said he recollected when he and Tom and Billie Joe
Put a frog down my back at the Carroll County picture show
And wasn't I talkin' to him after church last Sunday night?
"I'll have another piece of apple pie, you know it don't seem right"
"I saw him at the sawmill yesterday on Choctaw Ridge"
"And now you tell me Billie Joe's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge"

And Mama said to me "Child, what's happened to your appetite?"
"I've been cookin' all morning and you haven't touched a single bite"
"That nice young preacher, Brother Taylor, dropped by today"
"Said he'd be pleased to have dinner on Sunday, oh, by the way"
"He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge"
"And she and Billy Joe was throwing somethin' off the Tallahatchie Bridge"

A year has come 'n' gone since we heard the news 'bout Billy Joe
And Brother married Becky Thompson, they bought a store in Tupelo
There was a virus going 'round, Papa caught it and he died last Spring
And now Mama doesn't seem to wanna do much of anything
And me, I spend a lot of time pickin' flowers up on Choctaw Ridge

And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge

06-03-2008, 08:00 PM
Foetus, baby? Not an uncommon story once upon a time. Here the vice squad and their overseeing minister were in cahoots with the illegal abortion industry and getting a rake off. But at least they were medical practitioners, if a girl and, maybe, her 'partner' couldn't afford the cost then it was a backyarder with a coathanger. Many died.

06-04-2008, 05:51 AM
It was something of hers - doll, teddy bear?

It wasn't the third of June, but I've been there.

Spent a summer back in the 80's traveling and lived a bunch of songs.

Lubbock Texas in my rear view mirror, Rocky Mountain - well, let's just say we pulled over on the side of the interstate and enjoyed the scenery ;); Hahira Georgia etc.

Pernicious Atavist
06-04-2008, 07:47 AM
yup--the fetus

George Roberts
06-04-2008, 08:11 AM
So that is what the song is about.

06-04-2008, 09:25 AM
well now that just depressed the hell out of me.

06-04-2008, 10:03 AM
Seems to me that it was something more than that.... Wasn't Billie Joe caught fooling around with a guy at the county fair the week before?

John of Phoenix
06-04-2008, 10:06 AM
Excerpts from Wikipedia:

A popular speculation at the release of the song in 1967 was that the narrator and Billie Joe threw their baby (either stillborn or aborted) off the bridge, and Billie Joe then killed himself out of grief and guilt.

There was also speculation that Billie Joe was a black man, having a forbidden affair with the white narrator.

In the movie, Billy Joe (note the spelling) kills himself after a drunken homosexual experience, and the object thrown from the bridge is the narrator's ragdoll.

Bobbie Gentry has stated in numerous interviews over the years that the focus of the song was not the suicide itself, but rather the matter-of-fact way that the narrator's family was discussing the tragedy over dinner, unaware that Billie Joe had been her boyfriend. Gentry said that she hadn't come up with a reason for Billie Joe's suicide when she wrote the song.

I can't find any info that Gentry has ever said what was thrown off the bridge.

George Roberts
06-04-2008, 10:15 AM
Makes me feel a lot better now.

John of Phoenix
06-04-2008, 10:17 AM
An interview with the screen writer:

According to Bobbie Gentry

Bobbie Gentry has historically remained coy about the meaning of her song. According to her, the main theme of Billy Joe was simply death and dying, and the ways in which we can be indifferent and oblivious to the suffering of others.

In a 2002 interview with the Florida-based TCPalm.com website, Herman Raucher, the screenplay writer of the Billy Joe film, recalls his encounter with Gentry as he tried to figure out the song's meaning:

INTERVIEWER: [You wrote] the screenplay for the Deep South, song-inspired film Ode to Billy Joe. How did that come about?
RAUCHER: There’s an actor and writer and producer and director named Max Baer, whose father was the world heavyweight boxing champion. And Max called me because Summer of ‘42 just knocked him out, and he said, I’ve got the rights to Ode to Billy Joe. Now, you have to understand that Ode to Billy Joe was, at that time, the largest selling record in musical history.
I said, ‘Max, what the hell do I know about Ode to Billy Joe?’
He says, ‘I want you to come out here and meet with Bobbie Gentry - I’ll pay your way out here.’
I said, OK. ... Max and I go to meet her, and I ask her what does the song mean?
She said, ‘I made it up. I don’t know what it means.’
I said, ‘You don’t know why he jumped off the bridge?’
She said, ‘I have no idea.’
He proceeds to explain that since the song apparently lacked a "true" meaning, he simply made up his own storyline to explain the lyrics.

Bobbie Gentry is still alive, but has largely fallen from the public radar screen. She has never published an autobiography, so today it is difficult to determine if she has ever made any more authoritative statements on the meaning of "Billy Joe." There is no reason to deny Raucher's story. Many musicians, notably John Lennon and the Beatles, have frequently made similar statements indicating that their songs' lyrics don't have a firm meaning and it is instead up for the listener to determine their significance.

06-04-2008, 10:20 AM
It was something of hers - doll, teddy bear?

I win :D

John of Phoenix
06-04-2008, 10:23 AM
"Bobbie Gentry is still alive, but has largely fallen from the public radar screen." Hey Rigadog, give her a call.

"Hi Ms. Gentry, me and a bunch of my imaginary friends were thinking, this being the third of June and all... well, we were wondering... about you and Billie Joe and... maybe you could clear something up for us..." :D

06-04-2008, 04:37 PM
It's a sad song about people who live a very fundamental, hard scrabble life with no education, too many puritanical rules and too little compassion. I've know folks who work in the cotton fields chopping (cropping) cotton, drinking too much, fighting too much, killing too often . . . it's not a good life.

06-04-2008, 05:52 PM
Nope, my Mama and Grandmother both grew up pickin' cotton. Two totally different, unrelated families, same harsh git.

06-04-2008, 08:54 PM
Paris Hilton....
In response to the original question.....
I know's about choppin cottin......that's what my great great grandparents did when they moved from Charles County Md during the civil war and started the plantation in Indian Territories....