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Townes Van Zandt – Pancho And Lefty lyrics

Living on the road my friend,
Is gonna keep you free and clean
Now you wear your skin like iron,
Your breath 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.

Pancho was a bandit boy,
His horse was fast as polished steel
He 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,
Ah but 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,
And Lefty's living in cheap hotels
The desert's quiet, Cleveland's cold,
And so the story ends we're told
Pancho needs your prayers it's true,
But save a few for Lefty too
He only did what he had to do,
And now he's growing old

A few gray Federales say
They could have had him any day
They only let him go so long
Out of kindness, I suppose

A few gray Federales say
They could have had him any day
They only let him go so long
Out of kindness, I suppose

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Corrected byclint_adams_754


  • u
    The song is autobiographical, in a sense. In the first verse Townes is speaking to Himself (both Pancho AND Lefty) in the 2nd person.
    Pancho appears in the 2nd verse, in the 3rd person, and represents how he felt about the hard living younger version of Townes.
    Lefty is introduced in the 3rd verse, also 3rd person, and represents what was left when Townes' original dream for himself was replaced by the reality of what he had become.
    The song is set, first Mexico, then in Cleveland. Both are stereotypical representations of how Townes viewed himself at different times in his life.
    The outlaw image of Pancho Villa fighting authority in the harsh Mexican desert represents his earliest years, while the image of Lefty, no longer able to perform (sing the Blues) as he once did, is relegated to a lesser role in, of all places Cleveland.
    Townes blames the older Lefty, who was more interested in drinking than music, for "killing off" the wild young Pancho and therefore much of the source of his music (the dust that Pancho bit...ended up in Lefty's mouth), but forgives his actions (he only did what he had to do), as something that was destined, and asks for prayers (alcoholism).
    The song was written in a "cheap hotel" room, with Townes sitting on the end of the bed, contemplating the stranger he saw in the dresser mirror, (who by the way, was playing his guitar "lefty"), and lamenting the failure of the road he had chosen, to keep him "clean".
    He spoke to Himself; "Living on the road my friend, was gonna keep you free and clean..."

    Townes himself seemed to acknowledge that this interpretation was true. In about 1988 I saw him at a show, and he was a drunken mess. Afterwards he was at the bar drinking vodka from a full water glass, when I spoke to him. I told him I was a freelance writer and wanted to hang out after closing and make some observations, but I promised him I wouldn't write anything about his show that night, that there were just some things I wanted to try and understand.
    Townes looked at me through a drunken haze and said, sarcastically, "Let me guess, you want to know who Pancho and Lefty are." Followed by maniacal laughter from him and his friends. I responded, "no I already know who they are.", which was met with even more hysterical laughter.
    Then Townes said, still holding back a laugh, "Ok. So who are Pancho and Lefty?" I hesitated, knowing this was the moment of truth, and preparing myself to be laughed into oblivion. "They're BOTH Townes Van Zandt", I replied.
    Townes fell silent, as did the group around him at the bar, and all eyes were on him, awaiting the cue to burst out into laughter. The look on his face changed, and with clear, piercing eyes he looked at me and soberly said, " Do you believe in God?".
    To be honest, I felt at first like he was setting me up for the big fall, what a strange question, in a strange situation. I eventually replied, "Yes I do, Townes".
    He reached out and put his hand on my shoulder and then said, "Then you stay and drink with me".

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