The image above is a cool depiction of “heaven’s door,” a mystical concept that has provided hope for the living and breathing. The concept is simple. This heavenly door is the zenith of Christianity, a gated passageway into the high heavens and cloud nine and the land adorned with all the awesome stuff you ever want, supposing you repent and have a friend in Jesus (according to Norman Greenbaum). But if you are not “good” you are not given the entrance code and you are forever stuck envying those who punched in the correct digits and are now lounging and eating buffalo wings with Babe Ruth and Abraham Lincoln (who I’m sure would have a lot to talk about).
“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” is not really about heaven. It was written by Bob Dylan for the movie “Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid” and profiles an effete deputy who is dying. The song is more about ineptitude and old age. It is a melancholic masterpiece. Dylan presents something that is both melodic and austere. The simplicity of the chord structure mixed with the repetitive lyric provides a framework for all lachrymose and crestfallen pieces.
In 1987, the prototypical hair metal band decided they would start using it in their live sets. The song was then poisoned by the melodramatic, hyperbolic fingers of Axl Rose and a song loved for its downtrodden seriousness became the toy of unnecessary and cocky bedizenment. Guns & Roses destroyed a perfectly good song. Rose’s horrendous voice is so drawn out and fake it kills the song’s wonderment. “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” is somber. Guns & Roses’ version is an arena rock hugger-mugger that is vomit inducing. Everything from Slash’s screeching guitar to Rose’s awful voice turns the song into a showy piece of garbage. And, do you know what’s worse? People actually like it, no, love it. They think that it is the better version. Some don’t even know that it was originally recorded by Bob Dylan. Maybe it simply signifies a change in people. Seriousness in music is simply not appreciated.
Do you want to hear a good cover. Listen to Warren Zevon’s beautiful version off of his last album The Wind. That version is the model of verisimilitude. Zevon was dying when he recorded the piece and he knew its meaning.