Bob Dylan On the Devil

Bob Dylan2Well, once again I decided to listen to one of Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour shows. This time his topic was the devil.

The show begins with stirring music that sounds like an enormous storm is moving in, and then Bob says, “This is Theme Time Radio Hour and there’s hell to pay.” He then launches into a reading of a little section of John Milton’s, Paradise Lost.

“Him, the almighty power,

Hurled headlong, flaming through the etherial sky,

With hideous ruin and combustible, down.

To bottomless perdition, there to dwell

In adamantine chains and penal fire,

Who durst defy the Omnipotent to arms.”

Soon after this, Bob introduces his first song:

Crossroad_Blues_ROBERT_JOHNSON“We’re going to start things off with Robert Johnson, a man who they say knew a little bit about the Prince of Darkness. According to legend, Robert Johnson made a deal with the devil at the crossroad of highway 61 and Highway 41 in Clarksdale, Mississippi. He traded his soul. That’s what they say. This is his song, ‘Me and The Devil Blues.'”

Playing a twangy guitar, Johnson begins, “Early this morning, me and the devil been walking side by side.” The song goes on from here to tell us about a guy thinking of beating his wife for not doin’ him right. Meanwhile, she can’t believe he’d do something like that, so she ends up blaming “that old evil spirit, so deep down in the ground.”

What Does the Devil Have to Do with this Blog?

Now, let’s press the pause button for a few seconds here before continuing on with Bob’s show because I think I hear someone off in the distance calling out, “What the devil does the devil have to do with this blog’s topic of “From Insults to Respect: A Guide to Anger and Conflict Resolution.” Well, that’s a fair question. conflict triangle 2According to the “DIG Conflict Model” that we have been using to help us understand the nature of conflict, a conflict occurs when you have a desire, you perceive that some person is likely to interfere with your desire, and you believe that the person who will interfere, will be guilty of doing something wrong. Notice that if we put together the first letter of each of the key words, “desire,” “interfere,” and “guilty,” it spells “DIG,” hence the reason for the title of this conflict model.  When we wish to describe a conflict, for a variety of reasons discussed in earlier posts, it helps to first describe the desire, then what is interfering with the desire, and what the person interfering with the desire is guilty of doing wrong.

crossroadsIn Robert Johnson’s song, “Me and The Devil Blues” there’s this guy who has the desire to beat his wife. Perhaps he has an intrapersonal conflict with himself about this, because although he finds that he has a desire to beat her, interfering with this desire is another desire not to be a violent person particularly against a woman whom he married and is the mother of his children. At this crossroad he may feel that if he does beat his wife he would be guilty of doing something wrong. If this is indeed his conflict, he may think the devil is tempting him to turn the wrong way. Or he may have a passing thought that he’s the devil for even thinking of beating his wife, calling himself this name to insult himself because he believes he deserves some type of punishment for even thinking about doing such an unmanly act.

conflict abstractThe man in the song might also have a conflict with his wife, who apparently did something, or is planning to do something against some desire he has, and he has decided she is guilty of being wrong for this. He may therefore say that it is the devil in her that is leading her to act in a manner he perceives as wrong. Or he may call her a devil for this.

In the meantime, his wife, finding out that he is tempted to beat her, might blame the devil for leading her man astray. Or, she might think he is the devil. Or she may just call him the devil to insult him as punishment for thinking of harming her.

And so, I think you can see, the topic of the devil does pop up from time to time during conflicts. So, I thought it might be helpful if we took a little time today to have a little literary meditation on this devilish notion as it tends to spring up during conflicts.

Back to Bob’s Show

After the Robert Johnson song, Bob plays us “Satan is Real” by the Louvin Brothers. The singer seeks to convince us of the existence of the evil one with the following story:

Louvin_-_Satan_Is_Real001_300“I know that Satan is real, for once I had a happy home;
I was loved and respected by my family, I was looked upon as a leader in my community,
And then, Satan came into my life.
I grew selfish and un-neighborly; my friends turned against me,
And finally, my home was broken apart; my children took their paths into a world of sin.”

I know that some might think this man would be better off taking responsibility for the life path he took, but he prefers to blame it all on Satan. I wonder if his approach helps him to gain respect for himself and from others.

A little later in the show, we hear the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil,” Elvis Presley’s “Devil in Disguise,” and Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys’s “The Devil Ain’t Lazy.” Then Bob tells us:

“It says in first Peter, Chapter 5, verse 8, ‘Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary is a roaring lion that walketh about seeking whom he may devour.’ Or, as they also say, ‘Idle hands are the devil’s playground.'”

Among the acts that get blamed on the devil in the next few songs Bob plays on his show are, telling dirty lies, vanity, leaving a lover after making a commitment, not heeding the drunkard’s call, loving you when I should hate you, and strutting with a blue dress, high heel shoes, and an alligator purse.

At one point, Bob provides us a couple of relevant quotes by a couple of famous people:

“Oscar Wilde once said, ‘We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell.’ Otis Span said, ‘the devil could be anything from soups to nuts.”

Tom Waits

Tom Waits

The last song played on this show is Tom Waits’s “Way Down in the Hole,” which Bob says is “Low on schmaltz and a real show-stopper, not pullin’ any punches.” Here’s some of its lyrics:

don’t pay heed to temptation
for his hands are so cold
you gotta help me keep the devil
way down in the hole

Bob closes his show with these words:

“Now it’s time to climb out of the hole with the devil and shut the door on another Theme Time Radio Hour. We’re gonna leave you now with the words of George Harrison who said, ‘Gossip is the devil’s radio.’ I don’t know about that, but I hope Theme Time Radio Hour is your radio. We’ll see you next week as sure as hell.”


Well that’s my post for today. Until next time, I hope you spend some time thinking about what it means to have conflicting desires; why we, and others, sometimes act in ways that interfere with values many of us hold dear; and, when we do such acts, is it wiser to take responsibility for our own actions or to blame it on the devil? And while you go about this, I also hope you take some time to appreciate the beauty of this autumn season. Out here in the Finger Lakes Region of New York, Mother Nature has been doing some pretty wonderful things with her paintbrush. How about in your neck of the woods?

Hoping to see you back here on “From Insults to Respect” real soon.

My Best,


Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.

Einstein and the Nature of Blame, Guilt, Responsibility, and Respect
On Slamming Insubordinate Student Down

About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.

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