Jump to content
The Education Forum

Bob Dylan song about JFK assassination


Recommended Posts

15 hours ago, James DiEugenio said:

This is really good. In the best sense, its not music lyrics.

Its really poetry and you can read it in its standalone form as that.

See my post, Jim--I'll bet you didn't catch his David Ferrie and Guy Banister references...and Lifton!

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Replies 359
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

I'm cross posting this with the other thread Bob Dylan tackles the Kennedy assassination: Murder Most Foul 

I didn't see a lyric video on YouTube yet so I made one.

 

Bob Dylan's new song is a surprise and quite a work of art. There are many layers to dig into.

I like Dylan's jazz-like way of coming in off-beat, at times off with the music but never sounding incongruous with it. His singing is also noteworthy. I remember a performance from a decade ago that had me convinced he was done and that his voice was shot for good. There's only a few instances of raspyness here and there and I don't think they detract from the recording. Those instances are outnumbered by many pleasant moments where his voice sounds remarkably smooth. He has some really good phrasing. I really liked the subtle way the texture of his voice would change when assuming a character.

The instrumentation is really nice and restrained. Relaxing and slow without sounding sleepy or maudlin.

The lyrics and songwriting are something else. Some online review described it as "stream of consciousness". If that term implies a sort of aimlessness, then I don't agree. To me, the lyrics appear very carefully structured, and it is a credit to Dylan's musical genius that he is able to make it sound improvised. It is frankly amazing to me that he can hold a listener's attention for 17 minutes with a song that has no bridges, choruses, or hooks - just the title refrain and the imagery contained in the verses.

Speaking of the title refrain - I think it's brilliant to end the song by naming the song itself, asking Wolfman Jack to play, as the last song and the last request, the very song he's singing at the moment. The song isn't just about JFK's assassination and the Sixties, but about Dylan's love of popular music from his childhood to adulthood. The song is also a delirious fantasy as you imagine yourself being able to request as many songs as you want from the radio DJ, with no limits whatsoever.

There's also repeated Biblical imagery. I especially liked the "left hand turn" in Dealey Plaza as an allusion to a change to something demonic in the country, followed immediately by a mention of the crossroads, a reference to Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil for the ability to play blues guitar.

I also think there's sexual references in the verses about Bobby and Teddy, the word "comin'" is used twice in short succession, and in reference to the brothers. I don't think there's anything accidental about that.

This is just scratching the surface of this complex tour de force of songwriting. I'm enjoying reading everyone's takes and thoughts on this song.

Link to post
Share on other sites
46 minutes ago, Denny Zartman said:

I'm cross posting this with the other thread Bob Dylan tackles the Kennedy assassination: Murder Most Foul 

I didn't see a lyric video on YouTube yet so I made one.

 

Bob Dylan's new song is a surprise and quite a work of art. There are many layers to dig into.

I like Dylan's jazz-like way of coming in off-beat, at times off with the music but never sounding incongruous with it. His singing is also noteworthy. I remember a performance from a decade ago that had me convinced he was done and that his voice was shot for good. There's only a few instances of raspyness here and there and I don't think they detract from the recording. Those instances are outnumbered by many pleasant moments where his voice sounds remarkably smooth. He has some really good phrasing. I really liked the subtle way the texture of his voice would change when assuming a character.

The instrumentation is really nice and restrained. Relaxing and slow without sounding sleepy or maudlin.

The lyrics and songwriting are something else. Some online review described it as "stream of consciousness". If that term implies a sort of aimlessness, then I don't agree. To me, the lyrics appear very carefully structured, and it is a credit to Dylan's musical genius that he is able to make it sound improvised. It is frankly amazing to me that he can hold a listener's attention for 17 minutes with a song that has no bridges, choruses, or hooks - just the title refrain and the imagery contained in the verses.

Speaking of the title refrain - I think it's brilliant to end the song by naming the song itself, asking Wolfman Jack to play, as the last song and the last request, the very song he's singing at the moment. The song isn't just about JFK's assassination and the Sixties, but about Dylan's love of popular music from his childhood to adulthood. The song is also a delirious fantasy as you imagine yourself being able to request as many songs as you want from the radio DJ, with no limits whatsoever.

There's also repeated Biblical imagery. I especially liked the "left hand turn" in Dealey Plaza as an allusion to a change to something demonic in the country, followed immediately by a mention of the crossroads, a reference to Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil for the ability to play blues guitar.

I also think there's sexual references in the verses about Bobby and Teddy, the word "comin'" is used twice in short succession, and in reference to the brothers. I don't think there's anything accidental about that.

This is just scratching the surface of this complex tour de force of songwriting. I'm enjoying reading everyone's takes and thoughts on this song.

What a great higher plane sensitive thought provoking review Denny.   BRAVO!

 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Denny, you mention his vocal problems of you say a decade ago.  That was one of the things that shocked me about this "song", his voice.  I didn't know he had recovered.  I can't be called a Dylanite but I've always liked his music, the lyrics in particular.  I had a greatest hit's album, a friend had Blood on the Tracks, another went to see him on the Rolling Thunder tour in 75.  

I've seen him once about 15 years ago at the only Willie Nelson Picnic I ever went to.  I don't think I understood a word he sang the whole night though I recognized many songs by the music and Willie came on to help him on 3-4 at the end.  I thought it was in part the acoustics/venue.  Then I heard some insensitive DJ's making fun of a performance on I believe an awards show.  Glad to actually hear him again, in such a moving piece de' resistance.

Link to post
Share on other sites

When your down on Deep Ellum put your money in your shoes
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 going 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 Scarlett, I don’t give a damn

 

"Left-hand turn" (onto Elm St.) makes me think of how J. Edgar Hoover ordered his drivers to make no right

turns. Sounds like a joke but it wasn't.

Link to post
Share on other sites
11 hours ago, Ron Bulman said:

Denny, you mention his vocal problems of you say a decade ago.  That was one of the things that shocked me about this "song", his voice.  I didn't know he had recovered.  I can't be called a Dylanite but I've always liked his music, the lyrics in particular.  I had a greatest hit's album, a friend had Blood on the Tracks, another went to see him on the Rolling Thunder tour in 75.  

I've seen him once about 15 years ago at the only Willie Nelson Picnic I ever went to.  I don't think I understood a word he sang the whole night though I recognized many songs by the music and Willie came on to help him on 3-4 at the end.  I thought it was in part the acoustics/venue.  Then I heard some insensitive DJ's making fun of a performance on I believe an awards show.  Glad to actually hear him again, in such a moving piece de' resistance.

Bob Dylan is definitely inconsistent. He often changes up the arrangements of his songs in concert, so much so that they sometimes sound like different songs entirely. I've had friends that have seen him live and said he was great, and other friends that have seen other shows and called them terrible.

That bad performance I heard was likely from a broadcast of the Academy Awards. I believe he and his band were performing from a remote location, so sound issues could have been to blame. To his credit, there are some good vocal performances in his movie "Masked and Anonymous" which I believe came out a few years later (and I'm sure had much better audio production than a remote TV appearance.)

Anyway, he must have given up smoking and/or doing those Sinatra albums got him singing out of that one raggedy register that I was sure he had settled into permanently. I'm glad that's not the case and that his voice has improved. In fact, the only time I really hear that "raggedy" register that he used to use all the time is in the line "Wolfman Jack, he’s speaking in tongues, he’s going on and on at the top of his lungs" when he says "Jack" and "on and on."

Link to post
Share on other sites

Murder Most Foul

by Bob Dylan

It was 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 watching, 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

[Verse 2]
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 going 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 then 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
Up in the red light district, they've got cop on the beat
Living in a nightmare on Elm Street
When you're down on 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 going 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 Scarlett, 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 a wise old owl
Business is business, and it's a murder most foul

[Verse 3]
Tommy, can you hear me? I'm the Acid Queen
I'm riding in a long, black Lincoln limousine
Ridin' in the backseat next to my wife
Headed 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 was 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', then tell me no lie
Throw the gun in the gutter and walk on by
Wake up, little Susie, 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
I've blood in my eye, got blood in my ear
I'm never gonna make it to the new frontier
Zapruder's film I seen night 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

[Verse 4]
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" in the court 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

[Verse 5]
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 Art 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 of 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 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
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 on the harp
Play "Marching Through Georgia" and "Dumbarton'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"

Edited by Denny Zartman
Link to post
Share on other sites

“Goodbye, Charlie! Goodbye Uncle Sam!”

I interpret this as a multiple reference to the Vietnam War (Charlie vs. Uncle Sam), the song from the movie “Goodbye, Charlie”, and Don McLean’s “American Pie”.

“Murder Most Foul” has been compared to “American Pie”, the somewhat “Dylanesque” hit song from 1971 By Don McLean that similarly evoked the loss of American innocence using heavy musical references. With the “Goodbye, Charlie! Goodbye Uncle Sam!”, line you have the words “bye” and “bye” in close proximity, the final “bye” followed immediately by the name of America’s mascot, Uncle Sam.

I believe both songs can co-exist and be enjoyed, but the comparison between the two songs still invites itself. In both songs the narrator goes to a Rolling Stones concert. I don’t think it’s entirely a coincidence that “Murder Most Foul” is almost exactly twice as long as the already epic eight and a half minutes of “American Pie.” Personally, I think Dylan deserves a lot of credit for going farther in the imagery as well as more direct references.

Let’s also not forget that McLean’s song relies on a big hook and a catchy sing-along chorus. There are no hooks or catchy melodies in Dylan’s song. There will be no wedding singalongs of “Murder Most Foul". Yet Dylan is able to capture a listener's attention for twice the amount of time despite the lack of a hook and a catchy chorus.

Link to post
Share on other sites

A few more random observations:

“Perfectly executed, skillfully done”

It’s a cliché that when someone is about to be executed, they are often asked if they have any last requests.

I believe the song could be interpreted as JFK dying on the way to the hospital, and these are his last requests, merged with Dylan’s own requests for songs in tribute to JFK and others. There’s a mention of the radio in the car, and urging someone not to touch the dial, a common saying in radio and TV.

The wolfman is evoked at the end of the first verse, I believe this is the only wolfman reference in which it’s not specifically Wolfman Jack. The later reference to the Invisible Man could make this first mention of the Wolfman is also a reference to a monster unleashed because of the JFK assassination.

The second verse introduces the sixties, the pop music angle, expertly blended in with jfk symbolism. Bannister, Ferrie, “go for the throat” I believe is a reference to JFK’s anterior neck wound.

“Then  I’ll go to Altamont and sit near the stage” I think this line is more than just a simple invoking of a  ‘60’s cultural event that bookends Woodstock. Dylan also seems to offer himself up as a sacrifice by placing himself in Meredith Hunter’s place.

Whiteface clown – a reference to Dylan’s own “whiteface” makeup?

“Going down to the crossroads, going to flag a ride - The place where faith hope and charity died” = hell

The invisible man – Obviously a Universal Studios monster that counted the Wolfman as one of his peers. This could also refer to someone in camouflage, since the next line invokes war.

 “Where we ask no quarter, and no quarter do we give” I love that little descending note when he sings “give.” I also like the long pause on “We’re right down the street… from the street where you live”. Very effective and affecting use of phrasing and space right there.

“Turn the radio on, don’t touch the dials” After this the perspective immediately switches from JFK, to Oswald, back to JFK, and then to Dylan himself in the next line about watching the Zapruder film.

“What’s new, pussycat? What’d I say?” Love his voice when he sings the line “What’d I say?”

Then when he starts making requests, really some brilliant writing. “Take me to the place Tom Dooley was hung” has such vulnerability to it. This is one of my favorite moments of the song.

St James Infirmary, King James, and Etta James. Very nice bringing the three together.

At this point Dylan begins relaxing the concept of requesting Wolfman Jack to play songs for him by asking for more modern songs as well as traditional gospel songs, things the Wolfman wouldn’t or couldn’t play.

Then Dylan relaxes the concept even further, requesting non-musical artists like Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd (both silent film stars) and then Bugsy Sigel and Pretty Boy Floyd (both gangsters). It’s possible that he’s urging these figures to play instead of asking music from them. Dylan also requests at least one movie "It Happened One Night."

“Play number 6” – Could be a reference to Jimi Hendrix’s song “If 6 Was 9” and/or the television show “The Prisoner”, a surreal ‘60’s TV show which featured political themes, heavy symbolic music in the final episodes, and a main character called Number Six.

“Don’t worry Mr. President, help’s on the way” Dylan sings this line in a higher voice that sounds very much like he did when he was young.

Then the ending, a very powerful series of requests, ending with double gut punch of “The Blood-Stained Banner” and “Murder Most Foul”. I’ll say it again - I think it’s a brilliant touch by Dylan to end by referencing the song that the listener is listening to. That’s a great meta moment and the perfect way to cap the song by taking it back to the beginning - “bringing it all back home” if you will.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I heard about this just a few hours after this song was released. and was astounded at the specific nature of the lyrics:

"They mutilated his body and they took out his brain."

The poem is very powerful; and for me it had a special significance: It seemed obvious that Dylan was familiar with Best Evidence.

The incredible references to body mutilation and the removal of the brain-- so stunningly explicit--obviously refer to the removal of President Kennedy's brain, prior to autopsy, which I documented in B.E., and then backed up with filmed interviews of the key witness (Paul O'Connor) in B.E.

Further reading established that Dylan spent four days after 11/22, with his girlfriend, in his New York apartment, watching the events of those memorable four days.

I am proud that the research I published in 1981 plays such a central role in a  a major work --a poem focused on JFK's death, and the falsification of the autopsy-- by a Nobel Laureate.

DSL

3/29/2020 - 7:20 AM PST

 

 

 

 

Link to post
Share on other sites
16 minutes ago, David Lifton said:

Further reading established that Dylan spent four days after 11/22, with his girlfriend, in his New York apartment, watching the events of those memorable four days.

 

 

As you listen to the muted drums on Murder Most Foul, it brings back memories of the Kennedy funeral drums, as heard on TV and later enshrined in the David L. Wolper documentary Four Days in November.

Edited by David Andrews
Link to post
Share on other sites
On 3/27/2020 at 6:01 PM, Vince Palamara said:

See my post, Jim--I'll bet you didn't catch his David Ferrie and Guy Banister references...and Lifton!

No, Vince.  It's not "[about] Lifton!"

Its about the data - data that establishes that President Kennedy's brain was (illicitly and covertly) removed from his cranium, prior to autopsy.

Dylan was using that to allude to the degradation of our society, and as evidence that,  as in Shakespeare, this was "murder most foul."

Let's put this in the context of your work, shall we?:  The possible disloyalty (and criminality) of this or that Secret Service agent would be about the data, and not "about Palamara."

DSL

 

 

 

Edited by David Lifton
Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...