Bob Dylan is a music superstar and pop culture icon, a symbol of intellectual progress and a counterculture hero. But, above all, he's a Nobel Prize-winning wordsmith. His message of civil rights activism and philosophical poetry have been essential to American culture since he first emerged as a Woody Guthrie- inspired folk singer in Greenwich Village.
Dylan's newest release has us searching again through metaphors to understand some greater truth.
The singer hasn’t released any original material since the 2012 album Tempest, and he chose a moment of quarantine to release a 17-minute song about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which, as you might've heard, happened 57 years ago. Since the event doesn't seem particularly relevant in the time of coronavirus, one can't help but think simply that, well, ol' Bob has some odd sense of timing.
But is this what this is? It’s a time when artists are trying to soothe fans by gifting them with free online concerts and poorly received “Imagine” covers, which makes it reasonably plausible that Dylan thought of a way to throw his fans a bone by looking for something he had lying around. And that bone is giving us a lot to chew over.
After all, it's also a time when our psycho killer clown of a president is goofing around the White House throwing a fit about how the Chinese started it and how he's the real victim in a global crisis because the "LameStream media" won't stop bullying him. (Has anyone tried asking the Zoltar game from Big to change Trump back to his actual age?)
We’re not suggesting there’s any reason Dylan would be pointing to such an extremist measure like presidential assassination at this very moment. Even Dylan scholars haven't been able to grasp his political creed. But, what an odd choice. Instead, Dylan posted on Twitter the message along with the release, on Thursday evening:
“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.
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"Murder Most Foul" is a monotonous loop of violin and piano that laces an epic narrative in which Dylan muses on the 1963 assassination for 17 long minutes. Marking his words with the signature upward Dylan inflection, the loosely structured song with a barely there chorus begins with the words, “It was a dark day in Dallas, November ‘63. … He starts a day that would live on in infamy.”
The song is replete with Dallas references and time-specific clues, in which Dylan links blues classic “Deep Ellum Blues” and the JFK presidential inauguration speech. “When you’re down in Deep Ellum put your money in your shoe, don’t ask what your country can do for you. ...”
It just seems like odd timing, is all.