Brownsville Girl-Song

Brownsville girl is a Bob Dylan that has been described as his best song from his worst album. It is 11 minutes long, it meanders, it drifts, it stuns.

There are particular lyrics in the song that resonate strongly with a lot of people.

In verse 13 Dylan makes this plea:

[Verse 13]
If there's an original idea out there I could do with it right now.

Lemme repeat that.

After 12 incredible verses dozens of immaculate lyrical ideas,


has the nerve, the gumption, the gall, to utter:

If there’s an original idea out there
I could do with it right now.

Lemme repeat that --

If there’s an original idea out there
I could do with it right now.

You selfish bastard.

And then? Seconds later you turn right around and give the best few sparkling lyrics of all -- a few of those particular "highway of diamonds"-level peak-dylan poetry, that brings everything home.

Those particular moments

his morning jingle jangle, his blue all up in a tangle,

his morning jingle jangle, his blue all up in a tangle,

Some of the best lyrics

This is a small sample of some of the best lyrics in Brownsville girl, drained of all context, and without the complex tensions built into the melody, chords and delivery of the song. Listen first to the song itself in a suitable listening environment, perhaps while driving all night through Texas, with the song blasting on the car’s stereo, and while thinking, always thinking, about that girl you still love.

[Verse 8]
... you can tell she was so broken-hearted
She said, "Even the swap meets
Around here are getting pretty corrupt."

"Swap meets" is a gem.

"Corrupt" is a gem.

In a word we go from the micro to the macro.

For a lot of people, this is the most memorable line in the song:

[Verse 11]
I didn’t know whether to duck or to run, so I ran

Here’s one of those fauxpologies/justification you can pick up and reuse in your own defense, any ol’ time —

[Verse 13]
Now I've always been the kind of person
That doesn't like to trespass but sometimes
You just find yourself over the line

and the previously mentioned....

[Verse 13]
... If there’s an original idea out there I could do with it right now.

And with this line he inhabits a character completely …

[Verse 13]
... You know, I feel pretty good
But that ain't sayin' much. I could feel a whole lot

There’s a line earlier in the song, listen for what the character Ruby says —

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”

…and the delivery has this fantastic impersonation — I do not know what it really means but I’ll tells you this: I’m pretty sure Henry ain’t gonna be back in a little while. That line alone is enough to put this song into my list of “songs with an unreliable narrator.”

And this — the greatest lyric of all in my estimation —

[Verse 15]
The only thing we knew for sure about
Henry Porter is that his name wasn't Henry

This could be the first line of a novel, a short story, a song, a newspaper article for a wanted criminal, an op-ed about a conman, the biography of an enigmatic folk singer, the eulogy for a mysterious stranger —

It's a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a puzzle inside a paradox inside a conundrum inside a cryptogram inside an enigma.

I am strongly of the opinion that "Henry Porter" here is a reference to the writer "O. Henry" — born "William Sidney Porter", later changed to "William Sydney Porter" — who (amongst other things)(/henry-porter) wrote stories under pen names including "O. Henry". The song visits many locations connected to William Porter — San AntonioTexas and features scenes and situations reminiscent of O. Henry's stories.

Strange how people who suffer together
Have stronger connections than people who
Are most content

You always said people don't do what they
Believe in, they just do what's most convenient
Then they repent

This is reminiscent of a bunch of different quotes, aphorisms and philosophies.

Particularly the military aphorism made popular by Rear Admiral Grace Hopper

It's better to ask forgiveness than permission

External Sources or References

See also