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Bob Dylan’s Girls : From "Danville Girl" to "Brownsville Girl"

“Hang on to me, baby, and let’s hope that the roof stays on”


We’re gonna take a look at, and listen to, the famous rambling surreal epic Dylan ballad originally known as New Danville Girl (or simply Danville Girl) that would later mutate and become Brownsville Girl“, recorded officially on Dylan’s Knocked out Loaded LP from 1986.
Of course there is a famous traditional ballad called Danville Girl, a version of which was recorded by Dylan icon Woody Guthrie, which Bob would have been only too familiar with. Aside from the original title, and a couple of lyrical “borrowings” (“Danville curl” etc) the Dylan track bears little similarity to the trad classic. You can catch the Woody track HERE

The track Brownsville Girlwas originally recorded as “New Danville Girl” in late 1984 during the Empire Burlesque sessions, but not released on the album. It would ultimately be released with rewritten lyrics on Knocked out Loaded in 1986.

We have set out the lyrics to both versions below and it’s fascinating to see the tinkering and changes which took place between versions.

“Brownsville Girl” is credited to Bob Dylan and playwright Sam Shepard, although it’s not clear what Shepard actually contributed. Certainly, by the time it was officially recorded, the lyrics seem to be mostly Dylan’s work.
Interestingly, the backup singers on the track aren’t just scenery here! Especially on the final version. Not only do they perform the long song’s haunting chorus but sardonically interject their own replies, such as “Oh, yeah?”, etc.

https://i0.wp.com/i3.iofferphoto.com/img/item/470/249/16/Gunfighter-Cover-Resizedfront.jpg
RINGO WAS HIS NAME! THE CHALLENGE OF EVERY OUTLAW GUNMAN! THE NOTORIOUS SELF-DEFENSE KILLER!

The song is a strange and fascinating one!

Rather surreally, the narrator interrupts his reminisces of the mysterious eponymous Danville /Brownsville Girl to describe the plot of a Western movie starring Gregory Peck that he saw once (but believes he sat through twice)!!

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The plot of said Western movie climaxes when a young upstart who shoots a famed aging gunslinger, is cursed by the dying man to the effect that the usurper will, for his remaining days, himself be a moving target and will never attain peace.

https://i0.wp.com/graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2005/03/06/arts/raff.184.1.jpgOf course Dylan is a renowned afficianado of old westerns and film noirs.

It’s almost certain that Dylan is alluding to Peck’s 1950 film The Gunfighter, a taut and sparse western directed by Henry King.

Amongst the writers of this timeless film was the great André De Toth who himself directed some classic westerns.

In The Gunfighter, Peck portrays the ficticious “Jimmy Ringo”, the fastest gun in the west and “the notorious self-defense killer“!

Jimmy is aging and continually accosted by younger men who want to claim his title and assume his fame. All Ringo wants to do is put his past behind him and, to this end, drifts from town to town trying to find anonymity.

He is the classic existentialist case of the hunted, haunted man with nowhere to lay his head. Kind of an amalgam of Camus, Beckett and John Ford!

https://i0.wp.com/www.medaloffreedom.com/GregoryPeckGunfighter.jpgEarly in the movie, Ringo has to deal with yet another young gunslinger who wants to see just how fast Jimmy is! Ringo obliges and shows the upstart exactly how fast he is!


After eight years away from home, Ringo is on a quest, back in town to see his estranged wife and young son, hoping for some reconciliation. He enlists the aid of a man from his past, a sympathetic sheriff, played by Millard Mitchell, who reluctantly acts as go-between while Ringo lies low in the back room of a hotel.

Ringo does get to meet his wife and is introduced to his adoring son, but there can be no resolution of their personal problems.

Ringo the lonely gunfighter must pack up, leave his wife and child, move on once again.


As Ringo turns to leave town, another young glory-seeker appears and shoots him in the back.

The sheriff grabs the killer and is going to turn him over to justice. However, with his last breath, Jimmy Ringo tells the sheriff to turn the kid free, let him know what it’s like to be a hunted soul never able to rest. To seal the kid’s fate, Jimmy asks that it be publicised that he is “the man who outdrew Jimmy Ringo.”

So ends this subtle, powerful film, a true jewel of the Western genre!

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Here’s a snippet from this great film.

From: ThGreatSilence

Thanks to Eyolf Østrem for the lyrics.


New Danville Girl

I wish I could remember that movie just a little bit better,
All I remember about it was that it starred Gregory Peck.
He was shot down in the back 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 Sheriff beat that boy into 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 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.
Your memory 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.

We drove that car all night into San Antone
And we slept near the Alamo, fell out under the stars.
Way down in Mexico you went out to see a doctor and you never came back.
I stayed there a while, till the whole place it started feelin’ like mars.

Well, I’m driving this car and the sun is comin’ up over the Rockies.
Somethin’ about it reminds me of you, like when she sings “Baby, let the good times roll”.
But I’m too over the edge to remember the things we used to talk about or do,
And she don‘t want to remind me, she knows this car would go out of control.

Danville Girl with your Danville curl,
Teeth like pearls, shining like the moon above.
Danville Girl take me all around the world.
Danville Girl, you’re my honey love.

Well. we crossed the Panhandle and then we headed out towards Amarillo,
Rushin’ down where Henry Porter used to live, he owned a wreckin’ lot outside of town,
We could see Ruby in the window, as we came rolling up in a trail of dust.
She said ‘Henry’s not here, he took off, but y’all can come in and stay a while’.

Well she told us times were tough but we never knew how bad off she was.
You know she would change the subject every time money came up.
You know her eyes were filled with so much sadness, she was so disillusioned with everything,
She said ‘Even the swap meets around here are getting pretty corrupt’.

‘How far y’all going?’ Ruby asked us with a sigh.
‘We’re going all the way ’till the wheels fall off and burn.
Till 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’.

I keep trying to remember that movie though, and it does keep comin’ back,
But I can’t remember what part I played or who I was supposed to be.
All I can remember about it is it’s starring Gregory Peck and he was in it,
And everything he did in it reminded me of me. Yeah!

Danville Girl with your Danville curl,
Teeth like pearls, shining like the moon above.
Danville Girl take me all around the world.
Danville Girl, you’re my honey love.

Well, they were looking for somebody with a pompadour.
I was crossing the street when they opened fire.
I didn’t know whether to duck or to run so I ran.
Sounded to me like I was bein’ chased by the midnight choir.

Well, you saw my picture in the Corpus Christi Tribune, underneath it said ‘A man with no alibi’.
You went out on a limb to testify and you said I was with you. Ah, yes you did!
And I watched you break down in front of the judge and cry.
It was the best acting I ever saw you do.

I’ve always been an emotional person but this time it was asking too much.
If there’s an original thought out there, Oh, I could use it right now!
Yeah, I feel pretty good, but you know I could feel a whole lot better, oh yes I could,
If you were just here by my side to show me how.

Well, I’m standing in line in the rain to see a movie starring Gregory Peck.
Oh yes I am, but it’s not the one that I had in mind.
He’s got a new one out now, you know it just don’t look the same,
But I’ll see him anyway and I stand in line.

Danville Girl with your Danville curl,
Teeth like pearls, shining like the moon above.
Danville Girl take me all around the world.
Danville Girl, you’re my honey love.

You know, it’s funny how people just want to believe what’s convenient.
Nothing happens on purpose, it’s an accident if it happens at all.
And everything that’s happening to us seems like it’s happening without our consent,
But we’re busy talking back and forth to our shadows on an old stone wall.

Oh, you got to talk to me now baby, tell me about the man that you used to love,
And tell me about your dreams, just before the time you passed out. Oh, yeah!
Tell me about the time that our engine broke down and it was the worst of times,
Tell me about all the things that I couldn’t do nothin’ about.

There was a movie I seen one time, I think I sat through it twice.
I don’t remember who I was or what part I played.
All I remember about it was it was starring Gregory Peck.
But that was a long time ago, and it was made in the shade.

Danville girl with your Danville curl,
Teeth like pearls, shining like the moon above.
Danville Girl take me all around the world.
Danville Girl, you’re my honey love.

Bob Dylan – “Danville Girl”

thanks ForTheHeart76

“Tell me about your dreams, just before the time you passed out”

And here’s “Brownsville Girl“, recorded officially on Dylan’s Knocked out Loaded LP from 1986.

We found an interesting article about ‘Brownsville Girl’ here from judasmagazine
‘Brownsville Girl’: Just Another Horse Opera

‘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.

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.

Here’s a vid. Note that, very strangely, the images here relate to Tina Turner!!

Hey man, this is Brownsville Girl” not Brown Girl“!

Bob Dylan – “Brownsville Girl”

From: xbobdylan

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July 24, 2008 Posted by | Gregory Peck, Music_ClassicRock, OTHER_CINEMA, _BOB DYLAN, _MUSIC, _POETRY, _VIDEO | Leave a comment