Three Angels

The three angels are described as having been playing horns above the street since Christmas. The suggestion is, perhaps, that they are continuing witnesses to the birth of Jesus. The third line suggests they are unreal since they have wings ‘that stick out’. We’re told later that they’re standing on poles, and this adds to the idea that they’re not real angels. The poles support them in a way that the artificial wings cannot.

From the fifth line there is a succession of surreal happenings. If, as is implied by the reference to Tenth Avenue, the setting is New York, there would in reality be no wildcat from Montana. Since we’re told it ‘passes by’, making its movement sound calm,  the claim that it does so ‘in a flash’ is contradictory. Trucks cannot operate with ‘no wheels’ and Tenth Avenue buses can’t  be ‘going west’ since that thoroughfare is aligned north-south. There are flying dogs in contradiction to reality, just as there are pole-borne angels in contradiction to reality, a man skipping, and ‘fellas’ crawling to work.

The list of surreal happenings ends with the comment ‘Nobody stops to ask why’. Clearly if these things were really experienced, as they are in the surreal world of the song, that would not be the case.  There’d be amazement and consternation. The angels are surreal in that real angels wouldn’t stand on poles or have artificial wings. In the song nobody takes any notice of them either. The point seems to be that we only stop to inquire into what’s going on when it strikes us as strange or unusual. That’s why our reaction to the surreal events would be so markedly different from that of the people in the surreal world of the song.

But if the people in the song really have as good reason to question how surreal events can be occurring as we do (as is implied by the narrator’s comment that nobody stops to ask why),  so we should have good reason for inquiring into the events of our world. Our not being inquisitive in real life is as absurd as the people in the song not being inquisitive about what’s going on in their world. What goes on in real life is every bit as worthy of attention  as the surreal events of the song. Familiarity may not make us attend to what underlies our existence, but it’s still ludicrous not to attend to it, just as in the surreal world of the song familiarity absurdly makes the people not attend to it. The point would seem to be that we need, in our world, to appreciate the reality of the angels and the significance of their Christian message.

There’s the appearance of a contradiction just over half way through the song. We’re told ‘Nobody stops’ to ask about the surreal goings on, and then immediately that ‘The bakery truck stops…’ this perhaps suggesting that the driver is set apart from the rest. He is appropriately inquisitive. In his surreal world he’s trying to find ‘one face in this concrete world full of souls’. His counterpart in the actual world would perhaps be trying to find souls among the faces. In other words he would be attending to what really matters. The driver is delivering bread, but just as the cardboard angels of the surreal world have genuine counterparts in the actual world, so the ordinary bread of the surreal world  would have the bread of life (John 6.35) as a counterpart in the actual world.

The song ends with the question ‘Does anyone even try?’ This refers directly to hearing the angels’ music. Again the bakery truck driver is an exception, this time to the implication of the question. He does try. He ‘tries’ to find one face. The suggestion may be that those who make the effort to supply the bread of life in our world will be able to save anyone who has listened to the (real) angels’ message.

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