Wednesday, 3 June 2020

it was the third of june—another sleepy, dusty delta day

As our faithful chronicler reminds, today was the day that Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge, according to his 1967 ode by Bobbie Gentry, songwriter and performer from Chickasaw County, Mississippi whom was familiar with the rural span and the indelible impact of suicide on a family and community that have no language (excepting perhaps these lyrics) for it.
Addressed as mealtime pleasantries by another family adjacent to the tragedy and not knowing their own daughter’s connection or feelings, the narrator has to reconcile what has transpired for herself and suffers silently. As an interrogatory prelude as to why McAllister killed himself, fans pressed Gentry what the pair had tossed off Choctaw Ridge with theories ranging from an engagement ring, LSD and a draft card. Gentry demurred, saying only to “Suppose it was a wedding ring.” The eponymous bridge became quite a tourist draw in July and August in that same year once the song began to chart and the county began imposing fines for those leaping off of it but as the height was low, the risk of injury or death was in fact minimal. The original bridge was destroyed in a fire in 1972, the tune overshadowing a very real tragedy that took place in the immediate area in 1955 when fourteen-year-old Emmett Louis Till was accused of offending a white woman in her family’s grocery store and lynched by an angry mob, his body sunk in the Tallahatchie river on the twenty-eighth of August. The Ode saw sustained international popularity as well with a French version by Joe Dassin called “Marie-Jeanne” some months later, a Swedish one by Olle Adolphson titled “Jon Andreas visa,” a German and Italian translation called “Billy Joe McAllister” and “Ode per Billy Joe” respectively—all true to Gentry’s story but told with local landmarks, and there was even a novelisation and film adaptation in nearly a decade after its release.