BOB DYLAN, BROWNSVILLE GIRL CONSIDERED (2019): The classic that got away?

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BOB DYLAN, BROWNSVILLE GIRL CONSIDERED (2019): The classic that got away?

By the mid Eighties, Bob Dylan's career was in considerable disarray. After the so-called "Christian trilogy" there had been two mostly middling albums -- Infidels and Empire Burlesque -- and he seemed directionless.

The old gunfighter who once commanded the territory had been outdrawn by his acolytes, notably Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen.

There had been any number of "new Dylan" singer-songwriters hailed in the previous decade and while he may not have cared (and who could really care about upstarts like Steve Forbert?) he, like all artists, liked to beiieve he was still contemporary . .  and mattered.

For many old fans, he didn't.

But the albums kept coming and so in '86 he released Knocked Out Loaded in a lousy cover and which contained covers, a couple of mostly forgettable new songs and a few co-writes (Got My MInd Made Up with Tom Petty and Under Your Spell with Carole Bayer Sager).

These co-writes suggested the well was running dry.

But then there was the magisterial 11 confusing minutes of Brownsville Girl which was an extraordinary lyrical sleight of hand co-written with playwright Sam Shepherd.

Lyrically is slips through time and prisms of narrative, the storyline of a Gregory Peck movie The Gunfighter seemed the lyrical prompt (there's another Peck movie introduced later on) and there is a road trip woven through . . . but how many women are involved?

It has its origins in the slightly earlier New Danville Girl but Dylan played with the lyrics over time before the recording.

It is a song about memory at one level, about fact and fiction at another, and as with his study of painting which influenced the shifting characters in songs for Blood on the Tracks, the idea of film -- which suspends time for the duration of its viewing -- is used as the bookends and to allow different times to coexist in one space.

It's a big and wide song (critics agree it is poorly produced by Dylan) and the women's vocals echo and comment on his lyrics in places.

But before we listen, for context let's go to some key moments in The Gunfighter starring Gregory Peck, 1950.

Peck is the gunfighter Jimmy Ringo who just wants to get out of the game, and meet up with his former wife and his son. But wherever he goes he is challenged by yet another young guy who wants to prove he's a better gunfighter. You can see why Dylan might have been drawn to the idea.

and again another young gunfighter up to prove himself against the master

and here just flick to 1h.18m for the important ending which Dylan refers to. 

 

So there's some of what Dylan is weaving into the song 

And then this, New Danville Girl (which you needn't really bother with, but if you do the lyrics are below)

 

and these comments about Brownsville Girl . . . 

So, New Danville Girl/Brownsville Girl

Some interesting questions here: who is the narrator? 

And Henry Porter? We are told that isn't his real name so . . . who is he?

Some have suggested that parts of this narrative relate to the book by Jack Kerouac, On the Road, and that maybe Henry Porter was William S Burroughs, the writer, who was visited by the characters in On the Road (and other books) . . . and is often referred to in them by other names.

And the line: "If there's an original thought out there I could use it right now"?

Dylan is clearly playng with us, as he does again when saying people can say whatever they like about him when he's gone. (The women comment on that!) 

Buckle up, it's a strange ride . . .  

Brownsville Girl
 

New Danville Girl

Brownsville Girl

I wish I could remember that movie just a little bit better,
All I remember about it was that it starred Gregory Peck.
He was shot down in the back by a hungry kid trying to make a name for himself.
The townspeople wanted to crush that kid down and string him up by the neck.

Well, there was this movie I seen one time,
About a man riding 'cross the desert and it starred Gregory Peck.
He was shot down by a hungry kid trying to make a name for himself.
The townspeople wanted to crush that kid down and string him up by the neck.

Well the Sheriff beat that boy into a bloody pulp,
As the dying gunfighter lay in the sun and gasped for his last breath.
'Turn him loose, let him go, let him say he outdrew me fair and square.
I want him to feel what it's like to every moment face his death'.

Well, the marshal, now he beat that kid to a bloody pulp
as the dying gunfighter lay in the sun and gasped for his last breath.
Turn him loose, let him go, let him say he outdrew me fair and square,
I want him to feel what it's like to every moment face his death.

Well I keep seeing this stuff and it just comes a-rolling in,
And it blows right through me like a ball and chain.
You know I can't believe we've lived so long and are still so far apart.
Your memory keeps callin' after me like a rollin' train.

Well, I keep seeing this stuff and it just comes a-rolling in
And you know it blows right through me like a ball and chain.
You know I can't believe we've lived so long and are still so far apart.
The memory of you keeps callin' after me like a rollin' train.

I can still see the day that you came to me on the painted desert
In your busted-down Ford and your platform heels.
I could never figure out why you chose that particular place to meet,
Ah, but you were right. It was perfect, as I got in behind the wheel.

I can still see the day that you came to me on the painted desert
In your busted down Ford and your platform heels
I could never figure out why you chose that particular place to meet
Ah, but you were right. It was perfect as I got in behind the wheel.

We drove that car all night into San Antone
And we slept near the Alamo, fell out under the stars.
Way down in Mexico you went out to see a doctor and you never came back.
I stayed there a while, till the whole place it started feelin' like mars.

Well, we drove that car all night into San Anton'
And we slept near the Alamo, your skin was so tender and soft.
Way down in Mexico you went out to find a doctor and you never came back.
I would have gone on after you but I didn't feel like letting my head get blown off.

Well, I'm driving this car and the sun is comin' up over the Rockies.
Somethin' about it reminds me of you, like when she sings "Baby, let the good times roll".
But I'm too over the edge to remember the things we used to talk about or do,
And she don‘t want to remind me, she knows this car would go out of control.

Well, we're drivin' this car and the sun is comin' up over the Rockies,
Now I know she ain't you but she's here and she's got that dark rhythm in her soul.
But I'm too over the edge and I ain't in the mood anymore to remember the times when I was your only man
And she don't want to remind me. She knows this car would go out of control.

Danville Girl with your Danville curl,
Teeth like pearls, shining like the moon above.
Danville Girl take me all around the world.
Danville Girl, you're my honey love.

Brownsville girl with your Brownsville curls, 
teeth like pearls shining like the moon above
Brownsville girl, show me all around the world, 
Brownsville girl, you're my honey love.

Well. we crossed the Panhandle and then we headed out towards Amarillo,
Rushin' down where Henry Porter used to live, he owned a wreckin' lot outside of town,
We could see Ruby in the window, as we came rolling up in a trail of dust.
She said 'Henry's not here, he took off, but y'all can come in and stay a while'.

Well, we crossed the panhandle and then we headed towards Amarillo
We pulled up where Henry Porter used to live. He owned a wreckin' lot outside of town about a mile.
Ruby was in the backyard hanging clothes, she had her red hair tied back. She saw us come rolling up in a trail of dust.
She said, "Henry ain't here but you can come on in, he'll be back in a little while."

Well she told us times were tough but we never knew how bad off she was.
You know she would change the subject every time money came up.
You know her eyes were filled with so much sadness, she was so disillusioned with everything,
She said 'Even the swap meets around here are getting pretty corrupt'.

Then she told us how times were tough and about how she was thinkin' of bummin' a ride back to where she started.
But ya know, she changed the subject every time money came up.
She said, "Welcome to the land of the living dead." You could tell she was so broken-hearted.
She said, "Even the swap meets around here are getting pretty corrupt."

'How far y'all going?' Ruby asked us with a sigh.
'We're going all the way 'till the wheels fall off and burn.
Till the sun peels the paint and the seat covers fade and the water moccasin dies'.
Ruby just smiled and said 'Ah, you know, some babies never learn'.

"How far are y'all going?" Ruby asked us with a sigh.
"We're going all the way 'til the wheels fall off and burn,
'Til the sun peels the paint and the seat covers fade and the water moccasin dies."
Ruby just smiled and said, "Ah, you know some babies never learn."

I keep trying to remember that movie though, and it does keep comin' back,
But I can't remember what part I played or who I was supposed to be.
All I can remember about it is it's starring Gregory Peck and he was in it,
And everything he did in it reminded me of me. Yeah!

Something about that movie though, well I just can't get it out of my head
But I can't remember why I was in it or what part I was supposed to play.
All I remember about it was Gregory Peck and the way people moved
And a lot of them seemed to be lookin' my way.

Danville Girl with your Danville curl,
Teeth like pearls, shining like the moon above.
Danville Girl take me all around the world.
Danville Girl, you're my honey love.

Brownsville girl with your Brownsville curls, 
teeth like pearls shining like the moon above
Brownsville girl, show me all around the world, 
Brownsville girl, you're my honey love.

Well, they were looking for somebody with a pompadour.
I was crossing the street when they opened fire.
I didn't know whether to duck or to run so I ran.
Sounded to me like I was bein' chased by the midnight choir.

[Listen to the women in the chorus from here on] Well, they were looking for somebody with a pompadour.
I was crossin' the street when shots rang out.
I didn't know whether to duck or to run, so I ran.
"We got him cornered in the churchyard," I heard somebody shout.

Well, you saw my picture in the Corpus Christi Tribune, underneath it said 'A man with no alibi'.
You went out on a limb to testify and you said I was with you. Ah, yes you did!
And I watched you break down in front of the judge and cry.
It was the best acting I ever saw you do.

Well, you saw my picture in the Corpus Christi Tribune. Underneath it, it said, "A man with no alibi."
You went out on a limb to testify for me, you said I was with you.
Then when I saw you break down in front of the judge and cry real tears,
It was the best acting I saw anybody do.

I've always been an emotional person but this time it was asking too much.
If there's an original thought out there, Oh, I could use it right now!
Yeah, I feel pretty good, but you know I could feel a whole lot better, oh yes I could,
If you were just here by my side to show me how.

Now I've always been the kind of person that doesn't like to trespass but sometimes you just find yourself over the line.
Oh if there's an original thought out there, I could use it right now.
You know, I feel pretty good, but that ain't sayin' much. I could feel a whole lot better,
If you were just here by my side to show me how.

Well, I'm standing in line in the rain to see a movie starring Gregory Peck.
Oh yes I am, but it's not the one that I had in mind.
He's got a new one out now, you know it just don't look the same,
But I'll see him anyway and I stand in line.

Well, I'm standin' in line in the rain to see a movie starring Gregory Peck,
Yeah, but you know it's not the one that I had in mind.
He's got a new one out now, I don't even know what it's about 
But I'll see him in anything so I'll stand in line.

Danville Girl with your Danville curl,
Teeth like pearls, shining like the moon above.
Danville Girl take me all around the world.
Danville Girl, you're my honey love.

Brownsville girl with your Brownsville curls, 
teeth like pearls shining like the moon above
Brownsville girl, show me all around the world, 
Brownsville girl, you're my honey love.

You know, it's funny how people just want to believe what's convenient.
Nothing happens on purpose, it's an accident if it happens at all.
And everything that's happening to us seems like it's happening without our consent,
But we're busy talking back and forth to our shadows on an old stone wall.

You know, it's funny how things never turn out the way you had 'em planned.
The only thing we knew for sure about Henry Porter is that his name wasn't Henry Porter.
And you know there was somethin' about you baby that I liked that was always too good for this world
Just like you always said there was something about me you liked that I left behind in the French Quarter.

Oh, you got to talk to me now baby, tell me about the man that you used to love,
And tell me about your dreams, just before the time you passed out. Oh, yeah!
Tell me about the time that our engine broke down and it was the worst of times,
Tell me about all the things that I couldn't do nothin' about.

Strange how people who suffer together have stronger connections than people who are most content.
I don't have any regrets, they can talk about me plenty when I'm gone. [women in the chorus here]
 You always said people don't do what they believe in, they just do what's most convenient, then they repent.
And I always said, "Hang on to me, baby, and let's hope that the roof stays on

There was a movie I seen one time, I think I sat through it twice.
I don't remember who I was or what part I played.
All I remember about it was it was starring Gregory Peck.
But that was a long time ago, and it was made in the shade.

note how Dylan drops the mood here

There was a movie I seen one time, I think I sat through it twice.
I don't remember who I was or where I was bound. 
All I remember about it was it starred Gregory Peck, he wore a gun and he was shot in the back. 
Seems like a long time ago, long before the stars were torn down. [high drama here from the women] 

Danville girl with your Danville curl,
Teeth like pearls, shining like the moon above.
Danville Girl take me all around the world.
Danville Girl, you're my honey love.

Brownsville girl with your Brownsville curls, 
teeth like pearls shining like the moon above
Brownsville girl, show me all around the world, 
Brownsville girl, you're my honey love.


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