Beck sings some unique and bizarre lyrics - a bevy of grotesque, Beat poetic images like "discount orgies," "bleeding noses," "garbage man trees," and "stealing kisses from the leprous faces" are relatively off-putting. Beck uses them to evoke a feeling, a sense of disorientation, "A devil's haircut in my mind," the blues.
In true blues fashion, the song is open to many interpretations. How do you define "The Blues?" Its definition seems to vary for listeners and artists. Beck noticed this "vague" quality himself. When asked, he's offered up numerous possible interpretations (from the silly, to the obscure, to the possible). Beck even made fun of it during his appearance on the TV show Futurama, with the line, "What was that song about?"
At the core, the song is about a feeling, and how the listener relates to it is pretty wide open. It's a song each listener can step into, and live in, and feel in their own way. There do seem to be a number of references to travel or touring, and it has been reported that the song was written just after Beck finished the difficult Lollapalooza tour, which had given him a few months break during the recording of Odelay. "Coming to town with the briefcase blues" and "rock and roll, know what I'm saying?" give the song a bit of a rock star, autobiographical touch.
One intriguing comment from Beck was that the song was a rewriting of the famous "Stagolee" blues myth: "I don't know if I ever HAD any youthful purity, but I can understand that you might be tempted to make commercial s--t and compromise to do it. I try not to compromise on anything. I think we associate becoming an adult with compromise. Maybe that's what the devil is. In 'Devils Haircut' that was the scenario. I imagined Stagger Lee... I thought, what if this guy showed up now in 1996. The song had this '60s grooviness, and I thought of using him as a Rumplestiltskin figure, this Lazarus figure to comment on where we've ended up as people. What would he make of materialism and greed and ideals of beauty and perfection? His reaction would be, 'Whoa, this is disturbing s--t.'"
Beck explained the song further as being "A really simplistic metaphor for the evil of vanity." But of course right after he said that in the same interview, he said the song wasn't planned out at all: "I thought 'Devils Haircut' was a really bad lyric. If I can't finish a song, I'll just put in something temporary. That's what 'Loser' was. Then the temporary one always becomes the best one, because it wasn't all thought out." So go figure.
James - San Antonio, TX, for all above
The main riff for this song is from "I Can Only Give You Everything" by Them, a Belfast R&B band led by a young Van Morrison in 1965. Julian Cope also used the riff for his song "Reynard The Fox" in 1984. "I Can Only Give You Everything" was covered by a number of garage bands- it was MC5's first single and The Troggs recorded a version which was featured on one of their EPs.
Sandy - London, England
In the cartoon series Futurama
, Bender and Beck are talking about this song, and Beck eventually questions what he was talking about when he wrote it.
Jason - Oceanside, NY
Beck recorded part of Odelay before going on the 1995 Lollapalooza tour, and the rest, including this track, after returning. He told Rolling Stone magazine (February 21, 2008): "Everything we did before was very complex - we would spend weeks on each track. When I came back, we did a bunch of songs really quick in two weeks. We did 'Devil's Haircut' and 'New Pollution' back to back in two days.'
Mark Romanek directed the video, which was inspired by the films The 400 Blows and Midnight Cowboy. The 400 Blows is a French film from 1959 directed by François Truffaut. It used a technique where the scene freezes and the camera zooms in, which Romanek emulated in "Devil's Haircut."
The scenes where Beck is walking the streets with a cowboy hat and a radio are based on Jon Voight's character in Midnight Cowboy (1969). Romanek says that in recreating the famous "I'm walkin' here" scene from the film, Beck really was hit by the car and hurt his leg.
Mike Simpson, half of the Dust Brothers production duo who produced the Odelay
album, explained that the sampled guitar riff is technically not a sample. He told MusicRadar
: "It's Beck playing. Basically we'd sit and listen to records and Beck would go, 'Oh I really love the guitar sound on that song,' and he'd start playing it.
Beck had this broken 20W amp and we plugged it in and moved the mic around, and ran it through one of our little distortion pedals until we got the sound we were looking for. Then we'd record him playing. We had a pretty primitive recording setup back then."