By Tony Attwood and Denise Konkal
Denise has produced her final version of the lyrics of “Murder Most Foul” which are set out below. As for Tony, here are his final thoughts after a full day of contemplation.
In my last look at “Murder Most Foul” I went through some of the allusions that Dylan incorporated to nursery rhymes, songs and historic events, generally reaching the conclusion that in thinking back to the murder of the President, these were the thoughts that flashed through the poet’s mind. Thoughts encapsulated in events and (since the writer of the piece is the supreme songwriter of the age) songs.
And because the writer is the supreme songwriter of the age he references his own influences and preferences.
But in all this, one line keeps coming back to me.
The day that they killed him, someone said to me, "Son The age of the Antichrist has only begun."
Is that just another couplet in a song of some 1378 words? It is after all “someone” who said it. Not a person important to the writer; just someone. And interesting because a couple of lines later we get “Johnson sworn in at 2:38”.
A connection? The start of the Fall into the 1000 years of darkness following the arrival of the four horsemen?
It is of course possible to consider the destruction of the environment as related to the arrival of the four horsemen, and the breaking of the sixth seal “and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; and the stars of the sky fell to the earth. The sky was split apart, every mountain and island were moved out of their places. Mankind hides themselves in the caves and mountains acknowledging the presence of Him who sits on the throne and the wrath of the Lamb.”
It’s a possible interpretation, but I don’t think this is what Dylan means. And I suppose that, perhaps unlike some commentators on Dylan, I don’t really see the benefit of analysing individual words and lines to find a meaning. Rather I think that in many of his songs Dylan gives us a meaning through the whole song.
To go back to an earlier debate here, it was the meaning of the whole song that Jochen and I were arguing about with the debate on “Never Say Goodbye”; was Dylan writing and singing about a woman or the lake? If the question could be answered, in my mind it can only be answered by considering the song as a whole.
In which case, what are we to make of the connection between the murder of the President and the huge list of songs that Dylan commands to be played at the end. (I haven’t counted them but there must be around 50 such demands); 50 songs that for Dylan represent… well what?
The musical heritage that he wrapped around himself and which allowed him to write the 600 odd songs that he has created? His understanding of what his country actually is, and what it represents? His feelings on hearing of the death of Kennedy?
All of that I suspect. I’ve never been able to date Dylan’s compositions exactly, which is why on this site I satisfy myself by putting them in what appears to be the right order and listing them by year. But it does seem that “Restless Farewell” was written no later than October 1963 and “Guess I’m doing fine” was written in January 1964. The gap between them is the time of the death of the President.
Of course I have reviewed “Guess I’m doing fine” on this site, but in doing that I must admit that I had no thought in my head of what had just happened. My excuse is simple, “I’m English and younger than Dylan” so although the death of the President impacted on me, that impact could not have been anything remotely like that on Americans who were going about their daily lives working, rather than just being at school in another country.
Now looking back to “Guess I’m doing fine” with a recognition that this was Dylan’s first song after the death of the President we see something quite different (and I will be going back to change that review in the light of this understanding on my part).
Well, I ain’t got my childhood Or friends I once did know No, I ain’t got my childhood Or friends I once did know But I still got my voice left I can take it anywhere I go Hey, hey, so I guess I’m doin’ fine And I’ve never had much money But I’m still around somehow No, I’ve never had much money But I’m still around somehow Many times I’ve bended But I ain’t never yet bowed Hey, hey, so I guess I’m doin’ fine Trouble, oh trouble I’ve trouble on my mind Trouble, oh trouble Trouble on my mind But the trouble in the world, Lord Is much more bigger than mine Hey, hey, so I guess I’m doin’ fine And I never had no armies To jump at my command No, I ain’t got no armies To jump at my command But I don’t need no armies I got me one good friend Hey, hey, so I guess I’m doin’ fine I been kicked and whipped and trampled on I been shot at just like you I been kicked and whipped and trampled on I been shot at just like you. But as long as the world keeps a-turnin’ I just keep a-turnin’ too Hey, hey, so I guess I’m doin’ fine Well, my road might be rocky The stones might cut my face My road it might be rocky The stones might cut my face But as some folks ain’t got no road at all They gotta stand in the same old place Hey, hey, so I guess I’m doin’ fine
Yes, there it is. “I’ve been shot at just like you.”
And that was that, for then Dylan took a different reflective turn with Hard times in New York Town (a satire on urban life), the lyrics to On Wisconsin (and the date of this piece is uncertain) and then I was young when I left home (the tragedy of the lonesome traveller).
These are not major pieces, at least not compared with the masterpieces already composed such as
- Let me die in my footsteps
- Blowing in the wind
- Tomorrow is a long time
- Hard Rain’s a gonna fall
- Ballad of Hollis Brown
- Don’t think twice
- Whatcha Gonna Do? *
- Masters of War
- Girl from the North Country
- Boots of Spanish Leather
- Bob Dylan’s Dream
- When the ship comes in
- The Times they are a-Changing
- The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
- One too many mornings
- Restless Farewell
*There is only one of these songs that might refer back to the death of Kennedy and on to “Murder Most Foul” and that is “What you gonna do?” which exists in two different versions. Here is one…
Tell me what you’re gonna do When you can’t play God no more Tell me what you’re gonna do When you can’t play God no more Tell me what you’re gonna do When you can’t play God no more O Lord, O Lord What shall you do?
So I’m not too sure that Dylan was that affected at the time. Rather it is the music that he has listened to over the years that now causes him to look back and reflect.
Anyway, I think I need to move on, perhaps to return to this later. But for now, here is our final version of the lyrics to Murder Most Foul by Bob Dylan
What else is on the site?
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You’ll find some notes about our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page of this site. You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.
The index to all the 598 Dylan compositions and co-compositions that we have found on the A to Z page.
If you are interested in Dylan’s work from a particular year or era, your best place to start is Bob Dylan year by year.
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