Jakob Dylan and Spinal Tap Think I’m Evil: “Evil Is Alive And Well” & “Warmer Than Hell”
May 9, 2012 at 2:53 am, by Jonah Rank
And it’s not everyday that a folk singer sings about an evil with a pitchfork and a tail, walking “upright out of the inferno” and into “a roadside motel.”
Nonetheless, Spinal Tap’s “Warmer Than Hell” and Jakob Dylan’s “Evil Is Alive And Well” both discuss a much more worldly yet poetic take on the Devil than you might find in conservative Christian circles.
“Evil Is Alive And Well” begins with an almost classic description of the Devil:
It doesn’t always have a shape.
Almost never does it have a name.
It maybe has a pitchfork–maybe has a tail–
But evil is alive and well.
Next, Dylan describes this Devil who “might walk upright” on Earth or “may be coming horseback through deep snow.” By the end of that first verse, Dylan has revealed that the Devil may be among us–and that Devil’s presence is only increasing.
The second verse begins by equating evil with animalistic, non-human behavior (“[Evil] may have a blood-soaked bird in its teeth”). And nearing the end of the second verse, Dylan offers some clues on where the evil literally resides (“Maybe in a palace; it may be in the streets; / May be here among us on a crowded beach; / May be asleep in a roadside motel…”). Dylan has introduced us to an evil who lives wherever there are humans.
And it gets even closer. “When midnight’s done and the day won’t start,” begins the final verse, “and all I ever gave you was a broken heart. / It’s hard to admit, but it’s easy to tell / That evil is alive and well.”
The heart breaker–or even worse, a person who delivers a heart that’s already broken–is the most intimate evil we know. It’s an evil that resides–not in Hell or a motel–but within our very selves. If we are alive and we are well, then “Evil Is Alive And Well.”
In Spinal Tap’s song, the Devil rises from the underworld to discover that the Earth feels “like the fourth degree,” prompting his polite question : “Is it hot in here, / Or is it only me?”
When he catches on to this pattern of how the Earth is really hot everywhere he goes, the Devil asks, “Is this just a fluke / Or is it something big?” Seeking the truth, the Devil goes to Brighton–a formerly freezing land–only to discover that the temperature is too hot now “for his poor cloven toes.”
So, our evil protagonist (antagonist?) continues to travel. After the Devil has left London “in his chariot of flame,” the singer no longer introduces the Devil’s words with “He said” (as is done in all of the previous verses). David St. Hubbins just sings in the Devil’s voice: “Let’s say I take the credit then, / And you shall take the blame?”
Spinal Tap’s Devil becomes fully human, fully responsible for a destruction (of the environmental sort), and he will blame anyone other than himself for the mess he makes. The Devil becomes anyone who is unwilling to accept their faults.
Even though the Hebrew word Satan does appear in the Bible and in Rabbinic literature, there’s very little conversation in Judaism about “the Devil.” Jewish conversations about Satan usually understand Satan as a force in no way comparable to God’s might; the Jewish Satan is perhaps an angel who persuades God to accuse or to punish people harshly (and often wrongly), or perhaps the Jewish Satan is just an evil force, like the Yetzer Hara, “the bad inclination” found within every soul.
To that end, Spinal Tap and Jakob Dylan–who imagine the Devil walking among us and becoming us (or perhaps us becoming the Devil)–imagine something of a Devil that almost take on the form of Yetzer Hara.
For Jews, every walking creature has a Yetzer Hara–a little devilish inclination–and the only force that we can depend on for combating it is our Yetzer Hattov–the “good inclination” (also found in each of us). But, Jews know that many people are inclined not to accept the blame for the problems they know they cause. Jews know that people are inclined to be slothful and non-productive (just sitting around “on a crowded beach” or sleeping “in a roadside motel”). And Jews know that we can break each other’s hearts.
Jews know that we–already on Earth–have the capacity to fulfill some of the cruelest actions the classical Devil of the Christians could were he to come to Earth.
Jews don’t need “the Devil” in their lexicon. If Jews can talk about the Yetzer Hara, then they will have already talked about anything meaningful that the Christian devil might have brought up.
Spinal Tap and Jakob Dylan warn us the same thing. The Devil is here among us and walking around. All of our own bad inclinations and actions follow us wherever we go.
But our Yetzer Hara can be conquered by our Yetzer Hattov. We’re built just as likely to do bad things as we are to do great things.
Spinal Tap’s Devil asks: is human inadequacy a true phenomenon, or is this “just some stupid song?”
If we can motivate our hearts towards good, then maybe all of this really is silly. But otherwise, Dylan is right: evil is alive and well.
Tags: acceptance, Back From the Dead, blame, Brighton, Chariot of Flame, Christianity, Christians, credit, David St. Hubbins, Devil, Dylan, environmentalism, Evil Is Alive And Well, global climate change, global warming, Hassatan, Hell, inclination, Jakob Dylan, London, responsibility, Satan, Seeing Things, Spinal Tap, Tap, the Bible, the Devil, Underworld, United Kingdom, Warmer Than Hell, Yetzer Hara, Yetzer Hatov, Yetzer Hattov, השטן, יצר הטוב, יצר הרע, שטן