Saturday, February 28, 2009
Why Billy Joe Jumped
A mystery that has always plagued me can be found in the lyrics of a 1967 song by Bobbie Gentry called "Ode to Billy Joe." The song is narrated by an anonymous girl who knows Billy Joe McAllister, and in fact was seen with him right before he "jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge." Billy Joe's suicide has always bothered me; the song neither reveals why he jumps, nor what mysterious reason he and the girl had for "throwin' somethin'" off the bridge before his death.
Many people were intrigued by Gentry's song. Herman Raucher adapted it into a novel, in which he suggested a reason for the title figure's suicide--this was later made into a film starring Robby Benson. The book and film changed the spelling of the main character's name from "Billy" to "Billie" for reasons unknown.
The book and film, though, offer only one possibility for Billy Joe's death, and Bobbie Gentry, who wrote the song, claimed that she did not know why Billy Joe died. Therefore, the song remains an unsolved mystery, as do these compelling characters that Gentry created. More intriguing than Billy Joe is the girl who tells the story--the girl who obviously has all sorts of secrets, and spends her time throwing flowers "into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge."
For those who remember this song, I wonder how you interpreted it back in the days when it was played on the radio? And if you've never heard it before, what would your theory for Billie Joe's suicide be, based on the enigmatic lyrics of the song?