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 Trying, an 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
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'll mock you and shock you and we'll put it in your face
It happened so quickly, so quick, by surprise
Right there in front of everyone's eyes
Rub-a-dub-dub, it's a murder most foul
Pick up the pieces and lower the flags
Put your head out the window, let the good times roll
Put your foot in the tank and then step on the gas
Blackface singer, whiteface clown
Up in the red light district, they've got cop on the beat
Cash on the barrelhead, money to burn
Dealey Plaza, make a left-hand turn
Hold on, I've been led into some kind of a trap
What more could they do? They piled on the pain
But his soul was not there where it was supposed to be at
I hate to tell you, mister, but only dead men are free
Throw the gun in the gutter and walk on by
Turn the radio on, don't touch the dials
That magic bullet of yours has gone to my head
Never shot anyone from in front or behind
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
Air Force One comin' in through the gate
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
Play "St. James Infirmary" and the Court of King James
If you want to remember, you better write down the names
Play it for the man with the telepathic mind
Play John Lee Hooker, play "Scratch My Back"
Guitar Slim going down slow
Play "Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"
Play it for the First Lady, she ain't feeling any good
Play tragedy, play "Twilight Time"
Ride the pink horse down that long, lonesome road
Stand there and wait for his head to explode
The man who fell down dead like a rootless tree
Play it for the reverend, play it for the pastor
Play "Cry Me a River" for the Lord of the gods
Play Number nine, play Number six
There's twelve million souls that are listening in
Don't worry, Mr. President, help's on the way
Was a hard act to follow, second to none
Play darkness and death will come when it comes