It’s been a while since I wrote about poetry or songs, so let’s try that out. Have you ever listened to Dio? In general, I mean. It would help if you’d listened to “Rainbow in the Dark” or “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” but, I mean, altogether, man. I said when I first started listening to Dio that I wished I had found out about him when I was fifteen, because shit, that would have been fucking awesome. As it is, it’s still pretty fucking great.
So as with all music, the lyrics are only half the battle. The sound of Dio is pretty traditional metal, I think (I’m not a metalhead, please don’t lynch me). That is, it’s not thrashy or death metal, but it still shares enough traits with its brethren to be considered metal. Probably. Like a lot of metal in the classic tradition, it’s deeply indebted to fantasy. Dio regularly sings about dragons and ghosts and demons and shit. So that’s a plus. Also, there’s also a kind of conversation happening. It’s not conversational, per se, but the speaker is, well, speaking to a character of some kind, though the listener fills that role easily.
In “Rainbow in the Dark” we don’t really run into any direct fantasy – that is, there’s not actually anything magical. But as with We Have Always Lived in the Castle, the magical thinking directly affects the way in which words and phrases are chosen. Time and space exist as manipulable, or manipulating, elements to be dealt with, not suffered through. The title itself is of course an impossibility – rainbows require light in order to exist. So what does it mean to be like something that doesn’t exist? To be empty, or non-existent oneself, basically. The song is pretty simple, about the despair of being alone. Demons haunt the audience – and as with the usual use of the word, they are likely personal regrets, desires, or other feelings. But they are personified by more than the word – the hide, the move through and around the listener. The song creates a dark space in which the impossibilities in the song appear to be reality.
Now, “Don’t Talk to Strangers.” Shit, man. Sheeee-iiit. It is a list of magical orders, a rulebook to survive in a dangerous world by using mystical guidance.
Well. I mean, the speaker says you shouldn’t go to Heaven, but, I mean, it’s dangerous, man?
It’s reversed, obviously. The speakers is one of the demons from the previous song, taunting the listener. He goes so far as to say he’s in the listener, making him crazy (we can assume “he” because the listener isn’t supposed to look at women and, well, Dio doesn’t strike me as particularly LGBT-friendly). So, simply, everything the song says to avoid? Do it?
But what does it say to do? We should talk to strangers, look at women, and smell flowers. OK, fine, live life, be happy, sure.
Write in starlight, “cause the words may come out real?”
Hide in doorways, so you have a chance to “find the key that opens up your soul?”
What the fuck?
Well, the written word has a mystical significance for a lot of people. It really is magic if you think about it – magic is tied to writing, to grimoirs and spells (like spelling, perhaps?) and signs and sigils and chalk circles on the ground and the words of the Buddha on rice paper. You know, writing. But starlight is one of the typical magical times/places, right? Nighttime, mystical light lying around everywhere, dimness, darkness, so on. Writing in a mystical environment may allow the writing to become reality, as every good, crazy (good and crazy) writer knows.
Witches were purportedly afraid of doorways, especially main entrances, because like crossroads they are boundaries and meeting places. Vampires can’t come through doorways unless invited. The souls of these creatures balk at forcibly crossing these thresholds because they require strong souls, able to deal with many things at once, able to exist in several places at once. To hide in a doorway is to be in and out, concealed and obvious. Actually try it sometime. I’m not fucking with you, go to your fucking bedroom door and crouch down in it like you want to hide from someone. You probably won’t feel very hidden, but it will feel different from hiding in the middle of your living room. It’s an in-between place, and symbolically in-between places are where conflicts come and – therefore – answers come too.
I think I heard on a documentary that Dio’s grandma was really superstitious, so maybe that’s where he learned all this stuff, I dunno.
What’s the net effect in the songs? “Don’t Talk…” offers sage advice from your least favorite devil, advice you’d be smart to digest – and then do everything wrong. “Rainbow…” conceptualizes the space that the demon traps one in, a space impossible to escape from – if one listens to the demon. Following the “anti-rules” of the demon escapes the darkness. The rainbow is not just a simple impossibility, but a transformative emblem of what can be if only the listener reads between the lines and looks for change and power, rather than repetition and safety. It’s safe as anything in the dark room the demon describes, but it is, well, everything else, too.