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A Rainbow In The Dark

Author: Tyler
Posted: 03 Jun 2004

Tyler and WAxl discuss the symbolism in the video for metal mastermind Dio's "Rainbow in the Dark."

Tyler: Ronnie James Dio prominently displays that he is wearing handcuffs when he sings the line "Because it's free, and I see that it's me, who is lost and never found." Immediately following, he "cries out for magic" and "feels it dancing in the night," and it's clear that he is no longer in bondage. Does Dio believe that "magic" is the key to spiritual enlightenment?

WAxl: Well, Mr. Ronnie James seems intent on communicating with us through the use of hand gestures. For example, when I saw him play live a few years back (Yngwie was the opening act!), he formed Il Cornuto with his left hand while pointing to apparently random audience members with his right every time he said the word "rock"! So let's examine his opening gambit in this video. After acting out almost every word with in the first verse with some sort of obvious hand gesture, he chooses to represent the line "magic, I feel it dancing..." with an almost dismissive fluttering of his fingers. Much the sort of gesture I would use to indicate "frou frou" or "hoity toity," were I to choose hand gestures to indicate those concepts.

Is Dio, the grandaddy of magical elf-goblin rock, in fact indicating that we should consider magic as ephemeral and passing, or is there a greater depth to this passage?

Tyler: I think one should also consider the possibility that he's trying to very literally indicate the idea that magic is something that is "performed" in order to remove any ambiguity from that line. One might otherwise believe him to mean that magic is something that simply "dances in the night" in its natural state.

(This, by the way, is the great power of rock video...allowing the performer to further embellish upon his meaning in new and powerful ways.)

WAxl: I think it actually dances in the "light." I could be wrong, though. the gospel of Dio is full of-- I'm sure-- intentional ambiguity, in order to dissuade the casual truth-seeker. But yes, I think you're seizing on an essential element of the Dio experience. How literally are we intended to interpret his symbology? For example, in cue, the video cuts to a shot of a boring businessman sitting on a bench as Dio utters the word "light," perhaps the pivotal lyric in the track. Surely this is not the sum essence of Dio's "magic"? Is he warning us against the perils of reading too closely into his somatic interpretation?

Tyler: You're right, the magic does dance in the light. Notice, though, that before the line is ever uttered, the beginning of the line silently flashes in graffiti on the wall. "I cry out for"...what? "I cry out for MAGIC." Notice the businessman shivering. Perhaps, subsequent to his failed attempt to cry out for Dio's "magic," the businessman is cold, and about to lose his hold to the shadows of the night.

So, the logical next question, what ARE Dio's night and day? Light and dark? Certainly he doesn't mean them literally, so how does he intend us to interpret each?

WAxl: An important distinction. Notice that Ronnie gestures at a midday skyscaper to indicate the shadows in the night. He is an enigma wrapped up in a paradox which is itself inside of a Rubix cube inside a puzzle box. This is not philosophy for the weak of stomach, certainly! Where then, do we turn next? We cannot count on literal interpretation any longer; we have surely entered the realm of magic. Much as the video's protagonist does, as he wanders into a Soho sex shop in search of (presumably) sexual fulfillment only to be turned away-- literally blasted out the door-- by a guitar solo ably delivered by Vivian Campbell. When we ask "what are Dio's night and day," why not also ask "what is the Soho sex shop"? and "what is the guitar solo"? Then we get back to the basic questions, like "what are the handcuffs"? and: "what are the phallic monuments"?

Is there a bottom to this endless search for meaning? Does Dio truly intend for us to drown in the incapable symbols of his own lyricism?

Tyler: I think that, at the very least, Dio's use of light and dark is important. As we can see, Dio's imagery (for example, a giant demon whipping a bound and drowning priest with a chain [1]) does not take a conventional stance regarding good vs. evil or light vs. dark. Is Dio's gesture at a skyscraper in the light of day while describing the "shadows of the night" intended to warn the viewer that he intends to invert the traditional interpretations of these words? I would say that this was probably a calculated move on his part.

WAxl: Oh, I don't doubt that it was a calculated move. This is Ronnie James we're discussing-- the chessmaster of metal. The question remains: what is the significance? You rightly call our attention to to dichotomy between light and dark. But let us not forget the paradoxical central conceit of this song: the rainbow in the dark. An absolute physical impossibility, and thereby the very negation of conventional understandings of "light" and "dark" (and, as you indicate, thereby "good" and "evil"). As Dio tells us in "Holy Diver," "some light can never be seen"-- an apparent contradiction in terms, but simultaneously an acknowledgment of a deeper and more complex reality.

If a tree falls in the forest, you see...? How do we, as humans, refer cogently to the sound created by a dog whistle? What becomes of our sophomoric distinctions between light and dark when we admit the existence of ultraviolet?

Tyler: Do you propose, then, that Dio's point in "Rainbow in the Dark" (and certainly no thinking man would doubt that he has one) is to highlight the folly in blind acceptance of traditional morality?

WAxl: Oh, but I feel we're overreaching ourselves! Likewise, I think you would agree that no thinking man would presume to entirely decipher a complex work such as "Rainbow in the Dark." And perhaps we have been misled by the slick production values of the video. Let us therefore return to the lyric itself, and consider itself in its own right. Keep your last thought in mind as we proceed. I want to take on a complex line here: "I see that it's me who is lost and never found."

The concept of a man lost implies that he lacks the agency to "find" himself, as it were; we here enter the realm of search parties, truncheons, notebooks, etc. but within this very line Mr. Dio has claimed for himself that very agency: "I see..." How can we be lost when we ourselves possess the ability to find ourselves-- unless, again, our own mortal sight is insufficient? Unless, again, we postulate a higher, truer sort of vision which is denied to us? I am interested to see where this thread leads us.

Tyler: Perhaps Dio is suggesting that while we have the ability to identify that we are lost, the ability to find ourselves in fact IS beyond us as individuals. Certainly if I've lost my shoes, I know that they are lost, whether or not it is beyond my capabilities to find them. Note the next line, which we mentioned before, "I cry out for magic." Is that what Dio believes we should turn to once we identify that we are lost? I think that may have been where you were going.

WAxl: I think you have already stepped ahead of me. Yes. "Magic." We find ourselves, in any analysis of Dio's lyrics, returning to that word. And for that, let's return to the "giant demon" you mentioned before, who is, in fact, a friendly spirit named "Murray" (as described in the "Dream Evil" tourbook [2]). Is he our guide? Or does, perhaps, Dio's relentless insistence upon paradox demand that we reject all such guides? Is magic the Ultimate Nullifier, in Marvel Comics terminology?-- a sort of credo quod absurdum for the Hessians? Do we accept magic as our guide purely because we have acknowledged that no guide could ever be sufficient?

This is, again, in reference back to your excellent analogy of the lost shoes.

Tyler: I think that to consider that question, it's critical to consider the following passage:
You're a picture - just an image caught in time
We're a lie - you and I
We're words without a rhyme

There's no sign of the morning coming
You've been left on your own
Like a Rainbow in the Dark

Note that in the video, toward the end of the second passage, Dio throws his hands up in frustration, then stalks away, apparently in disgust.

And then, of course, the jump.

Dio's placement of this particular scene is probably a little deeper than I'm prepared to handle. "We're words without a rhyme," stalk, jump, "There's no sign of the morning coming." It's as if Dio leaves one plane and arrives at another, but there appears to be no change, for good or for worse. Perhaps a commentary on the futility, or to refer back to your point, the absurdity of the human spiritual journey.

WAxl: I'm not sure I can accept, with you, the assignation of "disgust" to this scene. Frustration, perhaps. Despair, even. But Dio has never given up on us-- this we know. We have had fire, wars, AIDS, famine, rape... and Dio is still with us (having just released the Sacred Heart DVD). He is not given to disgust; he has not abandoned us. But I think you are right to grab onto the jump. And I would put to you: what of the purple boots?

Let me draw a perhaps difficult connection, here.

The color of Dio's boots, for the jump, is the same color released when Ronnie smashes his crystal ball in the video for the much-later "Rock And Roll Children." Or, let me spell it out a bit more directly: the thing which is released when Dio abandons his magical power is colored the same as the boots shown in the line "there's no sign of the morning coming..."

Or, let's back up a second.

How well do you hear the alleged "r" in that word?

There's no sign of the "mohning" coming...?

Could it be: "there's no sign of the meaning coming"?

We find ourselves, again, wrestling with these huge ambiguities.

Tyler: Well, as we know, Dio is a master at using homonyms to convey dual meanings. Perhaps he's working along those lines.

WAxl: Precisely. "There's no sign of the meaning coming." We will not, Tyler, be handed any answers. We will be threaded along; we will be offered tantalizing hints; we will be taunted with occasional moments of pure, crystalline truth. We will be blasted free from our misconceptions and human failings with a pure A power chord. We will fly free as though we were creepy businessmen on a sordid stairway.

Reason fails us here, Tyler. We are at the mercy of magic. We are rainbows in the dark.

Tyler: Ronnie James Dio is clearly more than a rock legend, he can also truly be counted amongst the great thinkers of our time. Rock on, Dio...rock on.

[1] Holy Diver album cover,
[2] The True Story of Murray,

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