Fire Flew From His Fingertips — Another CDB Exegesis


In the arena of contemporary music, a lot of fluff exists.

Let’s face it, there are a lot of songs recorded in the last 75 or so years that serve no purpose beyond mindless entertainment.

But then, there are the songs with depth, the songs that mean something, the songs that beg to be analyzed and discussed.

Songs like “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.”

I would hope you’re familiar with this American classic. But, if you’re not, you should be. Take this moment to listen to the video below. I’ll wait.

OK, welcome back. Don’t you feel better now?

I’ve read any number of good analyses of the song, like this post looking at the silliness of the bet and disputing the outcome. Or this one that, at greater length, reviews the performances of the two competitors, and also concludes that the devil won.

I’ve dipped my toe into those waters before myself, in a post in which I argued that the golden fiddle was just a loss leader to win more souls.

But I had the song stuck in my head the other day, and had a different thought.

Maybe the point wasn’t really about the bet at all. Maybe the song is really all about artisanship, about integrity.

Because it’s true — it’s hard to make a case that Johnny’s overall performance was indisputably that much better than the devil’s. I mean, really, enough that THE DEVIL, lord of evil, would just say, without contest, without any other judge, that Johnny had won? It’s hard to buy.

Maybe the devil was just his own harshest critic. He clearly took his fiddle playing seriously and was proud of his skill. Maybe, in that contest, he realized he wasn’t where he wanted to be with his playing. Maybe he’d gotten complacent. The overall performance was great, to be sure, but maybe Satan realized he’d become too dependent on his band of demons. No doubt they were a great combo at hell banquets, but the contest was supposed to be purely about the one-on-one fiddle playing, and the devil’s calling in his session musicians. That’s fine if it’s about the musical end result, but if it’s supposed to be about pure fiddle-playing virtuoso skills, it’s crap.

Maybe the devil gave Johnny the golden fiddle because he was disappointed in himself. I hope that after the song ended, the devil went back to hell, rosined up his bow, and started practicing again, playing purely for the love of the instrument, getting his skills back where he knew they should be.

And, after all, after that, you never hear about anyone else beating the devil in a fiddle contest.*


*Ignoring the, to me, non-canonical “The Devil Comes Back To Georgia,” which doesn’t really say what happened in the end anyway. The video is kind of awesome, though.

3 Responses

  1. Ah, but you have to take into consideration the fact that the devil likes to play the long game. Sure Johnny claimed the golden fiddle but, as anyone who grew up in Mississippi knows, it’s the blues, not country, that’s the devil’s forte.

    So, a decade or so later, you have the devil’s surrogate Steve Via being bested in a Mississippi juke joint by Ralph Macchio in yet another musical face-off where the outcome was purely subjective. This was the devil’s finest hour.

    The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that it was a good idea to watch a movie starring Ralph Macchio.

  2. “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that it was a good idea to watch a movie starring Ralph Macchio … that doesn’t include the phrase ‘sweep the leg!’”

  3. Stay golden, jgurner.

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