“Bob Dylan Has a Lot on His Mind,” the New York Times reported on June 12. That’s for sure. In late March, as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down America, the 79 year old singer-songwriter released “Murder Most Foul,” an epic, 17-minute song-poem about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Since “Who killed JFK?” is one of the central questions of American history, you might think that the Times interviewer, historian Douglas Brinkley would ask the Nobel laureate about how he came to compose his dark and brooding take on November 22, 1963. You might think Brinkley, a CNN commentator, would ask Dylan why he decided to release the song as the country and the world reeled from a plague.
In these terrible days, I got to thinking about Tim Shorrock’s essay/review on Bob Dylan’s JFK opus:
At its most essential level, “Murder Most Foul” marks the collapse of the American dream, dating from that terrible day in Dallas, when a certain evil in our midst was revealed in ways not seen for a hundred years—a day that, for Dylan, myself, and others of our generation is forever seared into our collective memory.
“With the stunning recent midnight release of Murder Most Foul,Bob Dylan unequivocally declared his deep distress at the unsolved mysteries surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy. I wish I’d known about that sooner. It would have saved me a lot of anguish and embarrassment.
It was November, 1975. “Oswald’s November,” as the poet Anne Sexton once branded that gloomy time of year when daylight shrinks, weather turns dank, and hearts feel the chill. Dylan, recently emerged from an extended hibernation, had just launched the now legendary Rolling Thunder Review tour. Nov. 20 at the Harvard Square Theater in Cambridge was among the first dates on the tour. Next was Nov. 21 at the Music Hall in Boston. On Nov. 22, a mass rally calling for a re-opening of the investigation of President Kennedy’s assassination.
Maybe its his Nobel Prize but Dylan seems immune to the normally outspoken camp of JFK anti-conspiracy theorists. Rather his 17-minute rumination of the assassination of President Kennedy has attracted 2.6 million views while impressing critics and scholars of the case.
Did you know JFK’s assassination “produced a mountainous range of forgotten, discarded and ghostly vinyl artifacts?” Some were briefly notorious: Bob Dylan’ rant about Oswald and Mick Jagger’s sneer, “Who killed the Kennedys?” Others were forgotten but popular music often echoed November 22. Read more
Bob Dylan accepted the “Tom Paine Award” from the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee at a ceremony on December 13, 1963, shortly after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. According to those who were there “a drunken, rambling Dylan questioned the role of the committee, insulted its members as old and balding, and claimed to see something of himself (and of every man) in assassin Lee Harvey Oswald..”