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Pancho And Lefty Lyrics

Living on the road my friend,
Was 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 slip away
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.
We 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.

All the Federales say
We could have had him any day.
We only let him go so long
Out of kindness, I suppose.

A few gray Federales say
We could have had him any day
We only let him go so long
Out of kindness, I suppose.
41 Meanings
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It seemed to me that Pancho and Lefty were the same person. Pancho was a bandit who decided his luck wouldn't hold up much longer, so he faked is death "Nobody heard his dyin words". Apparently he changed his name to Lefty "The dust tha Pancho bit down south, ended up in Lefty's mouth." After retiring from his life of crime, Lefty decided to move north with whatever money he had left from his "banditing". "The day they laid poor Pancho low, Lefty split for Ohio Where he got the bread to go, there ain't nobody knows"

That's how I see it, although I do like the other interpretations.

Though im not sure, i always thought that this was a very strong possiblity. Lefty had been coddled as the favorite child and when he left home he lived on the edge. when he was cornered, he faked his death and became Pancho. I sucked though, bc he had to live out his days in hiding in a cold climate. Basically, all that hard living caught up with him and he is paying for it. As far as the federales, they are bitter that they never caught him.

I agree that they were the same person but I think that Lefty went from Ohio to Mexico and assumed the name of Poncho. After he built up a reputation and was looking for a way out one of his gang was killed and Lefty identified the dead guy as being Poncho and took off back towards home.

@nivlem9 Totally agree with you! Word "pancho" on Spanish mean Lefty. Song about man who decided to loose his alias "Pancho" and went to Ohio. " This verses say it all; "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"

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The meaning of this song has always haunted me, so one day I spent a few hours on the internet trying to hunt dow the meaning. Here's what I found. The song was written by the legendary Townes Van Zandt, who went to his grave without ever revealing anything about the song. Wow.

This song is about two brothers that were close but if it makes sense at all were also rivals one being his Mother's favorite both sent out on the road to live a cold, hard life. In this person's perception that I knew he came from a family of alcoholics and knew in order to be free he and his brother had to leave their parent's home and go out to their own dreams and independence in the world without training and without help. In the end the one brother died in the song. I say this because I knew...

lefty and Poncho are the same person. Lefty left Ohio and drifted south and got involved with a bunch of petty thieves around the border and became Poncho. After a while he started looking back towards. When a Mexican in his "gang" was killed Lefty saw his chance and claimed the dead guy was Poncho. He took this as an opportunity to slip out of the mess that he had involved himself in and go home.

@IJBand Bingo!!

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I believe this song is about one friend betraying the other. The lyrics, in my view, clearly point to the fact the in someway lefty was paid off and that led to the demise of pancho

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the proposed meanings of this song are totally different from the understanding I developed by listening to it — I don’t know if I’m crazy, but I always took it to mean that Lefty was an American who came down to hunt Pancho — He killed him where the Federales refused to. They said they could have but they didn’t. I took the line about dust that Pancho bit ending up in Lefty’s mouth to mean that Lefty was following him. He killed him, got paid and then went back up north. The day they buried Pancho was the day Lefty left. It’s unusual to ask for prayers for the killer — that’s why Van Zandt reminds us to save a few for Lefty too.

by the way, I love the imagery in this song.

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Lefty in this song was my grandfather. My grandfather and his family were captured by Villa and they hanged his mother and father and sister in front of him. Pancho was about to hang my grandfather when Pancho's daughter came running out begging him to not hang Lefty. So he did not but made him ride with him for several years. After leaving the group my grandfather went to Bridgeport, Ohio where he met his future bride.

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Nobody seems to notice that this song is in 2 parts. The second part (the actual story of Pancho and Lefty) is the DREAM the person in the first part of the song sinks into. The P&L story is obvious: P&L are friends (more than friends, some say), L turns P in to the Mexican Army, collects his money and returns East. Obviously L is the rat, and P is the good guy. What is not clear is what the relationship is between the P&L story to the first part (which ends with "sank into a dream." That is what we can speculate on.

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I'm in agreement re Lefty selling Pancho to the law. The bread he used to split for Ohio, the federales knowing just where to find him, but why bother? He's a tool and a traitor, forgotten and alone in wintry Ohio, and the taste of the dust his buddy bit will always stick with him. He's no threat. Pancho died in the saddle, forever youthful and trusting, while his buddy grows old and pale alone with his guilt. Seems pretty clear to me.

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True indeed this song was not ever with any direct intention to be about the legendary Pancho Villa. However, the similarities are astounding. Look for yourself what history has to say. That aside, time for my worthless 2 cents :D.

Livin' 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

Pancho and lefty spent a lot of time together, but then there is a split. One continues to ride, the other prisoned, perhaps in his own mind.

You weren't your momma's only boy, but her favorite one it seems She began to cry when you said goodbye And sank into your dreams

Pancho appears to be the favorite one, leaving lefty jealous. Pancho left, prolly at an early age, because Pancho dies at a somewhat early age, as lefty grows old after Pancho is laid low.

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

Introducing Pancho as the "Bandito", living life as he saw fit. Free in his mind, on not afraid to let others around him to see it. Since he was a bandit and also his mothers favorite, gives him a Robin Hood feel, as stated before ( and a striking resemblance to Pancho Villa).

Pancho met his match you know on the deserts down in Mexico Nobody heard his dyin words, ah but that's the way it goes

At the time of his defeat, and demise, Pancho was alone, without Lefty around. (Another striking resemblance to Pancho, since we were already SUPPOSED to know how he met his end hmmm.... )

All the Federales say, they could've had him any day They only let him slip away, out of kindness I suppose

The cocky Federalies tell all the they "could have had him any day" (implied by writer to be BS :) ) Also telling us that someone sold him out prior to his final battle.

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

Lefty's conscious is now starting to haunt him. He can't sing with the purpose that he once had. And the guilt is so bad Lefty can taste it :(

The day they laid poor Pancho low, Lefty split for Ohio Where he got the bread to go, there ain't nobody knows

Lefty gets paid off by Federalies, and thus leaves town after Pancho's demise.

The boys tell how old Pancho fell, and Lefty's livin 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

Basically a reiteration of whats said before. Pancho was a bandit, met his fate and needs our prayers. lefty sold out Pancho and now lives with his guilt and thus needs our prayers too. This also, to me anyway, leaves the impression that Lefty was weak, perhaps propositioned by the Federalies to talk in exchange for money and nothing else. But this also leaves open the possibility that Lefty was tortured or threatened too. Needless to say Lefty feels guilty as he grows old while Pancho does not.

A few gray Federales say, they could've had him any day They only let him slip away out of kindness I suppose

Even after many years have passed. The Ones involved maintain that they "could have had him" any day. This of course is BS as it required the "brother" to make the capture. Now they all get to live with their guilt and lies as well :D.

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According to Townes Van Zandt, when he wrote the song, it was not about Pancho Villa...as a matter of fact, it was completely fictional..so I doubt it was written about anyone's grandfather.

I believe it is about a partnership of two outlaws. In the end, Lefty sold out Pancho to save himself. Pancho is dead, and Lefty has to live with the fact that he sold out his friend. The shame he has felt has stuck with him, dragging him down financially and emotionally. While Pancho "needs your prayers" for the things he did to others, Lefty needs prayers (forgiveness) for what he did to his partner in crime.

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I think these lines make it pretty clear the relationship between Pancho and Lefty:

The day they laid poor Pancho low, Lefty split for Ohio. Where he got the bread to go, There ain't nobody knows.

Lefty sold Pancho out to the Federales, and is now guilty about it.

That part is obvious to us all. What is not clear is what P&L have to do with the person--sounding schizophrenic--who is sinking into the dream. Why is he dreaming of this archetypal Western story? Is he at last losing contact with reality entirely, as his mother weeps to see him slip into psychosis?

It may be obvious to you and me. I'm less certain it's obvious to everyone, given many of the earlier comments expressing confusion about what's going on.

The opening part of the song is indeed the most difficult to parse.

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