Knocked Out Loaded

'Brownsville Girl' (Bob Dylan / Sam Shepard) (11:01)

Bob Dylan: Vocals, Guitar; Ira Ingber: Guitar; Don Heffington: Drums and percussion; Carl Sealove: Bass;
Vince Melamed: Keyboards; Steve Douglas: Saxophone; Steve Madaio: Trumpet; Carol Dennis, Elisecia Wright, Queen Esther Marrow, Muffy Hendrix, Madelyn Quebec, Peggi Blu: Vocals

Now we're at track 6 and the album's centerpiece, the classic collaboration with Sam Shepard known as 'Brownsville Girl'.
This epic track appears to be the only song from "Knocked Out Loaded" that has garnered near-universal praise. Certainly the praise is deserved, but maybe not at the expense of the album's other songs, a mistake that continues in many quarters to the present day. My point: 'Brownsville Girl' is undeniably one of Dylan's all-time greatest works, but like many others in his catalog, it stands best as part of the album it came from. 'Brownsville Girl' is the only track from "Knocked Out Loaded'' that has been remastered and included on some compilations. Heard on "Greatest Hits Volume 3" and the 3-cd set "Dylan", 'Brownsville Girl' is no less of a great song but it doesn't mean as much somehow. It is so markedly different from any other Dylan song that taken on it's own it just towers as an immovable monument. Heard in it's proper context - "Knocked Out Loaded" - 'Brownsville Girl' becomes a living, breathing (and still quasi-mythical) slice of folklore,
a masterpiece that reveals as much about it's characters as it does about America. As an aside, I much rather prefer the original recording as found on this album to the remastered version on the compilations; the remastered version sounds too cluttered and busy, and with the added clarity it becomes more difficult to concentrate on Dylan's performance. Having said that, however, it's most likely because the rest of this album isn't remastered and so the overall sound and atmosphere is broken when substituting the remastered track for the original - if the entire album is refurbished that issue would most likely be solved. (I am NOT making a case for not remastering "Knocked Out Loaded", believe me).
The association between Dylan and playwrite/actor Sam Shepard goes back to the Rolling Thunder days of '76 or so. The two got along, and Shepard consequently became a popular artist in his own right, so it was no big shock that they would collaborate on a song. The rough version of the song from
1984, 'New Danville Girl', is probably the true collaborative version. When it was finally recorded as 'Brownsville Girl' specifically for this album, most of the weaker lyrics had been changed, and there's no evidence that I've found that Shepard was involved in these sessions. ('New Danville Girl' remains officially unreleased but is commonly available on bootlegs).
The song has the narrator recalling his relationship and experiences with a past lover, in a decidedly wistful and proud manner. A very unique vision, even by Dylan standards.
I haven't published any of the complete song lyrics for "Knocked Out Loaded", but because of this song's immense importance, I'll do it here (I'll take 'em down if it bothers anyone).

'Brownsville Girl' (Dylan/Shepard) Copyright ©1986 Special Rider Music

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.

What's to say about this one?

Quite a piece, isn't it? How many of those lines are as profound as Dylan ever gets? To my ears and to my understanding, everything that can be said about 'Brownsville Girl' *is* said within the eleven minute journey. For those who don't know, the movie Dylan refers to is "The Gunfighter", a classic
but (like this album) overlooked western. Check it out. The only question that remains in my mind is why there has never been a movie based on this song. It seems like such a no-brainer.
To sum up 'Brownsville Girl', remember it fits on "Knocked Out Loaded" perfectly. I imagine many fans have read about how weak this album supposedly is and have skipped buying it because they have 'Brownsville Girl' on a compilation. Big mistake.


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