Murder Most Foul • Bob Dylan

A Generational Meditation on the Pandemic of Covert Action

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, ,   From Issue 894   By: Robert E. Martin & Geordie Wilson

02nd April, 2020     0

“In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”  - George Orwell

Bob Dylan’s 16-minute-plus opus Murder Most Foul, which he decided to release last weekend on YouTube and other streaming music channels, is a powerful and sobering elegy to generational indifference and the dark truths simmering underneath  the casket of the American soul.

That Dylan should decide to release this reflective meditation on the assassination of John F. Kennedy 57-years after the fact is open to speculation - true to form, Dylan’s best and most significant work is when he understates the obvious; but my money is on redemption.  In these times of national crisis, it’s important for the generation of the sixties that was going to change the world (or any generation with similar aspirations for that matter) to remember accountability is never borne from acceptance - to remind us of that fact, there’s an eternal flame still burning in Washington, DC.

In this time of quarantine the music is soothing and haunting and the lyrics profoundly political.

At one point Dylan sings: “There’s a party going on behind the grassy knoll…the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. The Usual Suspects. And at that, you don’t need conspiracy when you have history….the assassination of our leaders, now there’s a  pattern.”

Thoughtful lyrical brilliance and allusion abound throughout this work of art. “Turn the radio on, don’t touch the dials”.  Is there a better description of our current Corona lockdown?

As my facebook friend Geordie Wilson pointed out when I posted this song last weekend, the title, from Hamlet, lends Shakespearean drama to the lyrics which compose one long soliloquy; an elegy at a time when none of us can even attend funerals.  

Dylan alludes in a post simultaneously with the release of “Murder Most Foul” that we may find this song interesting. Why? Is it Because we have lost our moorings? Is it because our country’s last vestiges of morality and freedom are being extinguished by unseen agents?

Dylan seems to be allegorically lamenting a culture and a nation that dies slowly or immediately because it does not value its greatness or cannot even see its greatness because people look away and embrace their own inward agendas.

The JFK assassination provides the narrative.  Somehow the murderers got away with killing JFK right in broad daylight in front of the world with everybody seeing there was a conspiracy at hand. The country let them get away with it anyway, because obviously they were too powerful to stop.  

People will debate all the numerous allusions in ‘Murder Most Foul.’   One little part of interest is the reference to the owl, which may symbolize the secret wisdom of the CIA. Dylan says Oswald and Ruby died with the secret of their connection to the plot to kill Kennedy. “Shut your mouth’, said a wise old owl. Business is business and it is murder most foul.” The CIA, to its insiders, is called The Company. 

One of the most haunting references in the song is when Dylan discusses the Kennedy brothers who will most certainly investigate JFK’s real murderers.    Dylan sings to the dying JFK:  “Don’t worry Mr. President help is on the way. Your brothers are comin’  there’ll be Hell to pay.  Brothers? What brothers? What’s this about hell?  Let them keep coming, we’ll get them as well.”

Dylan rolls out a long musical playlist at the end of ‘Murder Most Foul’, possibly alluding to how this music has inspired and guided us towards higher aspirations;  or has it hindered us by deflecting our energies and aspirations towards the frivolous?  Perhaps the answer is both.

The song resonates like some earlier musical renderings in pop: It is Billy Joelesque, Don McLeanesque, Barry McGuireesque, Dylanesque, Americanesque, Whitmanesque, Ginsbergesque writing. 

And perhaps, as in the past, it will take the wisdom of the poet to guide us out of this latest crisis.

Everybody would benefit to listen to this Dylan song. Also to listen to great music now.

And to be quiet. And listen. Maybe the answer IS blowing in the wind.

You decide.



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