The Devil Never Sleeps
Iron and Wine’s “The Devil Never Sleeps”, debuted on the album The Shepherd’s Dog in 2007. Sam Beam, the vocalist and founder of the band, wrote the song in response to the political issues of the day, but particularly the Iraq War, due to the apprehensive state of the country. “The Devil Never Sleeps,” starts off with the vocalist singing the lines, “Dreaming again of a train track ending at the edge of the sea / Big black cloud was low and rolling our way,” these lines establish the setting of the song and are indicative of something damaging coming their (the narrator and his companions) way. Incidentally, the impending force of negativity is also depicted through a “chicken at a chopping block,” and a child betting a dollar that the narrator’s father won’t come home from war Beam uses these examples to represent the war that is taking away people’s lives, and the increasing lack of compassion for others and their situations. The singer suggests that these bad happenings are derivative of the devil, as noted by the title, and his constant wrongdoings to people on earth; since the “devil never sleeps,” there is always evil lurking about.
The fact that the narrator and his companions have buzz cuts is suggestive that they are in the military, and the sound of a “switchblade shining in the summer rain” verifies their identities as soldiers. “No one on the corner had a quarter for the telephone” is referencing people’s unwillingness to help one another, as a quarter is a meager amount of money. When people are in need of the minutest thing, society cannot even contribute this small sum to aid those who surround them. The next line, “Everybody bitching, there’s nothing on the radio,” enforces the collective tendency of not seeing the bigger picture. This triviality also draws on the lack of attention to actual problems that exist in the world (like the war in Iraq); instead, individual’s focus on paltry issues in life such as there being nothing on the radio. Through these metaphors, the songwriter conveys that even soldiers, individuals who are directly involved in the war, are guilty of concentrating on the shallow problems in life. “No one lives forever and the devil never sleeps alone / Everybody bitching, there’s nothing on the radio” are the last lines of the song. The temporal aspect of our lives as humans is planted, and the proposal of the devil never sleeping alone attests the idea that malevolence will always be present and evil, as seen in war, persists. This is why Beam emphasizes the need for people to be aware of the world and the individuals in it. The song carries the message that if we can all help one another we can take on the bad things that happen in life and overcome this devil figure that never sleeps alone so that he (metaphorically) never has company.