Star Of Bethlehem

Album: American Stars 'N Bars (1977)
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Songfacts®:

  • "Star Of Bethlehem" is yet another song of anguish inspired by Young's discovery that his girlfriend (and mother of his child), Carrie Snodgress, had been cheating on him. This tore Young up at the time, but he came to a different perspective as he faced up to the fact that he cheated on her, too.

    Young didn't have that mature perspective in November 1974, however, when he recorded this song in the aftermath of his discovery. He explored his pain in some other songs, including "Motion Pictures" and "Danger Bird," but "Star Of Bethlehem" may be the most revelatory of them all because it finds the normally anti-religious Young expressing a religious sentiment.

    The song has Young discussing how friends, dreams, lovers, and every other worldly thing has abandoned him, and how nothing and on one seems trustworthy. So what is there to rely on?

    The answer to that
    lies nowhere in this room
  • The final verse is when Young makes an unambiguously religious appeal.

    You might wonder
    who I can turn to
    On this cold
    and chilly night of gloom
    The answer to that question
    Is nowhere in this room.

    Yet still a light is shining
    From that lamp on down the hall.
    Maybe the star of Bethlehem
    Wasn't a star at all
  • The Star of Bethlehem is important to Christianity. It appears in the Gospel of Matthew. Three magi "from the East" follow the star to find the newborn Jesus.

    The line "maybe the Star of Bethlehem wasn't a star at all" implies that the star was divine, maybe even God himself.

    They say there are no atheists in foxholes. Maybe there are no atheists in heartbreak, either.
  • The original recording of the song was released again on the Homegrown album in June 2020. The Homegrown songs, which were nearly all in some way about Snodgress, had been recorded in 1974 and 1975. Young buried the project for over 45 years because it was too personal and his feelings over losing Snodgress were still too raw.
  • Young recorded this song on December 13, 1974. That's Christmas season and the Nativity story would have been everywhere, which might be why he had the Star of Bethlehem on his mind.
  • Emmylou Harris sings backup on this song. She also sings backup on another song from Homegrown, "Try."

Comments: 4

  • Tim from OrbitDidn’t some claim that the sighting of the comet Kohoutek in December of 73 might be the Star of Bethlehem?
  • Bruce from MontrealNo, despite the gloom and the fact that "your friends and lovers can't protect you", still, "a light is shining From that lamp on down the hall".

    Maybe that is the star of Bethlehem - for each of us. We do have a future...
  • Jayna Sheats from Aptos, CaI've always taken this as the exact opposite. The "Star of Bethlehem" was obviously Jesus, not the light in the sky... This is one of the most beautiful examples of deep ambiguity in poetry that appears in modern musical lyrics. But as Robert Hunter said: "I know where my allusions came from, but I don't know where they've been."
  • Mal C from Ny NyTo whoever contributed these Song-facts, thank you!
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