Sunday, May 22, 2011

Three Angels

This week is Dylan Fest here in Duluth and Dylan Days in Hibbing. Robert Zimmerman, a.k.a. Dylan, will turn 70 on Tuesday. In addition to attending a few of the festivities I will also be posting a Dylan song on my blog each day this week, or rather, I write about a song each day and share it with you along with a various Dylan portraits I've created over the past few weeks and years.

Three Angels is a cut near the end of side two on Dylan's New Morning album released in October 1970, the fall I went off to college in Ohio. His eleventh studio album, it came on the heels of his Self Portrait album which many people considered a dud. Fans of his music excused the weaker material because, we told ourselves, he was simply fulfilling a record contract.

New Morning is a personal favorite with many very special tunes on it including the song which gave the album its title. The album has a clean sound in terms of production values. And like so many of his albums, numerous songs have been re-recorded by others artists, such as "If Not For You" (George Harrison) and "Sign On The Window" (Melanie).

Perhaps my favorite cut on the album over the years has been "Went To See The Gypsy." The chord progressions and light touch instrumental serve the song well because though it is told in an anecdotal style, the lyrics remain continuously vague. Even after many listenings one can still wonder, "What just happened?"

Dylan devotes a chapter of his autobiography to this album, or the events that were stirring in him at the time. The chapter begins, "I had just returned to Woodstock from the Midwest -- from my father's funeral" whereupon he found a letter from playwright Archibald MacLeish who wanted to collaborate with him on a project based on "The Devil and Daniel Webster" called Scratch.

The songs vary greatly in terms of style. Consider the contrast between the playful "Winterlude" and jazz/scat accentuated "If Dogs Run Free." And where does "Three Angels" fit into this conglomerate? Well, in my opinion it's right where it belongs. As John Gardner once wrote, "Detail is the lifeblood of fiction." And when it comes to detail, Dylan is the master storyteller.

Three Angels

Three angels up above the street
Each one playing a horn
Dressed in green robes with wings that stick out
They’ve been there since Christmas morn

The wildest cat from Montana passes by in a flash

Then a lady in a bright orange dress
One U-Haul trailer, a truck with no wheels

The Tenth Avenue bus going west
The dogs and pigeons fly up and they flutter around

A man with a badge skips by

Three fellas crawlin’ on their way back to work

Nobody stops to ask why

The bakery truck stops outside of that fence

Where the angels stand high on their poles

The driver peeks out, trying to find one face

In this concrete world full of souls

The angels play on their horns all day

The whole earth in progression seems to pass by

But does anyone hear the music they play

Does anyone even try?

Copyright © 1970 by Big Sky Music; renewed 1998 by Big Sky Music

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