Murder Most Foul - Bob Dylan
About 10 months ago, Bob Dylan brought out the single "Murder Most Foul". It is significant that he released it when he did, in an America that had just entered its fourth year of the Trump presidency along with the beginnings of the ravages of the Coronavirus. He is pointing his finger back across the decades, pinpointing the moment 57 years ago where hope for the future of the US was snuffed out by the shady powers behind the scenes, the assassination of President John F Kennedy, leading to the current political and social debacle,
With the Christmas season just behind us, it is worth pausing to note that, whatever your beliefs, Jesus Christ can be seen as a poet in the long line began by Homer. He preached to large crowds, his words, preserved in texts, are studied and quoted all around the world everyday, his parables are metaphors for life, his ideas revolutionary and poetic. His main tenet that we should love our neighbour as we do ourselves is demonstrably and extraordinarily ignored by most, if not all, self-proclaimed Christian organisations in favour of old testament-style intolerance and retribution while his poetic pronouncement that "it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" has been universally ignored in a world where individual and corporate greed is systematically destroying the environment. If America is Christian, whose ideologies were regularly invoked by Trump and company in the last few months, then thank goodness it is not something worse. Where we are is bad enough as it is.
In 2016 Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature "for having created new poetic expression within the great American song tradition". I would go further than that: I would say "within the Homeric tradition which has outlasted the cant and pronouncements of king after king and dynasty after dynasty for over two and a half thousand years." And like Homer, Boccaccio, Chaucer, Shakespeare and Cervantes, his words are heard by ordinary people, not just intellectuals, and are not confined to books, but are transmitted by the primary medium: the human voice.
The title "Murder Most Vile" is a quote from Shakespeare himself, from "Hamlet" spoken by the ghost of Hamlet's father when he tells Hamlet that he has been murdered, the point being that it was a murder perpetrated from the inside, by his brother, Hamlet's uncle ie by the establishment. Dylan talks of Kennedy's soul being the thing that "they" wanted to suppress, and then interweaves into his condemnation, a litany of the musicians that have been the soul of America and the western world, spreading through popular music everywhere, as America itself could have been, but never was. The list and references of these are seemingly endless and include, in no particular order: the Platters, Queen, the Beatles, Oscar Peterson, the Allman Brothers, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, Little Richard, Nat King Cole, Nina Simone, the Beatles, B.B. King, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Etta James, Elvis Presley, John Lee Hooker, the Animals, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Dinah Washington, Patsy Cline, the Everly Brothers, Dion Warwick, Tom Jones, Dion, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Guitar Slim, the Who and Robert Johnson to name but a few.
These and a host of film stars, film titles, legendary deejay Wolfman Jack, the celebration of Woodstock, the tragedy of Altamont, and many more rich threads make up an intricate collage of free spirits against which Dylan details the murder of John F. Kennedy, identifies that it is the right wing establishment - the inside - who have perpetrated the killing, seeing him as a threat to their continued prosperity:
"business is business and it's a murder most foul".
The song may not be typical Dylan, but it's the seventy-nine year old bard laureate of the world stepping up to the plate, just as he did in the 1960's.
In the turmoil of today's America, this is a letting of the blood, a cleansing, a requiem for a dream and a ""J'accuse" letter all in one which keeps on giving. The more you listen to it - admittedly you have to be in the right mood - the more you get out of it, and the better it gets.
"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 searching for that...."
Let's hope we find it quick in time for the next fifty years.