Sunday, September 12, 2021

Ode to Billie Joe - "Around our dinner tables we have long struggled to talk about loss"

"In the 1980s, I taught for a year in the Deep South and had a love affair along the kudzu-snarled banks of the Black Warrior River in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Penelope (not her real name) was a love child who’d been adopted and raised in Missouri by a conservative Baptist family. She once told me if I wanted to understand the South, I needed to listen to “Ode to Billie Joe.” These memories came back recently as I tried to comprehend anti-vaxxers, voting restrictions, Southern leaders seemingly intent on disaster, and, most of all, the Texas law prohibiting most abortions.

“Ode to Billie Joe,” written and recorded by Bobbie Gentry in 1967, is an elegy that became a hit in many countries, knocking “All You Need Is Love” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” out of the number one spot on the charts. The song and album won three Grammys. Gentry was just 23 years old when the Southern Gothic song she wrote, sang, and produced caused a sensation. Her manuscripts can be found alongside those of Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner in the archives of the University of Mississippi, in the state where she was born."
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