|Song by Bob Dylan from the album Knocked Out Loaded|
|Writer||Bob Dylan, Sam Shepard|
|Knocked Out Loaded track listing|
"Brownsville Girl" is a song from Bob Dylan's 1986 album, Knocked Out Loaded, recorded in May of that year. It is notable for its length, over 11 minutes, and for being co-written by playwright Sam Shepard. The song is an overdubbed version of a December 1984 outtake from the Empire Burlesque sessions entitled "New Danville Girl".
While as an album Knocked Out Loaded was poorly received upon release, "Brownsville Girl" is considered one of Dylan's best pieces by some critics. Music critic Robert Christgau praised "Brownsville Girl" as "one of the greatest and most ridiculous of Dylan's great ridiculous epics. Doesn't matter who came up with such lines as 'She said even the swap meets around here are getting pretty corrupt' and 'I didn't know whether to duck or to run, so I ran' — they're classic Dylan."
Lyrically the song speaks to a lover, presumably one gone years before. The singer speaks wistfully of her, though is clear to add he is with someone else now, and muses that she reminds him of her (he says she has the same "dark rhythm in her soul").
Often the singer interrupts his reminisces of the mysterious Brownsville Girl to describe the plot of a Western movie starring Gregory Peck that he saw once (but believes he 'sat through it twice'). The plot of the film, about a young upstart who shoots an aging gunslinger, and then is warned by the dying man that now he must watch his own back, is almost certainly 1950's The Gunfighter. Most likely, the song refers to multiple Gregory Peck films, as 1946's Duel in the Sun is about two brothers in Texas fighting for the love of dark beauty Pearl Chavez, and Dylan says once of a Peck movie, "you know, it's not the one that I had in mind."
The backup singers aren't just scenery here; they seem quite active. Not only do they perform the long song's haunting chorus ("Brownsville girl\ With your Brownsville curl...."), but sardonically interject their own replies, such as "Oh, yeah?", and, at one point, they let go a three-part harmonized anguished howl of pain.
Will Oldham (aka Bonnie "Prince" Billy) is the only major musician known to have covered "Brownsville Girl", having played it at a benefit concert at Actors Theatre in Louisville on November 11, 2012
Dylan has only performed the song live once, including its chorus at a concert on August 6, 1986.
The early version of the song, "New Danville Girl", which Dylan recorded for his previous album, 1985's Empire Burlesque, has not been officially released, but is occasionally found in bootleg recordings. A song titled "Danville Girl" had been recorded by Woody Guthrie, a major inspiration of Dylan's, and included the lyrics "Got stuck on a Danville girl ... she wore that Danville curl".
- Gray, The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, 95-100
- Will Oldham aka Bonnie Prince Billy. Recorded at Actors Theatre in Louisville on November 11, 2012 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6O_FJ426O84