Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Surfing with Dio

If you dare:

Since this is the most unspeakably awesome song in the history of mankind--well, in the history of Babylon songs--well, I'm not sure it beats the Pajama Party, but anyway, it's Really Good--I've no idea why we haven't covered it yet. Basically, our industrious friend RJ Dio is the devil and Babylon is hell. How do I know? At the end of the song, he proclaims "The devil is me/ And I'm holding the key/ To the gates of sweet hell/ Babylon."

I normally hate it when singers spell out things that are better left implicit in their texts. You know, at the end of "Missing You," when John Waite cries out "I been lying to myself!"? I want to slap him. Or when, in "King of Pain," the Police backup singers (the Deputies?) sing "That's my soul up there" after every line? I want to, um, freeze them in a waterfall like dead salmon. No, not threatening enough? Well fine, I want to stick them in a room with this demented DIO SATAN who will BIND them, SELL THEM AS SLAVES, REMOVE THEIR VEILS WITH A SABER DANCE, and then DRAG THEM AWAY TO BABYLON, all while making the whole excursion sound appealing. This is the deranged eternal punishment I wish upon the Police, and upon any other singer that doesn't trust the subtlety of their material.

Except I don't mind it so much with RJ, because his song is the mother of everything that rocks the bells. Both in this solo live version I've been listening to, and in the Rainbow original above, he rides what's almost a funk groove, based on a harmonic minor melody over what I think is a Phrygian (=Stygian?) riff, with a flat second. So the harmonies sound vaguely Middle Eastern, and you can TOTALLY envision a diabolical seven-veiled dance going down with heads on platters, plus he mentions a genie and a magic carpet ride, which was probably more sinister in the days before the Disney "Aladdin." And I don't care what anyone sez, Dio's a great singer. Sui generis, oui?

He presents a Faustian, Crossroads-style bargain for the listener. "Look away from the sea," he woos, "I can take you anywhere/ Spend a vision with me/ A chase with the wind." Sounds appealing! Sounds a little like a Chicago song. But then, once you've moved closer to him and seen the Gates of Babylon, all turns sour. "The power of what has been before/ Rises to trap you within." Oh crap! "A magic carpet ride, a genie, maybe more/ A city of heavenly sin." What have I done?!? Well, here's what you've done, in hard insistent triplet syllables: "Sleep with the devil and then you must pay...." (guitar chords buildingggg.....) "Sleep with the devil the devil will take you aWAY!" That, my friends, is badass.

Verse two opens with the demonic couplet, "You can see but you're blind/ Someone turned the sun around." Stop and ponder that line for a moment. Have you ever considered such awesome power? ("Someone"--how coy!) Awesome not just because this power is able to turn the sun around, but also because doing so obliterates all we know about astrophysics. Why would turning the sun around make you blind? It would throw the earth off its orbit, sure, and probably kill all living things, but is the other side of the sun that much brighter than the one we're used to? But see, we're no longer on earth, necessarily--we're out now on some cosmic magic carpet ride, with a man who has just revealed himself to be the devil, and our whereabouts hover between the earth we know and the cosmos of sun, city of heavenly sin, and hell. No moorings, no bearings, but dangerously close to Babylon.

Dio doesn't need subtlety here because he starts off so temptingly. When he sings his Chicago verse and then draws out the line "mooooove closer to me," it's hard to resist. But once he pulls off the Dio mask to reveal the devil inside (albeit one who probably doesn't look a whole lot different), his theft of your soul becomes blatant, and he cackles his delight. And let's face it, if you're cackling your delight over a soul you just won and a terrified little head that'll wind up on a platter, you don't need subtlety. You can just come right out and reveal that you're the devil, this is hell, you've greedily devoured John Waite AND the Police, and who's gonna do anything about it?

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