Blues

Bob Dylan : “A Murder Most Foul”

by Philippe Navarro

The origin of “A Murder Most Foul” is unclear; it could be an outtake from Tempest (2012). The “unclassifiable” work, evoking a litany or a lament, is nonetheless a blues song. The harmony is based on the tonic, subdominant and dominant that defines the genre; as does the rhythmic signature in 3/4 and 4/4. The opus, seemingly overseen by an orchestra conductor, is however so languid and fluid that the arrangement of piano, strings, and percussion creates the illusion of unstructured, dreamlike volutes that Debussy (or Sufjan) might have put together in their spare time. The clip is absolute in its sobriety: a still frame of JFK stares at the listener during the 16:56 of the chant, close to a liturgical incantation, which alone, really, deserves attention. The talking blues form has often been borrowed by Dylan, adhering to the tradition of the griot’s improvised declamation with social or political connotations (“Talking World War III Blues”, for example). Here, the text is rather chiseled – the Nobel Prize winner for literature no longer allows himself spontaneity. The beginning is unusually prosaic for Dylan as he relates with lugubrious precision the events of November 22. What follows is a disjointed eschatology, spanning twenty years (1963-1984), zooming in on outlandish references: the British Invasion (’60s), Stevie Nicks (’70s), Nightmare on Elm Street (’80s)… Some will see the work of a genius. However, the metaphor of the JFK conspiracy (Dylan evokes a cryptic “they”) as “death of America” is worn out, and will appeal to a generation that can say they saw Mickey Mantle play. All in all, Stephen King did a better job of bringing the matter up to date (22/11/63). Dylan, like Cash, Bowie or Cohen, should be expected to dazzle in the final twilight of his career; “A Murder Most Foul” is not the expected requiem.

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