About a month ago, I learned a song called Pancho and Lefty, by Townes Van Zandt. It's a pretty odd song when you first hear it. You think "What the heck is this about?" I am going to tell you. First, read the lyrics down below to maybe get just a little bit of the story and meaning. The story is told in more detail after the lyrics.
“Pancho And Lefty”
Living on the road my friend, was gonna keep you free and clean, Now you wear your skin like iron, And your breath’s as hard as kerosene,You weren’t your mama’s only son, But her favorite one it seems, She began to cry when you said goodbye, And sank into your dreams. Pancho was a bandit boys, his horse was fast as polished steel, wore his gun outside his pants, for all the honest world to feel, Pancho met his match ya know, on the borders down in Mexico, nobody heard his dying words, 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 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 old Pancho low, Lefty left for Ohio, where he got the bread to go, ain't nobody knows.
All the Federales say, they could have had him any day, the only let him slip away, out of kindness I suppose.
Now the poet's sing how Pancho fell, Lefty's livin' in a cheap hotel, the border's quiet and Cleavland's cold, so the story ends we're told, Pancho need's your prayers it's true, save a few for Lefty to, he just did what he had to do, now he's growin' old.
All the Federales say, they could have had him any day, they only let him go so wrong, out of kindness I suppose.
Yes a few old gray Federales say, they could have had him any day, they only let him go so long, out of kindness I suppose.
My Mom and I and other sources say that the story is one of betrayal. The story is that Pancho was a bandit in Mexico who robed banks and trains. Lefty was his sidekick who helped set the robberies into place. The Federales were the Mexican federal police, who would offer a reward of say 1,500 pesos to whoever finds and brings Pancho to them, most likely a Dead or Alive situation. Lefty looks at the reward and says to himself "You know, I'm kinda tired of being in Pancho's shadow, plus I could do with a bit more money." Pancho and Lefty figure out their next robbery, then Lefty goes to the Federales and says "Hey, if you guys want to catch Pancho, here's where he is going to be." Pancho goes to the robbery and gets caught and hung on a noose. When they put Pancho in his coffin, Lefty said "I'm out of here" and went to Cleavland, Ohio. A long while later, Lefty is an old man, who still has the guilt of betraying his friend and turning him over to the Federales. All in all, it is a very sad story and if you listen to the Townes Van Zandt original version of the song, you can here the sorrow in his voice, almost as if it's Lefty singing the song.