Deep within “Murder Most Foul,” Bob Dylan’s 17-minute ballad about the assassination of J.F.K., he points to the “12 Million souls that are listening in.” On November 22, 1963, all ears were held hostage by the same story. Today, we are a captive audience once again—although under very different circumstances—and listening to Dylan’s first original song in eight years feels all the more significant as a result. Dylan released “Murder Most Foul” late last night, and hearing it slowly unfold for the first time felt like a kind of communion—there were thousands of us, crouched around our radios (ok, laptops), listening to the same thing.
In the opening passages of “Murder Most Foul,” President Kennedy is fatally shot in his limousine as it ambles through the streets of Dallas. Dylan elevates that vehicle from a crime scene to a time machine that drives through the decades, soundtracked by icons of each era. “Turn the radio on; don’t touch the dials,” Dylan rasps atop a scaffold of piano and croaking bowed bass. He instructs “Wolfman Jack, ” the famed ’60s DJ, to play everything from Etta James, to The Animals, to Queen. “The Beatles are comin’; they’re gonna hold your hand,” Dylan sings, heralding the Fab Four’s single, which arrived Stateside roughly one month after Kennedy’s death. In Dylan’s epic, the Lincoln Continental becomes Kennedy’s mobile resting place, cruising past cultural milestones that seemed to sprout from historical unrest. Dylan acknowledges the assassination as “the soul of a nation being torn away” before listing off some of the most significant American art of the past 60 years. It’s the kind of biting contradiction that Dylan does best—and we’re glad he’s back to deliver.
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