One Of Bob Dylan’s Greatest Songs Wouldn’t Exist Without The Help Of This Man

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Bob Dylan says there are two songs people ignore but that he thinks are some of his best work.

Bob Dylan (photo via NPR)

Critics and fans alike don’t think Bob Dylan’s gospel era was that great. But he begs to differ. One guy helped him write one of his best songs from that time.

On one of his gospel albums, Saved, there are two songs that Dylan singles out as underrated– “In The Garden” and “Brownsville Girl,” an 11-minute song that he wrote with a man named Sam Shephard. The late Shephard was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and playwright.

If you’re a hardcore Dylan fan, you already know “Brownsville Girl,” and you probably agree with Dylan that it’s one of his better ones despite the lack of attention. Unfortunately, it appears on an album that most people consider his worst.

But that one song, it stands out.

Bob Dylan and Sam Shepard
Bob Dylan and Sam Shepard (photo via Sam Shepard)

Throughout the 17 verses of the song, both writers express their worries about the creative process, like in the lyric “If there’s an original thought out there, I could use it right now.” They also spout proverb-like lyrics for the listener to chew on (“Strange how people who suffer together/Have stronger connections than people who are most content”).

By the end of the song, you realize you’ve just listened to a conversation between two creatively minded men.

“Working with Dylan is not like working with anybody else,” Shepard told the Village Voice in 2004. “With Dylan, you’re continuing on this hunt for what he’s after, who he is, this continual mystery about his identity.”

And Shephard followed Dylan along in this journey.

During Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue tour, Shephard brought his pen, paper, and camera and created The Rolling Thunder Logbook, a book about the whole experience. In the book, he talks about Dylan as a mystery.

“If a mystery is solved, the case is dropped,” Shephard writes. “In this case, in the case of Dylan, the mystery is never solved, so the case keeps on. It keeps coming up again. Over and over the years. Who is this character anyway?”

Who knew this experience would lead to co-writing one of Dylan’s best songs?

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Caleb Murphy is a musician who writes about music. His writing appears in Consequence Of Sound, Pittsburgh City Paper, and some other cool places. He blogs about music at calebjmurphy.com.
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