What is Beck’s Devil’s Haircut about?
Not even Beck seems to be sure. According to Songfacts, Beck has offered up several different interpretations. He’s said that the song was an updated version of the American folk song, Stagger Lee:
“I don’t know if I ever HAD any youthful purity, but I can understand that you might be tempted to make commercial shit 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 shit.'”
He’s also said that the song is simply about the evil of vanity (literally a devil’s haircut) or a song about being on tour (hence, the briefcase blues). Beck has also said that, while writing the song, he thought that “Devil’s 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.”
As for the video, director Mark Romanek claims that it was inspired by both Midnight Cowboy and The 400 Blows. Beck, wandering through New York City with his cowboy hat and his radio, was meant to be a modern-day Joe Buck while the freeze frames were inspired by the end of Truffaut’s portrait of alienated youth.
Two of the videos most memorable moments were accidental. When the car nearly runs over Beck, it is meant to recall the “I’m walking here!” scene from Midnight Cowboy but the car’s driver didn’t hit the brakes soon enough and Beck was actually hit by the car and injured his leg as a result. The other unplanned scene was when the pigeons took flight just as Beck approached them.
The video for Devil’s Haircut would go on to win two MTV Music Video Awards, one for Best Editing and one for Best Male Video.