Dylan Dishes Up A New Meal with a Feast of References: Murder Most Foul
“Twas a dark day in Dallas, November ’63”
The day that will live on in infamy
Dylan does it as only Dylan can do. Near 17 minutes, a lyric tapestry of historical references against a backdrop similar to slowly moving waves a sustained cello foundation, oceanic in depth, embellished with ominous, haunting percussion and piano, perfectly choreographed to produce a mood, a mood perfectly suited to the event most central to this song and our generational angst.
Last night, Bob shared the new song with his several hundred thousand Twitter followers, accompanied by these words: Greetings to my fans and followers with gratitude for all your support and loyalty across the years. This is an unreleased song we recorded a while back that you might find interesting. Stay safe, stay observant and may God be with you. Bob Dylan
The song’s title is Murder Most Foul, a song about the Kennedy assassination in Dylan’s carefully crafted stream-of-consciousness style that he has used frequently in his songs. Stream-of-consciousness and crafted may seem contradictory, and I doubt anyone but Dylan can tell you which of these poles carried more influence. The objective is achieved brilliantly, capturing that mood, that historical moment, that murder most foul.
“The day they blew out the brains of the king
Thousands were watching the whole darn thing
It happened so quick and so quick by surprise
Right there in front of everyone’s eyes
The greatest magic trick ever under the sun
Perfectly executed, carefully done.”
So many great lines, you want to go right back into it a second time because it is so packed.
“What is the truth? Where did it go?”
And this one: “You’ve got unpaid debts, we’ve come to collect.”
As I listened to it the first time through I couldn’t help but think I’d heard a similar chord structure and mood song before. That is, it kept reminding me of something, so afterward I found myself searching my memory vault for this other song that had a similar mournful sound. I first turned to Tempest, then other nooks and crannies from the Dylan catalog (“Not Dark Yet” came to mind) but nothing was precisely what I was thinking. Once I opened the door to other considerations I hit upon it. Johnny Cash: “I Hung My Head.” Both the mood and delivery cadence seem to echo one another.
All the references to people and places mirror stylistically Chronicles: Vol. 1 in places. Here are a few people that pepper the landscape of Murder Most Foul: Marilyn, Wolfman Jack, the Invisible Man, Tom Dooley, John Lee Hooker, Oscar Peterson, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, the Birdman of Alcatraz, Pretty Boy Floyd. There are places, too. Dallas, The Crossroads, New Orleans, the Trinity River, Tulsa — along with song references as well: Please don’t let me be misunderstood, the Old Rugged Cross, Cry Me A River, Turn the Radio On, etc.
It seems like every line in the song could be elaborated on and thereby produce a book. It wouldn’t surprise me if someone somewhere hasn’t already started it.
There’s also an American Pie quality to the song in a sense, a long song packed with references and minutia about which much has been written. Of course Maclean was emulating Dylan to a certain extent, the songwriter who broke the 3-minute song barrier with densely packed lyrics like Desolation Row and Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.
It’s too early to start picking favorite lines, but I liked this one, playing off Lee Harvey Oswald’s response to being fingered for the deed. “I’m just a patsy, like Patsy Cline.”
The timing of its release is interesting. We’re in a very strange time again, sobering and surreal.
Originally published at https://pioneerproductions.blogspot.com.