Sunday, April 26, 2020

MURDER MOST FOUL by Bob Dylan

Murder Most Foul is the best set of stanzas Dylan has written in decades, and  they indeed cover a lot of ground as to where he's been strategically in taking pen to paper, starting off with the kind of burned-out , cracker barrel chattiness that has made much , if not most, of his eighties, nineties and yes, 20s output a slog through the long grass of intensification, but Murder Most Foul rapidly morphs into an the kind of acerbic acuteness that made his late folk and early electric work so damn satisfying. Less fingerprinting, let us say, softer, but there is a compassionate irony here, something found in the third person omniscience of John Cheever and John Updike, something all seeing, interested, sympathetic to unsatisfactory results of best laid plans and the best intention ed art, but resolutely detached all the same, the Kierkegaard God remaining silent and unmoving in the wake of our dire consequences and continued mediocrity, the sort of  irony that contains no message other than pose the question concerning what our next move is. This song is a welcome, if sadly belated companion to the Phil Ochs masterpiece The Crucifixion, which is among the best rock-poem lyrics ever scribed and which handily beat Dylan at his own rock-poet game; this is prime Dylan, I believe, older, older, wizened and wiser, but a man aware of his own legacy and reputation as an artist who needs to put life into perspective, the ways in which he emerged after the Fall From Grace, meaning the assassination of JFK and the end of the myth of an American Camelot, a sprawling attempt to reconcile what seemed to be promised by the Presence of John F. Kennedy under who's direction a country could transcend the differences that separate us and have us join together in common cause of a creating a more perfect union and the witnessing and not wholly disguised disgust toward the same culture that, in the current climate, is drunk on personal pronouns and the assumption that gross materialism and mythological entitlements come with the words that refer to oneself as the only agent of action that matters.
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Dylan's finds himself in a universe crueler, stupider, more self-seeking than when he first started, and finds himself spoken of as deity, philosopher, poet, all manner of seer, sage and prophet who is supposed tell what to do and how to think about a reality does not yield its activities to the dictates to personal whim or the mythology of immutable laws of history. The only law of history is that there is no law of history. The undercurrent in Murder Most Foul's seventeen minute reach is that for Dylan, a man who has been alive long enough to see the major movements of American life, that nothing has changed in terms of what American feels it needs, which is the belief that we as a Nation are number one in the history of all things, that we are a nation of men with unlimited liberty , that self-seeking is a virtue that cures every perceived ailment; we find that the passage of time has changed the fashions , the furniture, the architecture of appearances, but the stupidity remains. This stupidity is not an element that goes deep but rather THE WHOLE THING  we base all we tell ourselves on. Murder most foul is loopy, long, prolix, an overstuffed set of luggage filled with name checks and the like, and likely could have benefited had it been cut to , say, ten minutes, but it is the work of a fine poetic mind that has woken up, or at least discerned a way to discuss what's been brewing in that brain these so many years.

1 comment:

  1. Despite its dirge-like quality and slow-crawl pace, "Murder Most Fowl" has flashes of Dylan's sly mordant humor that I like: "There's three bums comin' all dressed in rags
    Pick up the pieces and lower the flags
    I'm going to Woodstock, it's the Aquarian Age
    Then I'll go to Altamont and sit near the stage
    Put your head out the window, let the good times roll
    There's a party going on behind the Grassy Knoll..."
    On the other hand, the name-checking of people and songs and stuff in general Dylan likes in the final verses is tedious and weakens what comes before. Bob needs a blue pencil here. This is not a sweeping Blake-like vision a la "Chimes of Freedom" -- more like a secular extension of his Christian jeremiads. I respect Dylan for not pretending he is a young snotty word-slinger anymore. I do wish he'd pull back from the role of a garrulous old finger-wagger a little.

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