The New Brownsville Girl
“The New Brownsville Girl” In 1986 I ran to the record store---like I always did---to buy Bob Dylan’s newest release, “Knocked Out Loaded.” The album seemed to me then, as it does now, to have been his absolute poorest effort. But there
was one very notable exception. Which was a seventeen verse, twelve-minute-long song called “Brownsville Girl.” It was a magnificent, impenetrable epic that I played over and over to decode it. Adding to the mystery of the song was something I discovered in the liner notes: Dylan had cowritten it with playwright Sam Shepard. Which makes such obvious sense---his western cinematic fingerprints were all over the spectrum of the narrative.
Years later I would learn that “Brownsville Girl” was a revision and re-recording of the Dylan/Shepard song, “New Danville Girl,” which was supposed to go on Dylan’s previous (and much better) recording, Empire Burlesque. The structure, the chord progression, the story-line, and over ninety-six percent of the words in “Brownsville Girl” were unchanged, though the previous track lacked the passion, the power, and the building tension of this gleaming successor. It’s true, the recording on “Knocked Out Loaded” is over-produced, dated, and rife with sonic clichés. But in a
good way. Not to mention it was one of the most stunning vocal performances Dylan ever recorded.
The history of this song also includes connections to Lou Reed and Woody Guthrie. So, I would just like to thank Bob and Sam and Woody and Lou, for their founding (and derivative) parts in all this. Guys, I could not have done it without you. But this…The New Brownsville Girl…this is my song now. Licensed by Special Rider Music.