Studio version

There's a pale horse comin'
And I'm gonna ride it
I'll rise in the morning
My fate decided it
I'm a dead man walkin'
I'm a dead man walkin'

In Saint James Parish
I was born and Christened
Now I've got my story
Mister, ain't no need for you to listen
It's just a dead man talkin'

Once I had a job, I had a girl*
Between our dreams and actions lies this world

Hey in the deep forest
Their blood and tears rushed over me
All I could feel was the drugs and the shotgun
And my fear up inside me
Like a dead man talkin'

'Neath the summer sky my eyes went black
Sister I won't ask for forgiveness, my sins are all I have

Now the clouds above my prison
Move slowly 'cross the sky
There's a new day comin'
And my dreams are full tonight

Page last updated: 02 Sep 2007

Oscar-nominated Bruce Springsteen composition, opener of the soundtrack for Tim Robbins' 1995 motion picture Dead Man Walking [movie info below]. It is the first of the two songs that play during the end credits.

Writer-producer-director Tim Robbins and actress Susan Sarandon set a letter to musicians they admired asking for contributions to the project. After viewing a screening in New York, Springsteen agreed, as did Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, Suzanne Vega, Tom Waits, Patti Smith, and Johnny Cash. "All these people have in someway inspired me to write, to make up stories," Robbins, the son of folk singer Gil Robbins, told the Los Angeles Times. "Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska is a big inspiration. [...] So all these people writing for this film, it's like completing a circle."

Springsteen wrote DEAD MAN WALKIN' in Spring 1995. He recorded it sometime in Apr-May 1995 at Thrill Hill Recording (Springsteen's home studio) in Beverly Hills, CA. He handles guitar and vocals, and is backed-up by Danny Federici on keyboards, Jim Hanson on bass, and Gary Mallaber drums. The song is stunning as the film it was written for, and Springsteen sings in narrative style in the voice of a death-row inmate similar to Sean Penn's film character. When the New Musical Express suggested Springsteen resembled Penn's character, he jokingly responded: "I do? I didn't realize that. Help! I'm going home... I don't have as much hair as he does, for a start."

The song was first released on 30 Dec 1995 on the film's soundtrack album, and was later included on the bonus disc of The Essential Bruce Springsteen collection in 2003.

DEAD MAN WALKIN' was released on several singles in early 1996:

"DEAD MAN WALKIN' / HIGHWAY 29 / THIS HARD LAND (live 09 Dec 1995) / DOES THIS BUS STOP AT 82ND STREET [live 08 Dec 1995]"
Dead Man Walkin' European CD maxi-single, catalogue # COL 663190 2.

"DEAD MAN WALKIN' / THIS HARD LAND [live 09 Dec 1995]"
Released in Europe in both 7" vinyl and CD formats, with catalogue # COL 663190 7 and COL 663190 1 respectively.

1-track promotional CD single, released in the US (# COL CSK 7905), Australia (# COL SAMP 759), and Austria (# COL SAMPCD 3315).
The US issue comes in a regular jewel case, the Australian issue comes in a cardboard sleeve, and the Austrian issue comes in an attractive black-and-white/sepia cardboard gatefold picture sleeve with same front artwork as commercial issues; inside features song lyrics and four small stills from the movie. Blue promo sticker on rear. A number of copies came with a blank money order form for the Austrian Amnesty International donation account wrapped around the disc.

Bruce Springsteen -- Interview With Bruce Springsteen

2-CD – Columbia (SAMPCD 3184 9) – Germany, 1996

Germany-only promotional 2-CD set featuring 16 Springsteen tracks interspersed with segments from an exclusive interview for German radio station "Radio Eins" conducted in Los Angeles in February 1996. Comes in a cardboard gatefold sleeve.

Tim Robbins himself directed the music video for DEAD MAN WALKIN' in 1996. It was later released on the on The Complete Video Anthology / 1978-2000 DVD.

In the middle of his The Ghost Of Tom Joad Solo Acoustic Tour in Europe, Bruce returned to the US to perform DEAD MAN WALKIN' on 25 Mar 1996 at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles, CA, during the 68th Annual Academy Awards ceremony. The song was nominated for the Best Song category, and that was Springsteen's second ever Academy Awards nomination. check out the live 25 Mar 1996 version for more details.

DEAD MAN WALKIN' was played live for the first time on 21 Nov 1995 at the State Theatre, New Brunswick, NJ, during a warm-up gig for The Ghost Of Tom Joad Solo Acoustic Tour tour. It was played a total of 15 times on-tour. Check out the live 27 Nov 1995 version and live 05 Dec 1995 version.

DEAD MAN WALKIN' was played 5 times during the 2000 US leg of The Reunion Tour, on:

  • 03 Apr 2000 at Rose Garden Arena, Portland, OR, dedicated to Life For Life Campaign in Oregon
  • 21 Apr 2000 at Charlotte Coliseum, Charlotte, NC, dedicated to the People Of Faith Against The Death Penalty organization
  • 22 Apr 2000 at Raleigh Entertainment Center, Raleigh, NC, dedicated to the People Of Faith Against The Death Penalty organization [read press article below]
  • 03 Jun 2000 at Phillips Arena, Atlanta, GA
  • 23 Jun 2000 at Madison Square Garden, New York City, NY, dedicated to the New York Against The Death Penalty organization (check out the live 23 Jun 2000 version)

The 03 Apr 2000 rendition was dedicated to Life For Life, an organization which is attempting to appeal the death penalty in Oregon. Bruce noted and named the supporters of the Life For Life Campaign, including Governor John Kitzhaber and others. "Sign the petition for appeal," he urged.

The above lyrics refer to the studio version. Check out also the other available versions of this song (all have very similar lyrics):

* This is also the opening line of DOWNBOUND TRAIN.

Track credits:
Produced by Bruce Springsteen and Chuck Plotkin
Bruce Springsteen - vocals and guitar
Dan Federici - keyboards
Jim Hanson - bass
Gary Mallaber - drums and percussion
Recorded and mixed by Toby Scott
Recorded at Thrill Hill Recording, Los Angeles, CA
Published by Bruce Springsteen

Info and scans for the singles and Interview With Bruce Springsteen are taken from the Lost In The Flood website.

Liner notes by Bruce Springsteen in the The Essential Bruce Springsteen booklet:

Written for the Tim Robbins film. I tuned the E string on my guitar down to a D and cut it in as low a key as possible to get as much deepness and darkness I could out of the music.

Article from the News And Observer, about the 21 and 22 April 2000 shows in N.C.:


Bruce Springsteen, long known for his support of food banks, took up another cause during concerts in Charlotte and Raleigh: a moratorium on the death penalty.

Springsteen mentioned the moratorium and the group supporting it, People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, during performances in Charlotte on Friday and in Raleigh on Saturday. He then sang "Dead Man Walkin'" from the movie of the same name at both concerts.

He also allowed People of Faith to place a table in the lobby during each show and collect signatures. Volunteers collected at least 500 names, said Stephen Dear, the group's executive director.

"We recognize this is a controversial issue, and he doesn't want to be seen as preaching to his audience or telling his fans what to think," Dear said. "But he saw this is an opportunity to tell his fans they could find out more information about the death penalty from our organization." [...]

From the interview with Gavin Martin on New Musical Express, Mar 9, 1996:

You write a lot about killers -- people like the death-row inmate played by Sean Penn in 'Dead Man Walking' [Springsteen's title song for the Tim Robbins-directed movie has just been Oscar-nominated] and the slayer in 'Nebraska'. Have you ever met a real-life killer? Is it necessary to do your job right?

No, you're not trying to recreate the experience, your trying to recreate the emotions and the things that went into the action being taken. Those are things that everyone understands, those are things that everyone has within them. The action is the symptom, that's what happened, but the things that caused that action to happen, that's what everyone knows about -- you know about it, I know about it. It's inside of every human being.

Those are the things you gotta mine, that's the well that you gotta dip into and, if you're doing that, you're going to get something central and fundamental about those characters.

From Machines & Fire - Greasy Lake:

Sister Helen Prejean's story of her time as a spiritual advisor for Patrick Sonnier who's awaiting his execution on death row in Louisiana. It's a close look at the death penalty as practiced in the United States, but at the same time it's the story of compassion and human behavior. The fact that Bruce wrote the title song for the movie isn't even the most important reason for Springsteen fans to be interested. The connection is mostly made in the way we're forced to see this cold-blooded murderer as a human being and as a victim himself. Like in the best of Bruce's songs we get to walk for a while in another person's shoes. Think of "Johnny 99", "Highway 29" and... well... "Dead Man Walkin'" and you get the same humanistic view of people who forced by circumstances they couldn't control end up as the outcast of society.

Info about the motion picture Dead Man Walking:

This acclaimed film traces the relationship between a death-row inmate and the local nun to whom he turns for spiritual guidance in the days leading up to his scheduled execution. Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn) has been convicted of the rape and murder of two young lovers and is awaiting execution. Susan Sarandon plays Sister Helen Prejean, a nun who has devoted herself to God and to helping the less fortunate. Prejean faces a moral crisis as she tries to reconcile her anti-death penalty views with the truth of Poncelet's actions and the pain felt by the victim's families.

Starring: Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, Robert Prosky, Raymond J. Barry, R. Lee Ermey
Directed by: Tim Robbins
Produced by: Eric Fellner, Tim Bevan, Tim Robbins
Written by: Tim Robbins