This 11-minute number is about the New York gangster Joey Gallo, who was gunned down by a rival at a restaurant in New York City. Dylan's song is a highly sensationalized account of Gallo's life.
A number of the songs on Desire, including this one, were co-written by the songwriter/theater director Jacques Levy, who had co-written the Byrds song "Chestnut Mare." Levy also acted as stage manager on Dylan's 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue.
This song generated controversy as it was thought that it glorified the violent activities of Gallo and it took liberties with the truth. Dylan responded to these accusations in a 2009 interview published on his website: "Jacques Levy wrote the words. Jacques had a theatrical mind and he wrote a lot of plays. So the song might have been theater of the mind. I just sang it. Some say Davy Crockett takes a lot of liberties with the truth and Billy the Kid too – FDR in Trinidad. Have you ever heard that?"
Barry from New York, NcI really like the DYLAN AND THE DEAD version of this song. One of the things I will go to my grave now knowing is... why people hate DYLAN AND THE DEAD so much? I love the album yet everybody else considers it the worst of the worst.