Bob Dylan’s “Shooting Star” and the “Sermon on the Mount”

Oh Mercy

The closing song of Dylan’s “Oh Mercy” album, “Shooting Star”, was musically and lyrically more like the early Dylan than the rest of the album. As with most Dylan, it is more evocative than explicit. I would like to explore just a few of these evocations and the sole explicit reference that seems to thereby be accentuated.

I think that Dylan is saying that we are all in some sense “shooting stars.” We are both glorious and temporal. I think of one of the final scenes in “Blade Runner” when the human creator tells a “replicant” he created that he was a “Shooting Star”

Tyrell: Wouldn’t obstruct replication; but it does give rise to an error in replication, so that the newly formed DNA strand carries with it a mutation – and you’ve got a virus again… but this, all of this is academic. You were made as well as we could make you.
Batty: But not to last.
Tyrell: The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long – and you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy. Look at you: you’re the Prodigal Son; you’re quite a prize!
Batty: I’ve done… questionable things.
Tyrell: Also extraordinary things; revel in your time.
Batty: Nothing the God of biomechanics wouldn’t let you into heaven for.

(from IMDB)

This quote turns quasi-biblical, raising the question of an “afterlife” even for replicant “shooting stars.” What is actual-biblical is that humans are mortal and temporal as seen in the following quote from the New Testament letter of James:

14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

Dylan’s song certainly speaks of finality. But the finality is accentuated by mercy, hence the fittingness of the closing song for “Oh Mercy.” These mercies call for attention and offer their help while there is still time…

Listen to the engine, listen to the bell
As the last fire truck from hell
Goes rolling by
All good people are praying
It’s the last temptation, the last account
The last time you might hear the sermon on the mount
The last radio is playing

Note that this song is from roughly a decade after Dylan’s “Christian period.” Maybe it wasn’t after after all?  Dylan ends the song on the note of the irrevocableness of time and of life – “shooting stars” that “slip away.”

One of the mercies is hearing “the sermon on the mount” which is undoubtedly the greatest “sermon” of all time (OK – my opinion but not mine alone). Have you ever heard this sermon?  Dylan seems to have thought it important enough to become “explicit” here.

In my post preceding this one I considered Dylan’s song called “What Was It You Wanted?” I raised the questions there of whether Dylan actually became a prophet of sorts, and why the “prophet seeking” counterculture so vigorously rejected him. “Shooting Star” and “What Was It You Wanted” are two “post-Christian era” Dylan songs that certainly make s me wonder if “post-Christian” is quite accurate. What is beyond doubt is that Dylan had a very high regard for the “Sermon on the Mount” of Jesus Christ nearly a decade after what should possibly be considered as his “explicitly Christian period.” (This would make what follows his “implicitly Christian period.”)

So is Bob Dylan a prophet of sorts? Well in this song he certainly seems to be prophet-like with  sheer gravity, urgency, and  evocative power, and more importantly he is pointing us to what many see as the most important message ever spoken by human voice, the Sermon on the Mount.

Seen a shooting star tonight
And I thought of you
You were trying to break into another world
A world I never knew
I always kind of wondered
If you ever made it through
Seen a shooting star tonight
And I thought of you

Seen a shooting star tonight
And I thought of me
If I was still the same
If I ever became what you wanted me to be
Did I miss the mark or overstep the line
That only you could see?
Seen a shooting star tonight
And I thought of me

Listen to the engine, listen to the bell
As the last fire truck from hell
Goes rolling by
All good people are praying
It’s the last temptation, the last account
The last time you might hear the sermon on the mount
The last radio is playing

Seen a shooting star tonight
Slip away
Tomorrow will be
Another day
Guess it’s too late to say the things to you
That you needed to hear me say
Seen a shooting star tonight
Slip away

Copyright © 1989 by Special Rider Music

THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT
Of course Dylan’s main purpose was not to point to what he thought of the Sermon on the Mount, but to point to the Sermon itself and the “mercy” that it is. So here is a link to this “mercy”: The Sermon on the Mount

(You can click on the little speaker icon and literally hear it!)
With the recent passing of Nelson Mandela, there has been much attention given to the fact that he and other twentieth century world changers, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, and Mother Theresa of Calcutta, were all influenced by Jesus of Nazareth and his Sermon on the Mount. Following is a link that shows

what Mahatma Gandhi thought of the Sermon on the Mount.

So if the reader has never read or heard this “Sermon” perhaps now is the time because “there is no time like the present”…
Seen a shooting star tonight
Slip away
Tomorrow will be
Another day
Guess it’s too late to say the things to you
That you needed to hear me say
Seen a shooting star tonight
Slip away
Questions, comments, etc. are welcomed! Thanks for reading,

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2013. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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One thought on “Bob Dylan’s “Shooting Star” and the “Sermon on the Mount”

  1. […] Elliott Smith, Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, and many others. Nick Drake was certainly a “Shooting Star” in the darkness which seemed to be his nearly constant […]

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