Bob Dylan is Back and Mysterious as Ever
Bob Dylan has released his first song in eight years. It’s a fifteen minute epic called “Murder Most Foul” about the JFK assassination. Why now, 57 years after the event? Maybe because the tragedy was the end of innocence for our generation. It’s a dark mystery that has never been solved. Decades of speculation have yielded nothing more than a handful of vague conspiracy theories. Dylan doesn’t concern himself with the question of “why” in his song. He takes a Shakesperian approach, examining the spiritual and cultural aftermath of that historical and evil event. He even took the title “Murder Most Foul” from the play “Hamlet” about the murder of a king.
Kennedy was a popular, bright young man that represented a new, vibrant generation. To be cut down in the prime of his life and career by some mysterious and shadowy cabal was a sign to all of us that something was rotten in Denmark. Something bigger, nefarious and unfathomable. So much for Camelot.
We were left to fend for ourselves. And what did we have to help us along? Something that couldn’t be taken away. We had music.
Dylan references the D.J. Wolfman Jack as our shaman. We had the Beatles to hold our hand he says. We had Woodstock and the Age of Aquarius. And even Altamont.
The second half of the song provides a litany of popular music some of which that seems sort of antithetical to the work of Dylan himself. There’s Buddy Holly, Billy Joel, and The Who. Rock, folk, jazz and blues are in there too. There’s Etta James and John Lee Hooker. Classic rock radio stars like Queen and Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles get a nod. He rhymes the unlikely names of big band leader Stan Getz and Allman Brother guitarist Dickey Betts.
The list of popular music rages on in an encyclopedic and psychedelic stream of consciousness. One of the stranger and more obscure references which absolutely delighted me was a shout to Marlon Brando’s character in “On the Waterfront,” Terry Malloy. I’m pretty sure I’m one of the few people to get that one. It’s my favorite movie. Thanks Bob.
There were other song titles I had to look up: “Memphis in June”, “Deep in a Dream”, “Dumbarton’s Drums” and the old Gospel tune “The Bloodstained Banner.”
I guess it’s no surprise that Dylan’s taste in music is so eclectic and far reaching. Maybe that’s why he hated being called “the voice of a generation.” Who knew he “contains multitudes” as the poet Walt Whitman once described himself.
The song is kind of like a musical travelogue with Dylan as your driver. It’s a pleasant journey. Bob Dylan has always been one to give something to think about. “Murder Most Foul” is no different.
In fact the second single he just released before I wrote this column is called “I Contain Multitudes. Have I got this guy’s number or what?