HAPPENING NOW

Bob Dylan has chosen this moment, of all moments, to release his masterful epic (full lyrics below) on the assassination of President Kennedy, "Murder most Foul."  Why now?

Could it be that his artist’s heart feels a world under assault, once again, by the powers that be?  For whatever the actual lethality of the virus, there is no doubt that we are all suffering from the same sort of “shock and awe” we did when our collective hopes for a New Frontier were blown away in 1963.

You don’t have to have a religious streak for it all to feel something like the fulfillment of the prophesy spoken to Dylan’s narrator:

The day that they killed him, someone said to me, "Son, The Age of the Antichrist has just only begun"

When Kennedy died, so died the efforts he had been making to end the Cold War, to withdraw from Vietnam, to create a rising economic tide that would “lift all boats.”

And while much has been made of Lyndon Johnson’s carrying-on of Kennedy-era social and civil rights initiatives, the reality was as Martin Luther King described it: “The promises of the Great Society have been shot down on the battlefields of Vietnam, making the poor, white and Negro, bear the heaviest burden, both at the front and at home.”

Well, as Mark Twain once allegedly said: "History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes."  

Dylan describes the Kennedy assassination as “the greatest magic trick ever under the sun/ Perfectly executed, skillfully done.” 

It happened so quickly, so quick by surprise

Right there in front of everyone’s eyes

It would seem Dylan, courageously, has sent us a message when we needed it most, with little in the way of encryption. It is up to us to break the simple code, take in its meaning, and act.

Act as we didn’t then.


“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.”

And also with you, Bob.  


John Kirby is the director of Four Died Tryingan upcoming feature documentary about the extraordinary lives and calamitous deaths of John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy.  



MURDER MOST FOUL

Lyrics by Bob Dylan


[Verse 1]

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 over 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 back seat 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" and 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 in 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"



By the time Malcolm X was killed, he was a man reborn.



In the words of Malcolm associate Peter Bailey, if Malcom were successful in bringing human rights charges in the World Court, “it would have been a devastating propaganda blow to the United States.”  Meetings were planned with Dr. King to enlist him in the effort.

The prospect of Malcolm and Martin joining forces was FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover’s “worst nightmare.”


As he traveled the world, Malcolm survived assassination attempts and sharpened his analysis of the world situation.  His words at the Oxford Union just weeks before his murder resonate more painfully today than when he first spoke them:


We’re living at a time of extremism, a time of revolution. People in power have misused it, and now there has to be a change and a better world has to be built. And I for one will join in with anyone, I don’t care what color you are, as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth.


On this, the 55th anniversary of his death, it is worth it to consider whether Hoover’s nightmare might have been one of the country’s last, best hopes.

John Kirby is the director of FOUR DIED TRYING, an upcoming feature documentary on the major assassinations of the 1960’s and their calamitous impact on the country. To join the struggle for justice for Dr. King, Malcolm X, and John and Robert Kennedy, sign the petition.



(Originally published January 21, 2020)

The King of the March on Washington is encased in amber, his still-deferred dream reduced to a harmless platitude, its endless repetition a proof of virtue.


But the King who declared from the pulpit of Riverside Church on April 4 th , 1967, that his beloved country had become “the greatest purveyor of violence on earth” cannot be resurrected for the cameras or deployed as a spokesman for American redemption. For that King might wander off the stage into the street, might occupy Wall Street and the Pentagon, or insist on reminding us that “a nation that continues, year after year, to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”


When he publicly declared his opposition to the Vietnam War in April 1967, King earned few friends in the administration, the press, or even among the civil right establishment. FBI surveillance and harassment was ordered intensified. He was relentlessly attacked from all sides for straying out of his “area” in criticizing the foreign policies of a President who had been so strong a Negro ally. But if King hadn’t made pellucid the undeniable connection between the “giant triplets” of "racism, extreme materialism, and militarism” in his speech at Riverside, he doubled down a few days later at a massive peace rally at United Nations Plaza.  “The promises of the Great Society have been shot down on the battlefields of Vietnam, making the poor---white and Negro--bear the heaviest burden.”


The Johnson administration’s failure to rate the plight of the nation’s impoverished above the needs of its military-industrial complex compelled King inexorably to his next project: the Poor People’s Campaign. On December 4th, 1967, he announced:


“The Southern Christian Leadership Conference will lead waves of the nation's poor and disinherited to Washington, D. C. next spring to demand redress of their grievances by the United States government and to secure at least jobs or income for all.”


King’s plan was nothing less than to occupy Washington with a multi-racial army of the poor. They would not be moved until the nation’s attention and resources were lent to the needs of millions of forgotten Americans. King placed the burden where, in a nominal republic, it lays:

“The President and the Congress have a primary responsibility for low minimum wages, for a degrading system of inadequate welfare, for subsidies of the rich and unemployment and underemployment of the poor, for a war mentality, for slums and starvation, and racism.”

That King’s plan was intolerable to the National Security establishment and the country’s secret police is visible in the manner of his death. On April 4 th , 1968, a year to the day from his speech at Riverside Church condemning the slaughter of women and children in Vietnam, King was gunned down outside his hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee.


King’s protection had been withdrawn, his hotel room altered, his organization infiltrated. The crime scene was not sealed, key witnesses were not interviewed, an all-too-convenient bundle of evidence, including a rifle and an unlikely map of King’s itinerary was left in a doorway for easy collection. The alleged shooter was himself eventually collected in England, a shiftless, penniless, escaped convict who somehow possessed a number of expensive false passports. In later years, Attorney Bill Pepper, friend to Dr. King, would bring enough real evidence, eyewitnesses, and confessions into court to flesh out a portrait of the unspeakable: from the highest levels of the United States Government, the same one that King sought to save from itself, came the orders to kill.


Dr. King said, ‘”If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read “Vietnam.”’


It is the sad verdict of history to note that America’s soul has been so poisoned, and part of the autopsy must read “Assassination”.

John Kirby is the director of FOUR DIED TRYING, a feature documentary and series on the major assassinations of the 1960’s and their calamitous impact on the country. To join the struggle for justice for Dr. King, Malcolm X, and John and Robert Kennedy, sign the petition.