I came very late to Ronnie James Dio. I don’t really know how that happened. I was in the right place pretty much when I was sixteen: devouring the fantasy-laden lyrics of Led Zeppelin, re-reading Lord of the Rings twice a year; and hungry for more of it all. I read the Wheel of Time books, for goodness’s sake! And yet, I never heard Dio’s music until I was in grad school. I believe, at the time, I said something like “this is sad, because I know I would have loved this even more when I was a teenager.” But I love it now anyway. Let’s do a nice tarot reading of Dio’s first solo album, Holy Diver
I’ve written about Dio before, specifically “Don’t Talk to Strangers” and “Rainbow in the Dark.” So that will be familiar territory. But I think, at this moment, there are still songs on this album I haven’t listened to. That’s part of why I want to do this one right now — I want to get through the whole album as a single piece.
As always, my procedure works this way: I’ll write my first impressions of the piece. When you see the tarot card, that means I’ve flipped it over. I actually don’t know what’s coming during these posts until I am midway through them.
Stand Up and Shout
This is the first song on the album, and it’s consciously a rally cry. It speaks straight to the audience, as I think a lot of songs on this album do. It’s about repression and being tied down, and the call to rise up and tear down those restrictions. The song doesn’t say what the restrictions are, of course; what kind of cry to action would it be if it only worked in one situation?
Three of Swords
The three of swords is about past pain. The classic image of three swords piercing a bleeding or weeping heart continues here, with the stormy weather behind setting a mood as well. The positive aspect of this card is about strength and resilience: it demonstrates an ability to survive the damage that the world throws at all of us. It can even mean an ability to turn that pain into something useful. The weeping heart is an alchemical symbol originally, one that points to the alchemical transformation itself. The heart is the philosopher’s stone, or the thing just before it. The blood or tears are the potion or draught; think of drinking from the holy grail. It’s that kind of liquid.
The song is definitely about suffering and breaking free of it. I think the card reminds us that the song is about past pain. The things that tie the listener down aren’t discussed specifically because the song means everything. Free yourself from bondage of any kind. Use your voice, cry out, sing. You’re always able to.
Title track time! I know this song already! I’m pretty sure I’ve read before that the “tiger” is a dangerous drug, maybe heroin? So the song is an entry in that longstanding tradition of writing about drugs by writing about something else.
However, the song really adds in lots of mood to make the whole experience into something else. The wheel appears from the previous song, as life itself, never ending. The audience is now a diver who spends time in the depths, which I figure is about being in our own heads, in the deep parts of ourselves.
Yeah, seriously. The traditional figures on the corners of the Wheel of Fortune depict the animal forms of the Gospel writers in Christian myth. The wheel itself is life, turning without end. The card usually means, at its simplest, that we should take things as they come. All out attempts to climb will be foiled eventually, as our spot on the wheel turns downward again.
This song, then, is about accepting what we can’t change. If we’re the “sole survivor,” then others have gone before us. I’d say that means we’re alone on this strange journey the song takes us on. We’ll see as we go through the album that the journey is a recurring image. Life is a journey — but this song reminds us that it’s a cyclical journey. The diver comes up for air, after all. Maybe they don’t do that often enough, considering the lyrics, but they still do it sometimes.
I know a few of the songs on this album are about drug use, and I have to wonder if this is one. It tells a story about giving in to a temptation the speaker knows is a bad idea, but sometimes we need things like that in our lives. I cannot get over how good this line is: “you got a choice / The hammer or the nail.” Looking at the song on its surface level, about a dangerous woman who’s too tempting to avoid, things work about the same way. In both cases the song says that we all know these things are bad ideas, but something in us needs those things sometimes anyway. If we live our lives guarding against every temptation, we forget to live at all.
Eight of Cups
The line “I was on the free / just me or me” is also very good. And this card reminds me of that line. The card depicts a figure turning away from a stack of cups. Behind the figure is a cloudy sky and a beautiful storybook tree line. The figure is moving between them, going to neither. The line effect in the physical card makes the sky glow with light while the cups at the bottom are dark. Either way, the figure is dark and links the sky and the ground. This card is often about the strength to turn away from something and give up. The narrative usually goes this way: the cups were difficult to get together, and show a lot of effort. But the figure turns away anyway. It’s the opposite of the sunk-cost fallacy.
That certainly makes a kind of sense with the song, though it glories in giving in to that temptation and turning away from nothing. But the speaker turned away from the path he was taking for this beautiful, dangerous thing that’s already given him pain as well as pleasure. I think the song implies that the speaker can quit whenever he wants to… but that’s what a lot of people say.
That’s about enough for now. Come back next time for more metal!