It might not sound surprising to hear that Bob Dylan has a song that was directly inspired by a western classic. In fact, in actuality, it feels as though it makes perfect sense. With his rustic sound and slightly western-infused instrumentals that still maintain folky elements, Dylan’s music can fit right in with a variety of sounds, inspirations and landscapes.
However, it is always interesting to hear about the specific origins of certain songs, especially if you’re independently a big fan of the artist in question. That’s a part of why it remains so fascinating to find out that Bob Dylan’s 1986 song ‘Brownsville Girl’ was actually inspired by the 1950 movie The Gunfighter. The song boasts an 11-minute run time and a western flow to boot.
When it comes to actually uncovering the inspiration, Dylan opens the song with a direct citation that it’s hard to miss, as the lyrics croon: “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.”
The song doesn’t pretend to exist within the universe of the film and, instead, it draws attention to the specific inspiration of actually having seen the movie, which might be unusual to some, but is actually more common than you might think. However, there are plenty of songs that find inspiration in much more covert ways, like David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ or Pixies’ ‘Debaser’, for example.
Even Dylan himself has found cinematic inspiration for a number of his songs, some of which manifest more covertly than others. Regardless, it’s intriguing to see where some of the ideas are established, especially with an artist like Bob Dylan, who has such a vast body of work that traverses multiple themes and topics.
If you’re curious to hear the long song that Bob Dylan wrote about the classic western film, The Gunfighter, you can take a listen to the 1986 track ‘Brownsville Girl’ down below.