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Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

Interpretation of Bob Dylan’s Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

Knockin on Heaven’s Door is a rock song written and recorded by Bob Dylan in the year 1973. The song is one of its kinds. Here, in this piece, I shall be sharing what is the message from the song and how I perceive the song.

First, let’s take a look at the lyrics:

Mama, take this badge off of me
I can’t use it anymore
It’s gettin’ dark, too dark to see
I feel I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door

Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door (X 4)

Mama, put my guns in the ground
I can’t shoot them anymore
That long black cloud is comin’ down
I feel I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door

Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door (X 4)

Usage in the Feature Film:

The song was composed by Bob Dylan for the American film, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973). To understand the positioning of the song in the film, a quick background of the plot and sub-plot is required.

The film is based on the real story of two friends, Billy The Kid, an outlaw and Pat Garrett, the sheriff of Old Fort Sumner, New Mexico. The timeline of this legendary country tale is 1881 when Pat Garrett is transferred to Old Fort Sumner; he vows to eradicate Billy The Kid and his gang members once and for all. However, things don’t go as planned for Pat Garrett and he is then entitled the duty of killing Billy The Kid. The song plays as a background score in the film when Pat Garrett is about to shoot Billy The Kid.

So, in the film, the lyrics are clear that Pat doesn’t want to be the sheriff anymore. His duty has brought him to the moment where he has to choose between his duty and friendship. Take this badge off of me means that he doesn’t want to be the sheriff and cannot bear the thought of shooting his friend.

In the film, there are two contexts of Heaven’s Door; the first one being Pat Garrett’s perspective, his duty is his religion and God for him, yet, he is wishing to fail, making him stand at the Heaven’s Door, preventing the entry; rather he is not willing to leave behind his friendship and serve the justice to an outlaw. The second referral is to Billy The Kid; a 21 years old young-adult, being shot for his crimes. Here, he is literally standing at Heaven’s Door. Both the symbolic meanings are clearly justified by the cinematography and editing in the film. This is the story and meaning behind the song in the film.

Now, I’ll let you know my interpretation of the song. The first time I listened to it; Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door was a cover by Guns N’ Roses which randomly played on my YouTube playlist. The music and shrill voice of Axl Rose instantly made a big impact on me. When I listened to this for the second time, I actually realized each and every word of the lyrics, which gave me chills.

I had interpreted the song in two different sentiments. My interpretations were even before knowing that the song’s composition is by Bob Dylan.

The first one

The song is about guys who kill each other out of logic and passion. When the cops kill criminals, criminals kill innocents and innocents die in a shoot-out between the cops and criminals. A bullet doesn’t have a name written on it, so, a misfire may result in killing an innocent. When criminals kill innocents, it is often out of passion; however, when a cop kills a criminal it is always out of logic. The logic is to maintain brotherhood and peace in the society. It’s the balance between good and evil; ensuring a safer environment for the common men.

We make one a hero and the other one a villain only because a cop defends the authority and the criminal is against the authority; making one good and the latter evil. So, when good defeats the evil, it’s a cause of celebration. However, only the person who has finished the evil knows that it just wasn’t a quality; it was a person.

So, in order to reach to Heaven, the good guy has gone through Hell; the hell of being in guilt, in remorse and in a state of trauma, where things seem to be surreal, but are unbelievably real. So, he is remembering his deeds while he is at Heaven’s Door and wants to leave all the mishaps and achievements behind. Well, this was the first understanding.

The second one

This realization struck me like thunder, making me all cold and teary. On a random afternoon, Eric Clapton’s cover of Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door randomly played on my playlist. The day was random, but, the timing couldn’t have been better. If you people remember the terrorist attacks on CRPF in Pulwama on 14th February 2019; it was moments after reading the news that I listened to this song. And, it melted me, because each and every word of the lyrics meant exactly what the situation was. The entire song, gave me a whole new perspective, so, my second interpretation of the song is:

                A soldier is writing a letter to his mom saying that his seniors are summoning him to go out on the battlefield for war and he must leave. He realizes that he won’t return, indeed, he’s Standing at Heaven’s Door. It’s a letter to his mom making her realize that he has always loved her and she was the most important thing in his life.

A soldier gets only one letter to write before he goes out on the field for war. And, he is writing to his Mama; saying his last words and inching towards Heaven.

The song is not about war or emotions, to be honest, my perseverance about Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door is that the song are final words of love, care and gratitude which anyone can give to their loved ones and speak the unspoken words. In other words, the song can easily be about Last Words or Words of Farewell to family, friends, lovers, or anyone who is or was of any importance. You can listen to Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door on YouTube.

So, speak up before it’s too late; because when you are alive, you are never late. You are “Late” only when you are dead.

Does this interest you? Then, Do read my review about the Eagle’s song, Hotel California.

Vatsal Vora

A writer with flair sense of writing and a creative mind which continues to explore new places to visit and quirky delicacies for the whole and sole purpose stating that life is given to us only once; why not experience the human emotions in the form of food rather than whining about the missed opportunities.
Vatsal Vora started his professional career as a client servicing executive to a writer and being the editor and founder of this blog. Working with just one motive: “No matter how it is done; it is supposed to be completed with quality and result being the integrated aspect of any work in hand.”
A believer of second chances and many more after them, because people tend to change, and once loved can always be loved again, just need time and enough confidence in the universe and more than required faith in oneself.

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