A couple of years back I come across a great and wasted friend of mine in the hallway of a recording studio. And while he was reciting some poetry to me that he had written, I saw that he was about a step away from dying, and I couldn't help but wonder why. And the lines of this song occurred to me. I'm happy to say he's no longer wasted, and he's got him a good woman. And I'd like to dedicate this to John and June, who helped showed me how to beat the devil.

It was wintertime in Nashville
Down on Music City Row
And I was looking for a place
And to get myself out of the cold
To warm the frozen feeling that was eating at my soul
Keep the chilly wind off my guitar
My thirsty wanted whiskey
But my hunger needed beans
But it had been a month of paydays
Since I'd heard that eagle scream
So with a stomach full of empty
And a pocket full of dreams
I left my pride and stepped inside a bar
Actually I'd guess you'd call it a tavern
Cigarette smoke to the ceiling
And sawdust on the floor
Friendly shadows
I saw that there was just one old man sitting at the bar
And in the mirror I could see him checking me and my guitar
And he turned and said,
Come up here, boy, and show us what you are
I said I'm dry, and he bought me a beer
He nodded at my guitar and said,
It's a tough life, ain't it?
I just looked at him
He said, you ain't making any money, are you?
I said, you been reading my mail
He just smiled and said, let me see that guitar
I got something you ought to hear
And then he laid it on me

If you waste your time a talking
To the people who don't listen
To the things that you are saying
Who do you thinks gonna hear?
And if you should die explaining how
The things that they complain about
Are things they could be changing
Who do you thinks gonna care?
There were other lonely singers
In a world turned deaf and blind
Who were crucified for what they tried to show
And their voices have been scattered by the swirling winds of time
‘Cause the truth remains that no one wants to know

Well the old man was a stranger
But I'd heard his song before
Back when failure had me locked out
On the wrong side of the door
When no one stood behind me
But my shadow on the floor
And lonesome was more than a state of mind
You see, the devil haunts a hungry man
If you don't want to join him
You gotta beat him
I ain't saying I beat the devil
But I drank his beer for nothing
Then I stole his song

And you still can hear me singing
To the people who don't listen
To the things that I am saying
Praying someone's gonna hear
And I guess I'll die explaining how
The things that they complain about
Are things they could be changing
Hoping someone's gonna care
I was born a lonely singer
And I'm bound to die the same
But I've gotta feed the hunger in my soul
And if I never have a nickel
I won't ever die ashamed
‘Cause I don't believe that no one wants to know


Lyrics submitted by reflect4ever

To Beat the Devil Lyrics as written by Kristoffer Kristofferson

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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To Beat The Devil song meanings
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7 Comments

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  • +1
    General Comment

    Yeah - on my version, before he starts the song, he has a little introduction

    • 'Couple of years back, I came across a great and wasted friend of mine in the hallway of a recording studio, and while he was reciting some poetry to me that he'd written, I saw he was about a step away from dying, and I couldn't help and wonder why. And the lines of this song occured to me. I'm happy to say he's no longer wasted and he's got him a good woman. I'd like to dedicate this to John and June [Cash] who helped show me how to beat the devil...'
    dongiovannion August 06, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    This is based on a true meeting of KK and Johnny Cash. I have watched the interview with both of them. Thats what makes this such a special song.

    adzx73on March 22, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    Yeah - on my version, before he starts the song, he has a little introduction

    • 'Couple of years back, I came across a great and wasted friend of mine in the hallway of a recording studio, and while he was reciting some poetry to me that he'd written, I saw he was about a step away from dying, and I couldn't help and wonder why. And the lines of this song occured to me. I'm happy to say he's no longer wasted and he's got him a good woman. I'd like to dedicate this to John and June [Cash] who helped show me how to beat the devil...'
    dongiovannion August 06, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    This part of the lyrics are wrong:

    "My thirsty wanted whiskey My hungry needed beans, But it’d been a month of paydays Since I’d earned the equal scene"

    It should read:

    "My thirsty wanted whiskey My hungry needed beans, But it’d been a month of paydays Since I’d heard that eagle scream"

    The screaming eagle is a poetic reference to the eagle on the back of a dollar bill, so it's a fancy way of saying that he's too poor to buy either. "Since I'd earned the equal scene" means absolutely nothing at all.

    jadiuson June 20, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    6th line should be soul not bones

    kdanceon July 24, 2010   Link
  • 0
    My Interpretation

    Great lesson, don't let the devil squash your dreams. Kris had become quite poor after a series of life events. A voice like his make it in the music business? The devil certainly didn't beat him.

    a1anorthon January 29, 2013   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    Such a masterpiece. For me, this song speaks about "every-day" struggle of a musician, in this case a folky, singer-songwriter. I am trying to make something in that domain so everything in this song looks real and familiar. \n\nHere are some points of how I understood / got the whole song:\n\n1. Choose your battles - meaning you need to find your audience that actually wants to hear what you wanna say, otherwise you will scatter your talent around the place and end up disappointed.\n\n2. No matter how much you want to make it, remember to leave one part of that "I don\'t give a fuck" attitude because, remember, the Devil hunts a hungry man! And If you let yourself being hunted by him, wanting this success of yours by all means, you will find yourself sliding down that vicious rabbit hole.

    wheelofsunon March 25, 2022   Link

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