Certain Songs #103: Bob Dylan – “Brownsville Girl”


Album: Knocked Out Loaded

Year: 1986.

Welcome to the 1980s. Welcome to bottomless wells of reverb, walls of backing vocals, fake-sounding drums, faker-sounding horns and a complete and utter sonic disregard for, well, anything. And yet, like good cholesterol kicking ass over bad cholesterol,  the sheer fun and complete over-the-topness (over-the-topitude?) of “Brownsville Girl” transcends its terrible sound. 

Co-written with Sam Shepard (presumably after Shepard wrote his unproduced play “Boy Oh Boy, I Can’t Believe I’m Sleeping With Jessica Lange”), “Brownsville Girl” is half weird travelogue – he’s back in the American Southwest, which didn’t treat him so well back in “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” and half meditation on the awesomeness of Gregory Peck.

So one hand, in his best preaching cadence, we get Dylan intoning the following fable:

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

On the other hand, we get this confession:

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

It shouldn’t work at all, especially since it goes back over and over again to the “Brownsville girl, with your Brownsville curl” chorus, which is honestly the weakest part of the song, as its completely overladen with backing vocals and those fucking godforsaken synth-horns or whatever in the fuck they are, and yet, it’s also too damn catchy to completely dismiss.

And let’s not forget this line, which I’ve stolen over and over and will steal again for the rest of my life:

The only thing we knew for sure about Henry Porter is that his name wasn’t Henry Porter

Just as the only thing we know for sure about Bob Dylan is that is name isn’t Bob Dylan.

Official video for “Brownsville Girl”

My Certain Songs Spotify Playlist:

Every “Certain Song” Ever

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