Monday, January 28, 2008

Brownsville Girl

Brownsville Girl written by Bob Dylan and Sam Shepard is totally my new obsession (and I'm glad I'm not bound to Stuck in My Head anymore because I have had one of the more depressing and disturbing songs ever, Leonard Cohen's Dress Rehearsal Rag, in there for a bit)

Anyway here is more about Brownsville Girl, analysis if you will

‘Brownsville Girl’ is as cunning a song as Dylan has ever devised, and yet it smacks as little of contrivance as anything he’s written. The song is pure serendipity. It just unwinds along a palpably untrodden path of memory and desire opened up by the recollection of images from the obscure old movie - The Gunfighter - with which it begins. And it unwinds with an extraordinary illusion of spontaneity, as if Dylan (and co-writer Sam Shepard) had no idea where it was leading, let alone how it was going to get there. The lyric teems with observations - ‘It’s funny how things never turn out the way you had ‘em planned,’ or ‘I don’t remember who I was or where I was bound’ - that seem to refer as much to the experience of composing the song as to its narrative. The song’s narrative plotting often feels as if it were being conjured on the spot as a symbolic representation of the composers’ experience in writing the song. ‘Brownsville Girl’ - the song - is itself, at any rate, the only certifiably factual evidence of the tragicomic misadventuring it ostensibly recollects. We can’t get it out of our heads - any more than Dylan has been able to shake the memory of ‘this movie I seen one time’ - because in the final analysis art is, in its own way, just as messy and unfinished as life. Art heals, but it also draws fresh blood.

This is an old theme for Dylan - Aidan Day treats it rather extensively in his book Jokerman - but I don’t think Dylan has ever treated the limits of his art as compellingly or as accessibly as he does in ‘Brownsville Girl’. Perhaps much of the credit for this should go to Sam Shepard, if not for his contributions to the lyric - I suppose we’ll never know who wrote what - then at least for getting Dylan to loosen up and let down his creative guard. ‘Brownsville Girl’ isn’t the first song in which Dylan allows his muse to take him on a wild ride, but it may be the first in which he declines to cover her tracks and conceal his own bewilderments along the way.

‘Brownsville Girl’ is a sort of mirror image of ‘Isis’, the 1976 Dylan/Levy song that - not coincidentally perhaps - is the only real rival to ‘Brownsville Girl’ as the best of Dylan’s co-written songs. ‘Isis’ started out as a ‘song about marriage’ but quickly turned into a long parable about masculine identity and male bonding, before returning for conclusion to its original subject. ‘Brownsville Girl’ starts out as a seemingly casual meditation about male identity. Halfway through the song’s third verse, this matter is abruptly supplanted by the inner appeal of some anonymous female who - by the end of the song anyway - figures as a mythic muse and mother as well as a long lost lover.

The theme of lost love - treated in a manner that recalls ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ rather than ‘Isis’ - nearly takes over the remainder of the song. Only in the final verse of each of the last three of the song’s four major sections does Dylan manage to wrench his song back to its initial subject, the solitude of male heroism. But each time the repeated chorus, which divides the song into its four strophes, dissolves this re-assertion of male values in a celebration of the matrix of desire that authorizes and empowers the male ethos: the female who, ‘shining like the moon above’, will ‘show me all around the world’. ‘Isis’ is a song about a man who, seeking refuge in marriage from the burdens of his male identity, discovers that marriage itself requires him to be re-initiated into the male world. ‘Brownsville Girl’ is a song about a man who, seeking to recover and reaffirm his primal bond to other males, discovers that access to the male world is mediated by an interior paramour with whom he has all but lost connection.

What is the Gregory Peck movie Dylan's talking about in
"Brownsville Girl"?

In "Brownsville Girl", from the album Knocked Out Loaded, Dylan
sings about a movie starring Gregory Peck and proceeds to briefly
describe some of the action of the movie, which is about a dying
gunfighter shot down by a man "trying to make a name for himself".
The film Dylan is referring to is "The Gunfighter", a 1950 film
directed by Henry King.

And on my own, guessing from some of the lyrics I'm guessing the Brownsville of the title is Brownsville Texas, though I'm not certain because there are a lot of them

Anyway here are the lyrics to one of the best and most underappreciated songs ever, "Brownsville Girl"
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 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 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.

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, 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.

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 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."

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 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."

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.

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 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, 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.

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 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.

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 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.

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.
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 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.

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.

Bob Dylan-Brownsville Girl[download] buy it on iTunes
Bob Dylan - Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 - Brownsville Girl

I've said it before but I really want to live the stories that Bob Dylan sang about.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. Thanks!