Ride the Tiger: JFK and Heavy Metal


On January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy gave his inaugural address after being elected President of the United States of America. It was a stirring speech. I actually have it and many others on an old vinyl record at home. Listening to it one day, a passage from that particular speech struck me. Kennedy said: ‘and to remember that in the past, those who foolishly sought power, by riding the back of the tiger, ended up inside.’ I found this particularly interesting; because it was the same ‘ride the tiger’ reference that I’d heard in one of my favourite Heavy Metal songs by Ronnie James Dio called ‘Holy Diver’, off of the album of the same name.

In the song, Dio mixes his metaphors and says ‘…ride the tiger, you can see his stripes, but you know he’s clean, oh, don’t you see what I mean’. Later he seems to contradict himself by saying, ‘…ride the tiger, you can feel his heart but you know he’s mean, some light can never be seen.’

I found this to be very curious that an assassinated former US President and a 1980s Italian-American Heavy Metal singer should be alluding to the same metaphor, so I looked it up on the internet. Turns out that ‘Ride the Tiger’, was the title of a book by an Italian philosopher by the name of Julius Evola, which came out, as it turns out, in 1961, the year of JFK’s inauguration.

In the book, the author argues that humanity has become completely corrupted, but if we are able to ‘ride the tiger’, so to speak, and ride out our passage through the tumult of this crazy and corrupt world that we live in, as though we were hanging onto the back of a tiger, we can somehow achieve some sort of spiritual redemption or purification by holding on for dear life.

However, both Kennedy and Dio argue differently. Kennedy argues that if you seek power by riding the tiger, that is to say, by going along with the world and its corruptness, you end up ‘inside’, or devoured by the tiger. Dio argues the same thing. First he says that the tiger is ‘clean’, meaning it is a creature of nature, but later adds that its ‘heart is mean’, meaning, as we say, ‘a tiger does not change its stripes’. It remains a wild beast which will devour you to survive if it has to.

So to it is with those who seek temporal power in our day and age. Do they try and let themselves be dragged headlong through the jungle of life by the tiger of corporate greed, lust, etc.. or do they seek the higher ideals, trying to discern the will of God for themselves and the power to carry it out on a daily basis?

Unfortunately, Mr. Kennedy is no longer with us to reveal whether or not he followed his own advice. It would seem that he too got devoured by the tiger, either through a tragic twist of fate, or through his own making. Probably a bit of both.

Maybe Ronnie James Dio should run for political office? I doubt it, though. He’s too busy counting his millions.

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One comment on “Ride the Tiger: JFK and Heavy Metal
  1. This is awesome! You need to write more of this sort of madness. Can you figure out a way to link Teddy Roosevelt to Cannibal Corpse?


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