What I learned from Bobbie Gentry

I grew up with limited television. We had two channels, and when I was at boarding school, one television for 100 girls (and the same two channels).

We did not go on too many holidays, but when I was about 13 we spent a week or two at the beach and I luxuriously watched all the late night movies. TV ended at 11 pm in those days. There are three movies I remember from that fortnight many decades ago.  One of them is Ode to Billy Joe.

The movie’s song brings me to tears every time I hear it. They played it on the radio this week because it is Bobbie Gentry’s birthday and I realised what a wonderful piece of restrained writing it is.

Gentry drops hints about the girl and Billie Joe but never tells what happened. There is more power in what is not said than what is said.  The grief is palatable but no one ever says they are sad or mourning. In fact, they say nothing about how they feel but the song is full of feeling. This is what I aspire to.

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