May 13, 2021

Bob Dylan’s Last Great Epic | Blog North American route and beyond

Bob Dylan has returned to give an unexpected curse. This time, in the form of an epic. It is not that in the middle of the world crisis due to the coronavirus, he published by surprise Murder Most Foul, the longest song of his career, but inside those 16 minutes and 55 seconds of sound, one of the most complex trips to the mind of the only musician with the Nobel Prize for Literature is collected. A trip to the past, built as a narrative story and sprinkled with impressions, that begins with a concrete fact: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

“It was a dark day in Dallas, November 1963 / The day he will live in infamy,” he sings in the first two verses. “Good day to live and good day to die,” he says shortly afterwards to refer to Keneddy’s dejection, “shot down like a dog in broad daylight.” After the death of Kennedy, Bob Dylan begins a journey from the concrete to an impressionist elegy about that infamous time that he, like an entire generation, had to live. As being the capital of the sixties, nothing you say about those agitated is indifferent.

Unlike the songs of that time, now in this new composition Dylan speaks like an omniscient narrating voice. It is not a dialogue with someone or against anyone. An internal dialogue with oneself prevails, which includes dissonant elements of that troubled time. It is the voice of his memory, altered by flashes of violence and misunderstanding. “It was a matter of time and the time was right / You have unpaid debts, which we have come to collect / We are going to kill you with hatred, without any respect.” But also holding onto musical elements that built that era, such as the Beatles (“they will come to hold your hand”, making reference to one of the first singles to succeed in the United States I want to hold your hand) and the Woodstock and Altamont festivals.

Cover of the Bob Dylan song.

Cover of the Bob Dylan song.

As he already did in Highlands -until the publication of Murder Most Foul the longest composition of his career – the music only supports the Dylan text and does not evolve throughout the song. It is a difficult listening and anti-commercial effect, making the whole set excessively slow and heavy, but it allows you to draw the listener’s full attention to your voice. The musician, with his copper voice, seeks to be a narrator of his own memory. “Stick your head out the window; let the good times pass, ”he sings, or rather recites in this novel song.

The story moves within Dallas, but it is timeless. It could be Dylan walking around that city where President Kennedy was assassinated, but it could also be Dylan observing with his omniscient voice someone or even himself. “When you’re in Deep Ellum, put your money in your shoe / Don’t ask what your country can do for you,” he says, referring to Deep Ellum, one of the most artistic and lively neighborhoods in Dallas. Throughout this journey, Dylan through a city that embraced “infamy” describes the madness of the 1960s. “Black-faced singer, white-faced clown / Better not show your faces after the sun goes down / Up in the red light district, they have police on the beat / Living in a nightmare on Elm Street. ”Elm Street is a reference to the movie Nightmare in Elm street. And that “black-faced singer and white-faced clown” could be himself, when, after the countercultural madness of the sixties, he wanted to run away from everything and everyone and put on another mask (one of many in the Dylan universe). It was the time of the Rolling Thunder RevueWhen Dylan painted his face white, he wanted to regain control and stop being a political and social champion of modernity. When I was looking to recover the romanticism of the live show, that original flame of primitive shows (the minstrels Americans) and more insisted that everything important happens on stage, not off stage. As he says in the documentary about that tour released last year and directed by Martin Scorsese: “When someone wears a mask, it tells you the truth. When he doesn’t wear it, he is unlikely to say it. ”

In Murder Most FoulDylan, who always speaks through his songs, confesses again that he got out of it all, being as he was an ambassador of change in the United States. Kennedy’s death, like that of Martin Luther Jr and like all the violent acts of the 1960s, indicated to him that he might be next. Dylan, who was not forgiven by many for getting off the ship of political causes, was afraid and, as several biographers indicate, felt alien in that paranoia. He changed his mask.

Bob Dylan's last great epic

Therefore, the following verses of Murder Most Foul. Packed with impressions, the song asks what to do in the face of a world crumbling from the “infamous murder.” The narrator is already suspicious of everything. “What is the truth and where did he go? / Ask Oswald and Ruby,” he sings, referring to the leading characters in a popular 1970s series about the death of Kennedy. A tv-show that, like so many, was entertainment pasture, nothing more.

“Tommy, can you hear me? I’m the acid queen.” Bob continues to quote icons from the 60s to talk about a generation that embraced drugs and couldn’t find its place. Tommy, rock opera of The Who, was of maximum influence. Tommy was a character who had a lot of spiritual doubts and didn’t know what his true self was. Perhaps no one knew it in a time engulfed by pain and panony. So, on this walk, he brings up reflections like Steinbeck’s outings from The grapes of wrath. “I hate to tell you, sir, but only dead men are free / Send me some love; don’t tell me lies / Throw the gun in the gutter and keep walking”

If anyone wonders why Dylan is Nobel for Literature, this song gives reasons. This timeless walk through “the dark Dallas”, long after the Kennedy assassination, but as he walks, impressions of the time invade him. From the concrete to the memory. It includes more verses to return to the trigger of pain and that feeling of loss that accompanies the entire journey. “I have blood in my eyes, I have blood in my ears / I’m never going to make it to the New Frontier / The Zapruder movie I saw the night before / I’ve seen it 33 times, maybe more / It’s vile and misleading.” Abraham Zapruder filmed Kennedy’s passage through Dealey Square. The film is the only one to record the murder almost in its entirety and is probably the most viewed and examined domestic film in history. So, in the next verse, with more references to the time, the narrator Dylan responds. “What’s new, pussycat?” He sings, winking at Woody Allen’s 1965 film debut. Dylan replies, “What’s new, Pussycat? I told him the soul of a nation has been ripped away / And he’s beginning to go into slow decomposition. “

After 10 minutes of travel (stroll through Dallas and the trip to his memory with impressions), he reaches the last part of the song. It is perhaps the most fascinating part of how you solve it. Dylan finds solace in music. All it cites (and is a lot) is music. He begins by quoting Wolfman Jack, “speaking in tongues,” and asks him to play a song for him. Wolfman Jack was a disc jockey famous for his deep voice and for hosting the music television show The Midnight Special, absolute benchmark of popular music in the United States and, therefore, of that young spirit of cultural exchange, tolerant and open.

Bob Dylan's last great epic

From that verse he asks to put music of many. From Dylan’s personal heroes, mostly blacks like Etta James, John Lee Hooker, Guitar Slim, Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson, Stan Getz, Dickey Betts, Hot Pepper, Thelonious Monk, Nat King Cole, Bud Powell, Jelly Roll Morton. .. He also begins to quote traditional religious songs, sung in country and folk, that explain how the mind of a mystical and religious Dylan operates. Songs like ‘Another One Bites the Dust’, ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ … and even quotes the official national slogan of the USA: In God We Trust. A motto that appears on the dollars.

But in the last verse everything turns and becomes a criticism of the hatred and paranoia of the time. In short, a criticism of a country that “kills on the altar of the rising sun.” He keeps asking for comfort songs, but ends with “The Blood-stained Banner” and “Murder Most Foul”. The Blood-stained Banner is the Confederate flag, symbol of American involution, associated with the pride of southern heritage, the myth of the Lost Cause: racism, slavery, segregation, white supremacy … And here, As a huge lyricist, Dylan brings the song to our time. The flag symbol of Trump’s politics. The song travels from the concrete fact to the entire past of the 60s, of which Dylan is an essential part, and lands on the current psychology of a country.

Trump and The Blood-stained Banner are the opposite of Kennedy, his New Frontier, and American social progress. The New Frontier, quoted in the song with Kennedy, was the slogan of the assassinated president. An idealistic vision, where the values ​​of freedom, equality and justice were prominent. Dylan, who says in the last verse that “we are still waiting”, talks about the murder of his country, the USA. From a past time that already lived a murder, “a very disgusting murder”. A “Murder Most Foul”, as its new epic is titled, which closes with the title of the song. It is a circular story. Times are revived. His memory almost seems like advice.

In the short statement for the new song, Bob Dylan writes, “Stay safe, stay observant, and may God be with you.” “Stay safe, stay tuned, and may God be with you.” Dylan, to his own, sticking commercial shots with this novel song, but being Bob Dylan, the musician who makes to survive the memory of the 20th century to shed light on the infamy in the 21st century.

List of songs cited by Bob Dylan in ‘Murder Most Foul’

    1. Children’s Music – “Hush Little Baby”
    2. The Beatles – “I Want To Hold Your Hand”
    3. Gerry & The Pacemakers – “Ferry Cross the Mersey”
    4. Joni Mitchell – “Woodstock”
    5. The 5th Dimension – “Aquarius / Let The Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures)”
    6. Shirley & Lee – “Let The Good Times Roll”
    7. Wanda Jackson – “There’s A Party Goin ‘On”
    8. Robert Johnson – “Crossroads”
    9. The Grateful Dead – “Deep Ellum Blues”
    10. Jr. Walker & The All Stars – “Shotgun”
    11. Kay Kyser – “The Wise Old Owl”
    12. The Who – “Tommy Can You Hear Me?”
    13. The Who – “The Acid Queen”
    14. Elvis Presley – “Long Black Limousine”
    15. Roomful of Blues – “Backstreet Blues”
    16. John Michael King – “On the Street Where You Live”
    17. Joan Baez – “Oh, Freedom”
    18. Little Richard – “Send Me Some Lovin ‘”
    19. Burt Bacharach – “Walk On By”
    20. The Everly Brothers – “Wake up Little Susie”
    21. Larry Williams – “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”
    22. Billie Holiday – “You Go To My Head”
    23. Patsy Cline – “Crazy”
    24. The Kingston Trio – “The New Frontier”
    25. Tom Jones – “What’s New Pussycat?”
    26. Ray Charles – “What’d I Say”
    27. Wolfman Jack – “Dust My Broom”
    28. Billy Joel – “Only the Good Die Young”
    29. The Kingston Trio – “Tom Dooley”
    30. Louis Armstrong – “St. James Infirmary (Gambler’s Blues)”
    31. Etta James – “Tell Mama”
    32. John Lee Hooker – “Boom Boom”
    33. Slim Harpo – “Baby Scratch My Back”
    34. Guitar Slim – “The Things That I Used To Do”
    35. Marilyn Monroe – “I Wanna Be Loved By You”
    36. Nina Simone – “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”
    37. Warren Zevon – “Desperados Under the Eaves”
    38. Eagles – “Take It to the Limit”
    39. Elvis Presley – “Mystery Train”
    40. The Platters – “Twilight Time”
    41. Bob Wills – “Take Me Back To Tulsa”
    42. Queen – “Another One Bites The Dust”
    43. Jo Stafford – “The Old Rugged Cross”
    44. Gaither Carlton – “Look Down That Lonesome Road”
    45. Oscar Peterson – “Stormy Weather”
    46. Stan Getz – “The Girl From Ipanema”
    47. Dickie Betts – “Blue Sky”
    48. Art Pepper – “You Go To My Head”
    49. Thelonious Monk – “‘Round Midnight”
    50. Charlie Parker – “All The Things You Are”
    51. Chicago Cast – “All That Jazz”
    52. Charlie Chaplin – “Chaplin and Keaton Piano and Violin Duet”
    53. The Allman Brothers Band – “Blue Sky”
    54. Woody Guthrie – “Pretty Boy Floyd”
    55. Ella Fitzgerald – “Cry Me A River”
    56. The Beatles – “Revolution 9”
    57. Nat King Cole – “Nature Boy”
    58. Nancy Sinatra – “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)”
    59. Stevie Nicks – “Rooms on Fire”
    60. Billy Joe Royal – “Down in the Boondocks”
    61. Elvis Presley – “One Night Of Sin”
    62. Miles Davis – “Stella By Starlight”
    63. The Animals – “House of the Rising Sun”
    64. Erroll Garner – “Misty”
    65. Miles Davis Quartet – “That Old Devil Moon”
    66. Eileen Rodgers – “Anything Goes”
    67. Benny Goodman – “King Porter Stomp”
    68. Little Richard – “Lucille”
    69. Chet Baker – “Deep In A Dream”
    70. Randy Newman – “Lonely at the Top”
    71. Ludwig van Beethoven – “Moonlight Sonata (1st Movement)”
    72. Big Bill Broonzy – “Key to the Highway”
    73. Tennessee Ernie Ford – “Marching Through Georgia”
    74. The Corries – “Dumbarton’s Drums”
    75. Hoagy Carmichael – “Memphis In June”


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