What spectacular timing. Like a shot ricocheting at Heaven’s Door as a virus pandemic rages and Planet Lockdown is the new normal, Bob Dylan has produced a stunning 17-minute masterpiece dissecting the November 22, 1963, assassination of JFK – releasing it at midnight US Eastern Standard Time on Thursday.
For baby boomers, not to mention obsessive Dylanologists, this is the ultimate sucker punch. Countless eyes will be plunged into swimming pools revisiting all the memories swirling around “the day they blew out the brains of the king / Thousands were watching, no one saw a thing.” But that’s not all: the Dylanmobile takes us on a magical mystery tour of the 60s and 70s, complete with the Beatles, the Age of Aquarius and the Who’s “Tommy.”
If there’s any cultural artifact capable of sending a powerful jolt across a discombobulated America trying to come to grips with a dystopic Desolation Row, this is it, the work of America’s undisputed, true Exceptionalist. The times, they are-a-changin’. Oh, yes, they are.
There are so many nuggets in Dylan’s lyrics they would be worthy of a treatise, tracking the vortex of music, literature, film references and interlocking Americana.
This is essentially an incantatory mantra set to piano, sparse percussion and violin. We have two narrators: a dying Kennedy (“Ridin’ in the backseat next to my wife / Headin’ straight on in to the afterlife / I’m leanin’ to the left, got my head in her lap / Oh Lord, I’ve been led into some kind of a trap”) and Dylan himself.
Or this can be read as Dylan playing Kennedy’s doppelganger, plus occasional interventions, such as Kennedy’s would-be killers (“Then they blew off his head while he was still in the car / Shot down like a dog in broad daylight / Was a matter of timin’ and the timin’ was right / You got unpaid debts we’ve come to collect / We gonna kill you with hatred, without any respect / We’ll mock you and shock you and we’ll grin in your face / We’ve already got someone here to take your place”).
The pearl at the heart of the mantra is nothing sort of apocalyptic: “They killed him once and they killed him twice / Killed him like a human sacrifice / The day that they killed him someone said to me, / ‘Son, The Age of the Antichrist has just only begun.’”
Extra words to define it would be idle. Wherever you are in Planet Lockdown, sit back in stay at home social distancing mode, turn on, tune in and time travel. There will be blood on the tracks.