Dylan 2020

(The below is from Edward Curtin’s essay “Bob Dylan: A Masked Man in Search of Redemption?” from his book Seeking Truth in a Country of Lies (2020).

 “He wears a mask and his face grows to fit it.” George Orwell, “Shooting an Elephant”

In late March 2020, (Dylan) unexpectedly released a new song. He burst forth from behind his many masks and gifted the world with his incandescent song about the assassination of President Kennedy, with a title taken from Hamlet, from the mouth of the ghost of the dead King of Denmark – “Murder Most Foul.” For those who have wondered over the years if Dylan had “sold out,” here is the answer. For those who have wondered if he would go to his grave reciting the words of T.S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock – “I am no Prince Hamlet nor was meant to be” – here is Hamlet’s booming response. Not only does this song lay bare the truth of the most foundational event in modern American history, but it does so in such a powerfully poetic way and at such an opportune time that it should redeem Dylan in the eyes of those who ever doubted him.

I say “should,” but while the song’s release has garnered massive publicity from the mainstream media, it hasn’t taken long for that media to bury the truth of his words about the assassination under a spectacle of verbiage meant to damn with faint praise. As the media in a celebrity culture of the spectacle tend to do, the emphasis on the song’s pop cultural references is their focus, with platitudes about the assassination and “conspiracy theories,” as well as various shameful and gratuitous digs at Dylan for being weird, obsessed, or old. As the song says, “they killed him once and they killed him twice,” so now they can kill him a third time, and then a fourth ad infinitum. And now the messenger of the very bad news must be dispatched along with the dead president.

The media like their Hamlets impotent and enervated, but Dylan has come out roaring like a bull intent on avenging his dead president.

If you listen to Dylan’s piercing voice and follow the lyrics closely, you might be startled to be told, not from someone who can be dismissed as some sort of disgruntled “conspiracy nut,” but by the most famous musician in the world, that there was a government conspiracy to kill JFK, that Oswald didn’t do it, and that the killers then went for the president’s brothers. 

Your brothers are comin’, there’ll be hell to pay 

Brothers? What brothers? What’s this about hell? 

Tell them, “We’re waiting, keep coming,” we’ll get them as well

This is an in-your-face tale, set to music with a barely tinkling piano, a violin, and a soupçon of percussion, whose lightest words, as Hamlet’s father’s ghost said to him: 

Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, 

Make thy two eyes like stars start from their spheres, 

Thy knotty and combined locks to part, 

And each particular hair to stand on end 

Like quills upon the fretful porcupine. 

“Murder Most Foul” truly startles. It is a redemptive song. Dylan holds the mirror up for us. He unlocks the door to the painful and sickening truth. He shoves the listener in, and, as he writes in Chronicles, “your head has to go into a different place. Sometimes it takes a certain somebody to make you realize it.” Bob is our certain somebody. In these dark times, he has offered us his voice.

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JOHN FRAIM / COMMENTS

The background musicians really add to this by supplying a constant drone-like effect and the twinkling’s of Fiona Apple on the keyboards. Much like much of the jazz of the mid-60s and its turn to the Middle East. Or, much like the playing of Colin Stetson at the end of movie Hereditary. One of the most powerful scenes in cinema. Very similar in the Dylan background. The words are so perfect against the piano and strings. The crusty, rusty, fermented words of Dylan against this sound. So many of his words representing symbols for my generation. Triggering explosions of metaphors out into literary space when the gravel voice of Dylan says them.  Like the baby boom generation the words were wrapped in like fortune cookie messages containing as they move forward through history. Their musi

Such a tribute to so many artists of the world during Dylan’s life. Dylan looking back and reflecting. In an even deeper voice than Tom Waits. How he can linger on words and roll them in his mouth. They come out aged to us, like fermented, vintage wine. In my younger years, he was the symbol of looking forward at a new freedom I felt growing. Now, he is what’s considered an old man of 80 years old. Not looking forward as much as looking back today. Like we all do during the so-called “golden years” of our lives. 

The rhythm and cadence of the piece becomes mesmerizing in just a few minutes in. The brilliant background musicians providing just what Dylan needs to tell the longest song of his career. It certainly would never work with his guitar. This is beyond guitar when there is the constant sound in the air. It matches stunningly well with his deep voice, and it is hard to imagine a more effective way of presenting this grand symphony of a Dylan song. Perhaps a song that will later be called one of his greatest. It already has a growing group of critics behind it.

Dylan uses the death of JFK to pull these images and thoughts together. This reflection on our past and future. In his narrative, he plays the part of first-person narrator as well as third person, omnipotent, narrator, far away from a historical event to be able to comment on it with the time-context of authority. 

The post Dylan 2020 to Midnight Oil is an attempt to translate that last part of the chapter on Bob Dylan in Edward Curtain’s brilliant book of essays titled Seeking Truth in A Country of Lies (2020). An attempt to translate a part of a chapter in a book into multimedia form with a video, music and written content from the chapter. An example of a blog using more media to communicate the message of a particular piece of media. Here, part of a chapter in a book I’m reading.

Considering the Dylan 2020 post, I think that it accomplishes its purpose of placing Dylan’s longest piece “Murder Most Foul” in a different context than just music alone. A piece that is Dylan’s final homage to a hero of his. Not that he admitted it at the time.

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BACKGROUND

Murder Most Foul” is the 10th and final track on his 39th studio album of Bob Dylan,Rough and Rowdy Ways (1920).  It was released as the album’s lead single on March 27, 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic. The song addresses the assassination of John F. Kennedy in the context of the greater American political and cultural history.It was Dylan’s first original music released since 2012 and generated an enormous amount of commentary. Lasting 16 minutes, 56 seconds, it is the longest song he has released, eclipsing 1997’s “Highlands” which runs for 16 minutes, 31 seconds.

In a statement released with the single, Dylan indicated that “Murder Most Foul” was a gift to fans for their support and loyalty over the years. Some critics saw the release and content of the song as directly relating to the Covid-19 pandemic. The song’s title comes from a line in Hamlet although it may not be a coincidence that Stanley J. Marks self-published a pamphlet with the same title in 1967 espousing a Kennedy assassination conspiracy theory. In addition to members of Dylan’s touring band, the song also prominently features both Fiona Apple and Alan Pasqua.  

Click here to explore more about Dylan’s “Murder Most Foul.”

A Dylan Version of the Dallas Morning News After the Assassination

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“Murder Most Foul” Lyrics

Twas a dark day in Dallas, November ’63
A day that will live on in infamy
President Kennedy was a-ridin’ high
Good day to be livin’ and a good day to die
Being led to the slaughter like a sacrificial lamb
He said, “Wait a minute, boys, you know who I am?”
“Of course we do, we know who you are”
Then they blew off his head while he was still in the car
Shot down like a dog in broad daylight
Was a matter of timing and the timing was right
You got unpaid debts, we’ve come to collect
We’re gonna kill you with hatred, without any respect
We’ll mock you and shock you and we’ll put it in your face
We’ve already got someone here to take your place
The day they blew out the brains of the king
Thousands were watchin’, no one saw a thing
It happened so quickly, so quick, by surprise
Right there in front of everyone’s eyes
Greatest magic trick ever under the sun
Perfectly executed, skillfully done
Wolfman, oh Wolfman, oh Wolfman, howl
Rub-a-dub-dub, it’s a murder most foul

Hush, little children, you’ll understand
The Beatles are comin’, they’re gonna hold your hand
Slide down the banister, go get your coat
Ferry ‘cross the Mersey and go for the throat
There’s three bums comin’ all dressed in rags
Pick up the pieces and lower the flags
I’m goin’ to Woodstock, it’s the Aquarian Age
Then I’ll go to Altamont and sit near the stage
Put your head out the window, let the good times roll
There’s a party goin’ on behind the Grassy Knoll
Stack up the bricks, pour the cement
Don’t say Dallas don’t love you, Mr. President
Put your foot in the tank and step on the gas
Try to make it to the triple underpass
Blackface singer, whiteface clown
Better not show your faces after the sun goes down
I’m in the red-light district, like a cop on the beat
Livin’ in a nightmare on Elm Street
When you’re down in Deep Ellum, put your money in your shoe
Don’t ask what your country can do for you
Cash on the barrelhead, money to burn
Dealey Plaza, make a left-hand turn
I’m goin’ down to the crossroads, gonna flag a ride
The place where faith, hope, and charity died
Shoot him while he runs, boy, shoot him while you can
See if you can shoot the invisible man
Goodbye, Charlie, goodbye, Uncle Sam
Frankly, Miss Scarlet, I don’t give a damn
What is the truth, and where did it go?
Ask Oswald and Ruby, they oughta know
“Shut your mouth, ” said the wise old owl
Business is business, and it’s a murder most foul

Tommy, can you hear me? I’m the Acid Queen
I’m riding in a long, black Lincoln limousine
Riding in the backseat next to my wife
Heading straight on in to the afterlife
I’m leaning to the left, I got my head in her lap
Hold on, I’ve been led into some kind of a trap
Where we ask no quarter, and no quarter do we give
We’re right down the street from the street where you live
They mutilated his body and they took out his brain
What more could they do? They piled on the pain
But his soul’s not there where it was supposed to be at
For the last fifty years they’ve been searchin’ for that
Freedom, oh freedom, freedom over me
I hate to tell you, mister, but only dead men are free
Send me some lovin’, tell me no lies
Throw the gun in the gutter and walk on by
Wake up, little Suzie, let’s go for a drive
Cross the Trinity River, let’s keep hope alive
Turn the radio on, don’t touch the dials
Parkland hospital, only six more miles
You got me dizzy, Miss Lizzy, you filled me with lead
That magic bullet of yours has gone to my head
I’m just a patsy like Patsy Cline
Never shot anyone from in front or behind
Got blood in my eye, got blood in my ear
I’m never gonna make it to the new frontier
Zapruder’s film, I’ve seen that before
Seen it thirty-three times, maybe more
It’s vile and deceitful, it’s cruel and it’s mean
Ugliest thing that you ever have seen
They killed him once and they killed him twice
Killed him like a human sacrifice
The day that they killed him, someone said to me, “Son
The age of the Antichrist has just only begun”
Air Force One comin’ in through the gate
Johnson sworn in at 2:38
Let me know when you decide to throw in the towel
It is what it is, and it’s murder most foul

What’s new, pussycat? What’d I say?
I said the soul of a nation been torn away
And it’s beginning to go into a slow decay
And that it’s thirty-six hours past Judgment Day
Wolfman Jack, he’s speaking in tongues
He’s going on and on at the top of his lungs
Play me a song, Mr. Wolfman Jack
Play it for me in my long Cadillac
Play me that, “Only The Good Die Young”
Take me to the place Tom Dooley was hung
Play, “St. James Infirmary” and, “The Port of King James”
If you want to remember, you better write down the names
Play Etta James, too, play “I’d Rather Go Blind”
Play it for the man with the telepathic mind
Play John Lee Hooker, play “Scratch My Back”
Play it for that strip club owner named Jack
Guitar Slim going down slow
Play it for me and for Marilyn Monroe

Play, “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”
Play it for the First Lady, she ain’t feeling any good
Play Don Henley, play Glenn Frey
Take it to the limit and let it go by
Play it for Carl Wilson, too
Looking far, far away down Gower Avenue
Play, “Tragedy” play, “Twilight Time”
Take me back to Tulsa to the scene of the crime
Play another one and, “Another One Bites the Dust”
Play, “The Old Rugged Cross” and, “In God We Trust”
Ride the pink horse down that long, lonesome road
Stand there and wait for his head to explode
Play, “Mystery Train” for Mr. Mystery
The man who fell down dead like a rootless tree
Play it for the Reverend, play it for the Pastor
Play it for the dog that got no master
Play Oscar Peterson, play Stan Getz
Play, “Blue Sky”, play Dickey Betts
Play Hot Pepper, Thelonious Monk
Charlie Parker and all that junk
All that junk and, “All That Jazz”
Play something for the Birdman of Alcatraz
Play Buster Keaton, play Harold Lloyd
Play Bugsy Siegel, play Pretty Boy Floyd
Play the numbers , play the odds
Play, “Cry Me A River” for the Lord of the gods
Play Number Nine, play Number Six
Play it for Lindsey and Stevie Nicks
Play Nat King Cole, play, “Nature Boy”
Play, “Down In The Boondocks” for Terry Malloy
Play, “It Happened One Night” and, “One Night of Sin”
There’s twelve million souls that are listening in
Play, “Merchant to Venice” play, “Merchants of Death”
Play, “Stella by Starlight” for Lady Macbeth

Don’t worry, Mr. President, help’s on the way
Your brothers are coming, there’ll be hell to pay
Brothers? What brothers? What’s this about hell?
Tell them, “We’re waiting, keep coming”
We’ll get them as well
Love Field is where his plane touched down
But it never did get back up off the ground
Was a hard act to follow, second to none
They killed him on the altar of the rising sun
Play, “Misty” for me and, “That Old Devil Moon”
Play, “Anything Goes” and, “Memphis in June”
Play, “Lonely At the Top” and, “Lonely Are the Brave”
Play it for Houdini spinning around his grave
Play Jelly Roll Morton, play, “Lucille”
Play, “Deep In a Dream” and play “Driving Wheel”
Play, “Moonlight Sonata” in F-sharp
And, “A Key To The Highway” for the king of the harp
Play, “Marching Through Georgia” and, “Dumbaroton’s Drums”
Play, “Darkness” and death will come when it comes
Play, “Love Me Or Leave Me” by the great Bud Powell
Play, “The Blood-stained Banner” play, “Murder Most Foul”

East Harlem Elevated / Bob Dylan 2020
One Too Many / Bob Dylan 2020

3 thoughts on “Dylan 2020

  1. Powerful John and so deep. Somehow I missed this along the way. Thank you Thank you.
    I had just gotten out of the Marines in late October 63 and had just flown back east when it happened. Bushido

    Like

    1. Thanks Bushido for your comment. I also missed it along the way. The background musicians really add to this by supplying a constant drone-like effect and the twinklings of Fiona Apple on the keyboards. Much like the Colin Stetson compostion which played at the end of a movie in a treehouse. One of the most powerful scenes in cinema. Very similar in the Dylan background. The words so perfect. So many representing key symbols of the baby boom generation as they move forward through history. Their music.

      Such a tribute to so many artists of the world during Dylan’s life. Dylan looking back and reflecting. In an even deeper voice than Tom Waits. How he can linger on words and roll them in his mouth. They come out aged to us, like fermented, vintage wine. In my younger years, he was the symbol of looking forward at a new freedom I felt growing. Now, he is what’s considered an old man of 80 years old. Not looking forward as much as looking back today. Like we all do during the so-called “golden years” of our lives.

      The rhythm and cadence of the piece becomes mesmerizing in just a few minutes in. The brilliant background musicians providing just what Dylan needs to tell the longest song of his career. It certainly would never work with his guitar. This is beyond guitar when there is the constant movement of sound in the air,

      Like

  2. Dylan has put his thoughts in a musical story . Yes, I always said the story the press gave at the time was
    incorrect. JFK was not killed by one crazy man…all lies , so what is new. I can still remember when he was
    shot in his car and Jackie trying to crawl over the back of the convertible to get away. Dylan has certainly
    perceived what I always have believed. Thanks for sharing. Barbara

    Like

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