THE LEFSETZ LETTER: Ode To Billie Joe

Was "Sunshine Superman" a hit during the summer?

Actually, it was, I just looked it up. It peaked at number one on August

13th in the summer of ‘66. The same summer the Lovin’ Spoonful’s "Summer In

The City" was a smash. That track reigned at number one right before

Donovan’s hit.

It may be hot in NYC, but the weather’s turned in L.A. A couple of nights

ago I actually needed the down comforter. And this morning, when I emerged

from my house, I noticed the light was different. Fall is coming.

I’ve come to hate summer. It’s not what it used to be, a vacation. And I

NEVER want to go back to school, but I’d love to have the eight weeks free,


Bob Lefsetz, Santa Monica-based industry legend, is the author of the e-mail newsletter, "The Lefsetz Letter". Famous for being beholden to no one, and speaking the truth, Lefsetz addresses the issues that are at the core of the music business: downloading, copy protection, pricing and the music itself.

His intense brilliance captivates readers from Steven Tyler to Rick Nielsen to Bryan Adams to Quincy Jones to music business honchos like Michael Rapino, Randy Phillips, Don Ienner, Cliff Burnstein, Irving Azoff and Tom Freston.

Never boring, always entertaining, Mr. Lefsetz's insights are fueled by his stint as an entertainment business attorney, majordomo of Sanctuary Music's American division and consultancies to major labels.

Bob has been a weekly contributor to CelebrityAccess and Encore since 2001, and we plan many more years of partnership with him. While we here at CelebrityAccess and Encore do not necessarily agree with all of Bob's opinions, we are proud to help share them with you.

to go to camp. Hell, I’d make that deal right now. I’d go to camp FOR THE

REST OF MY LIFE! You’re all thrown in together, no one leaves…that’s my

idea of heaven. Maybe as the only boy in a family run by women I’m looking

for that male-bonding, that camaraderie and the socials…

Actually, in the summer of ‘66 there were no socials. I went to Boy Scout

camp. Boy Scout camp has got no infrastructure. It could be removed in an

hour. Which is probably why it cost $22 a week. I could have saved if I’d

gone earlier in the summer with my troop, I could have paid $18, but I was

gone then, our family had traveled cross-country. Those family trips are

indelibly etched in my brain. You always think you’re going to go back.

Actually, I made a specific effort to go back to Yellowstone. Amazing how

it’s the same, but different.

But, as an adult, one works. One stays inside. I want to walk down the

street with a blade of grass between my teeth. I want to hear the ringing

bell of the Good Humor truck and rush out to buy a Toasted Almond. I want

to go to the beach.

Not Malibu. Not Hawaii or the Caribbean. The local beach in Connecticut had

a concrete block pavilion. Jennings Beach held no glamour, it was an

extension of the community. But there was a freedom. There was that walk

every afternoon up and down the sand.

Hearing "Sunshine Superman" on the radio this afternoon brought this all

back, put a smile on my face. What came next had me pushing the button back

in ‘67, but decades later I was riveted. Bobbie Gentry’s "Ode To Billie

Joe" was FASCINATING!

You’ve got to understand, we hated everything that wasn’t rock. We almost

hated everything that wasn’t English. But Top Forty radio still contained

records made for our elders. I know every lick of "Hello Dolly", it’s taken

years for me to appreciate it. And even though I could enjoy "Strangers In

The Night", it seemed so SCHMALTZY! The music I liked STOOD for something.

Unlike this country concoction about Billie Joe McAllister jumping off that

damn bridge. Which I had to hear ad infinitum that summer, when I returned

from Philmont Scout Ranch and went back to Boy Scout camp to earn enough

merit badges to make Eagle, when "Ode To Billie Joe" was number one for

four weeks straight.

There’s five more acres in the lower forty I’ve got to plow

This is the line that cracked me up today. That’s now a joke. Uttered both

by people with land and without it. Ranchers and not. If someone shows up

late or tired they say they were plowing, doing some work on the back

forty. Did they get this concept from "Ode To Billie Joe"?


And wasn’t I talkin’ to him after church last Sunday night?


This was back when suicide was still a dirty word, before parents started

worrying about their kids offing themselves. But that’s what happens too

often. I just saw him! He looked fine to me!


My friend who committed suicide didn’t look fine to me. He called me in the

middle of the night all freaked out. I recognized myself years previously

in his voice. I insisted he go home to stay with his family, he needed

twenty four hour watch. When they went out for the night he went into the

basement and hung himself.


A year has come ‘n’ gone since we heard the news ’bout Billie Joe


Time marches on. You get involved in your own life, moving forward. You’re

living in the present and you hear a record and you’re jutted right back to

the past. Albeit older. And wiser.


What did they throw off the Tallahatchie Bridge?


I didn’t care forty years ago.


And I’m not sure I’m truly concerned today.


But what fascinates me was that it all happened on the third of June. When

the sun was out. During the heat of the summer. When everybody’s supposed

to be happy.

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