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Dylan Releases Assassination Song to World in Crisis

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.  


Lyrics by Bob Dylan

[Verse 1]

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

[Verse 2]

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

[Verse 3]

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

[Verse 5]

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


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