Shooting Star and Jimi Hendrix. An alternate meaning of Dylan’s song.

By Dan Haggerty

I was always sure that others must have drawn the same conclusion- “Shooting Star” is about Jimi Hendrix. But it doesn’t even seem to be an unpopular theory amongst Dylanologists. It seems to be just my own theory, shared by no one. I think I can change that.

On the surface it is a simple song about someone who is lost to you. Beneath the surface it is a song about someone who is lost to you, someone who’s name is Jimi.

Many people associate this song with a lost loved one.   Others have their interpretation thrown off by the seemingly religious lyrics in the bridge.

No religion here, despite the mention of the Sermon on the Mount. Let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.

The key to the song lies in the bridge. The bridge that gets rightly and properly ignored by the folks who associate the song with a lost loved one. After all, how many people’s recollections of their dearly departed loved ones involve “The Last Fire Truck from Hell”? It’d make for some interesting Thanksgiving conversation “Remember the time Grandma was riding on the last Fire Truck from Hell?”…. “ Um… No, I can’t say I recall that…How much have you had to drink?”

The first verse  – quick and easy, (explanation in parenthesis.).

Seen a shooting star tonight
And I thought of you (Jimi)
You were trying to break into another world (musically and psychedelically)
A world I (Bob Dylan) never knew
I always kind of wondered
If you ever made it through (Here’s to hoping, after all – there must be some kinda way outta here said the joker to the thief)
Seen a shooting star tonight
And I thought of you

The 2nd verse requires a bit more explanation-

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

Jimi was a big fan of Bob Dylan and yet also became a peer, Bob still plays All Along the Watchtower more like Jimi’s version than his own. In this verse Bob is hypothetically asking the younger man, Jimi, a fan, and a peer, who wasn’t alive to answer, if he, Bob, had stayed the course? Had he gotten wiser and better? Or just older and tired?

Jimi gets to be immortally young, by virtue of a youthful death, Limitless potential. Bob gets to mortally age and record Knocked Out Loaded “Was I still the same, had I ever became what you wanted me to be?” You, Jimi, a Fan, a Peer, I’m asking you this, “Did I miss the mark or overstep the line that only you could see? I saw a shooting star tonight and I thought of me.”

Now we get to the key that truly pins down who these relatively vague verses are really about, that odd bridge with it’s out of place apocalyptic religious imagery. What is a Fire Truck from Hell doing in this bitter sweet remembrance?

Listen to the engine, listen to the bell
As the last fire/dump truck from hell (Live he sings Dump Truck)
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

“As the last Fire truck/Dump truck from Hell goes rolling by”, listen to the ending of “Third Stone from the Sun” that is where that specific sound resides. Dylan is speaking of a very specific sound and he perfectly poetically sums it up with just a few words. I am not leaving the Dump Truck out of this. I think that to be the true lyric and that is why it is what Bob chooses to sing in the years since.

At this point, I would ask that you listen to “Third Stone from the Sun” with these lyrics in mind.

You have to invert the stanzas to hear it properly.
It’s the last temptation, (Listen to that exotic belly dance of a main theme)

The last account (Your Majestic silver seas, your mysterious mountains , that I wish to view closely….Your superior cackling hen)

The last time you might hear the sermon on the mount (Didn’t Jimi just land his thinking machine on the Mount? “you are a people I do not understand, so to you I will put an end”)

The last radio is playing (You will Never hear Surf Music again) and there’s the siren of the fire truck just as Jimi says that. I guess Bob didn’t just have a choice about which vehicle to assign the sounds to. He actually had his choices of 2 municipal vehicles from hell present in the song! And he has sung about both of them!

Listen to the engine, listen to the bell (as Jimi fires up his planet destroying machine)
As the last dump truck from hell (it pulls up at 6:18 into the song)
Goes rolling by (It is the last thing you hear as it rolls away)
All good people are praying

I saw a shooting star tonight, slip away,

Tomorrow will be another day

Because as vivid of a soundscape as Third Stone is – it is the song that ended in an apocalypse, not the world.

Sadly. While the world goes on, Jimi does not.

Jimi pretty much shares the same fate that the Earth meets in Third Stone. All you have to do is substitute fame and hangers-on for that pesky alien. Bob knew what the crowd around Jimi was like, He’s sung about them. He calls them parasites. Everyone wants a piece of you and none of them along the line know what any of it is worth. Had he had the chance to speak to Jimi about it this, his remarks might have began with, “I used to be amongst the crowd you’re in with.”. I think this explains why Bob chose to devote the bridge to Third Stone.

I think Bob takes this aspect of it very personally. Thus thinking of YOU (Jimi) when he sees the shooting star in the first verse, and himself in the second – There, but for the grace of God, goes I.

That said, it is not surprising to me that Jimi’s hero would have liked to have said something to him about insulating himself from all of that. Who’s been more vigilant about insulating himself from all that than Bob Dylan?

Guess it’s too late to say to you (Jimi)

The things you needed to hear me (Bob) say

I saw a shooting star tonight slip away.

The end, or better yet, some famous last words- Two riders were approaching, And the Wind Begins to Howl….


This is the first review of a Dylan song on this site by a guest writer – and I would love there to be more.  If you would like to review a Dylan song – either one that has not already been covered here, or one that has, but which you would like to interpret in another way – please do write it up and send it to  Ideally please write it as a word document or if not, write it within the body of the email and I’ll extract it from there.


Untold Dylan – an index of all the songs reviewed thus far.



  1. I can’t agree with your thesis. Within the context of the entire content of Oh Mercy, to dismiss the religious content of the song, as you do, is simply absurd.

  2. Kieran,

    I hope you didn’t read my incidental “All Along The Watchtower” references, as anything more than poignant asides, designed to make it a good read?

    These two men will be bound together by that song, regardless of “Shooting Star”, and they will remain so, until they are as estranged from the collective memory of “Lower 48” as Washington Phillips or Bukka White are. I’m 99.9% sure that you can never erase Bukka White…Even if you’ve never heard of him, his ghost will linger in the sounds that you are familiar with. The same can be said of these two riders, these two
    “Shooting Stars” of the 1960’s.
    It was meant to enhance the read, it wasn’t “A Beautiful Mind” taking intelligence to madness, in it’s ability to connecting things.

  3. I get that, Dan, but I still say it’s far-fetched. I’m not seeing Jimi Hendrix *at all* in that song. It just seems so arbitrary and shoe-horned an argument that it wobbles by the end. It’s a fascinating read, but in the way some things are fascinating more because a person went out there and said it, as opposed to being fascinating through some new and crucial insight.

    I hope you don’t take this as me being rude, because I’m not, I’m only sharing my view on this. I found it enjoyable to read and I admire your wits for analysis, but it doesn’t ring true for me. Sometimes what he’s written is just a song, and here’s no special code to it. I think if we take some of the mystery away from Dylan, he’s actually better for it…

  4. I am dumbfounded at the ideas expressed in the comment section.

    You’d have to explain away the bridge to interpret the song as “Just a Song”. No songwriter just throws out words, unless it is to pad an insufficiently short song. Bob Dylan has never suffered for a lack of words. And no songwriter would throw away the words as incoherent as that bridge is to the seemingly simple remembrance that is the rest of the song. He meant something by it.

    Mick Leahy,
    Oh Mercy is about Religion? No, I really don’t think it is. If anything Oh Mercy is a study of negotiations to navigate this world and the subtle emotions that motivate or are called into question by those same negotiations. And Shooting Star would be an odd ball on that album, if it was purely a thematic album, but it wouldn’t be the only one. Everything is Broken would fit even less into the construct you’d build around the album.

    It starts off in a Political World, it suffers the Disease of Conceit, It would have sought Dignity but that is an outtake. It speaks as a person who knows you want something from them, What was it you wanted? It ponders the question “what good am I?” If I don’t act on some of my finest thoughts and inclinations? The Man in the long Black Coat lives by a code, I think, But He’s kind of menacing, and he knows every man’s conscious is untrustworthy, I think starting with his own. Most of the Time, he’s above hate, and some other shortcomings. Only Ring them bells supports your assessment, But it’s Rush Hour Now for the wheel and the plow, so he might be singing about something more than the sacred cow.

  5. Your interpretation Dan, is one that never crossed my brain. I sorta agree, it makes sense to me.

  6. This is an interesting analysis and I can see how one could perceive it that way. I don’t really agree with you but I don’t disagree either. What makes Bob the most powerful songwriter in any genre (in my opinion) is his layers and his ambiguity. He allows the listener to hear, interpret and interact with the words/themes, to bring themselves into a conversation with the songs.
    For me this is what is essential about Dylan’s art. His words are living, his songs are alive in that they are meaningful to us in who we are and where we are as we listen. And that is the key. In most good literature, whether it be fiction, poetry or scripture- even film- it grows with us. As we live, age, grow, our understanding of ourselves, of life and living gain layers and depths. And so when we revisit the songs, the albums we hear new things, find different understandings, gain new aha moments from a lyric, a phrase. New connections are made in the conversation with the work, it deepens, moves in new directions because we are bringing ourselves, who we are now to the “relationship.” For me that is where Dylan differs from all others, why his work is so fascinating and powerful, why he won the No el prize. He invites us into relationship.

    All that being said I enjoyed reading your insights. Maybe religion is the wrong word – I do find Oh Mercy a spiritually infused album. That album moved me into a new relationship with Bob Dylan, knowing that I am projecting my self onto him/his work.

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