Song of the Week- March 27- "Angels"

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Song of the Week- March 27- "Angels"

Postby Aspiemom on March 28th, 2011, 2:58 am

This song usually gives me a little lift. So, if you're still feeling angsty after you sent in your donation to help Japan, maybe this song will pick you up a bit too.

Musically, "Angels" has momentum, flowing from one section to the next without apparent effort. "Angels" has a great baseline, almost a counter-melody. The drums have a nice pick-up beat at the end of each measure (last eighth note) that seems to kick-start the next bar. With so much going on in the rhythm section, DB can sing the long "I'm ready now" notes without dragging the song down. (A vocal teacher of mine once commented that sixteenth notes were like a swan's feet paddling below the water to allow the swan to glide slowly along the surface). I hear church bells at the end. Any other thoughts on the music?

The lyric has great sensory images again: sweat, quivering sunlight, a million nervous tics. . . . (I get a smile from "mama's going off her head." We need more songs about moms behaving badly). But is the singer waiting for a savior or a lover? "UB Jesus" and "Take me to the River" have similar ambiguities.

Is the lyric a direct reference to Kushner's "Angels in America?" The play was produced before the album was released, by about a year. They both describe a fallen world. Angels has "a messiah who never comes," and "the fruit from the trees [in the Garden of Eden]", yet there is still anticipation of something wonderful. In Kushner's play, the angels advise humans to stop living because they're making such a mess of it, but the human characters choose "more life."

Here's the lyric:
There are no angels left in America anymore
They left after the second World War heading west
Stopping briefly in Japan during the ’60s
In Tienanman Square, during the last decade

They kept heading west to who knows where
What’re they after?
What’re they looking for?
A Messiah who never comes?
A virgin birth?
A perfect drunk?
A sign,
Any kind of sign
Anything that looks slightly out of the ordinary

Flying over fields & factories
Momma’s goin’ off her head
Daddy’s bringin’ home the bacon
Open up the pearly gates

Fruit of salty lubrication
Tangled up in arms & legs
I can barely touch the bottom
Now I’m workin’ up a sweat!

I’m ready now--
I’m ready now--

I can barely touch my own self
How could I touch someone else?
I’m just an advertisement
For a version of myself

Like molecules in constant motion
Like a million nervous tics
I am quivering with anticipation
Like the sunlight on their wings
I’m ready now--
(Don’t look back)
I’m ready now--
(I’m ready for this)
I’m ready now

The sensuous world — the smell of the sea
The sweat off their wings — the fruit from
the trees
The angel inside — will meet me tonight
On wings of desire — I come back alive
I’m ready --
I’m ready --
(I put the dogs outside)
I’m ready --
I’m ready --
(To take that ride)
I’m ready now --
I’m ready now --
(To take that wine)

I’m ready now --
But where are you?
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Re: Song of the Week- March 27- "Angels"

Postby Oedepus on March 28th, 2011, 5:32 am

I was wondering what the next pick would be, and Angels is a fine selection!

I'll share my thoughts on the song, video and Byrne 94 in general tomorrow :)
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Re: Song of the Week- March 27- "Angels"

Postby Aspiemom on March 28th, 2011, 8:23 pm

Oedepus wrote:I was wondering what the next pick would be, and Angels is a fine selection!

I'll share my thoughts on the song, video and Byrne 94 in general tomorrow :)


Great! I look forward to reading your post tomorrow. I'm still struggling to download the Yo la Tengo concert, but after catching a few snippets on YouTube, I wish I bad picked "Revolution.". Maybe another week...
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Re: Song of the Week- March 27- "Angels"

Postby Oedepus on March 28th, 2011, 11:29 pm

Angels as a song, has a recurrent theme in Byrne's catalogue, There is an old demo in the Rarities album called "I'm not ready yet" and then there's the B-side "Ready for this world" I think the resolution is Angels (I'm ready now)

Hey Aspie, it's interesting you had a vocal teacher, I have also attempted to sing Angels with mine :o

I often hear people comparing Angels to Once in a lifetime, but I honestly don't think they got anything to do with each other. I like Once, but unlike most people, if it came down to the 2 of them I would stay with Angels, one of the songs that instantly caught me when I started listening to Byrne. The opening guitar is wonderful (and the slight variation in the bridge) not to mention Byrne's singing on it is quirky yet heartfelt and compassionate.

The lyrics evoke great imagery, when he says: "Flying over fields and factories" you can picture it from an Angel's point of view. The video opens with images of Angels and then close ups of random ordinary people (another topic in Byrne's catalogue) in "a sign...any kind of sign" ther's a close up of a Vegas style casino light, in "A messiah who never comes" he appears faceless, with a Halo around his head. In "A perfect drug" he drinks from a mysterious green liquid. At some point his head is covered with a paper bag, and as I mentioned before, he's covered in tin foil at a super market in "Version of myself" there's also a random image of a Dolphin at some point. I also recall him at an abandoned mine wearing one of those helmets with light in them, and also spinning with an ordinary neighborhood on the background. The most surreal images take place in the black room (Hands touching him, random women surrounding him, symbols spread across the walls)

The song to me is about humanity and surrender, the angels are none other than average people, what Byrne is ready for, is the everyday life, with it's joys and pains. Although it sounds like he's talking about eternal paradise. One thing that puzzles me though is the "dogs outside part"

The single cover is really beautiful, a close up of Byrne's hands. During the Feelings tour, Byrne gave the song a special electronic treatment, it opens with a thunder, like he was performing the intro riff out in the open before a grey sky.

In regards to Byrne 94, I think about it as something beyond any self titled album artists releases at some point in their career. To me the concept is that of a book of short stories, each one about the main character on the cover, but few of them being about ordinary topics, most of them seem highly mythological, as a book of stories would be. My idea of the album as such is backed up by the concept of the special edition, which is a book of photographs. In this edition the album is presented exactly in the way I described it, as a book of tales. Given that the content is pictures of Byrne's body, and the cd has a hairy pattern on it, my perception of this piece of work is that once you own it, it's like having a piece of Byrne all for yourself, the book is like a little David Byrne you can examine, physically, emotionally and psychologically.

I want to point out I haven't opened my book yet! I'm saving it for later, but it's perhaps what I'm most excited about from all the Byrne stuff I got.

Here's a great performance of Angels at Milano, Italy

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cRmIfaUoWI
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Re: Song of the Week- March 27- "Angels"

Postby Aspiemom on March 30th, 2011, 2:23 am

Oedepus wrote:
The single cover is really beautiful, a close up of Byrne's hands. During the Feelings tour, Byrne gave the song a special electronic treatment, it opens with a thunder, like he was performing the intro riff out in the open before a grey sky.

In regards to Byrne 94, I think about it as something beyond any self titled album artists releases at some point in their career. To me the concept is that of a book of short stories, each one about the main character on the cover, but few of them being about ordinary topics, most of them seem highly mythological, as a book of stories would be. My idea of the album as such is backed up by the concept of the special edition, which is a book of photographs. In this edition the album is presented exactly in the way I described it, as a book of tales. Given that the content is pictures of Byrne's body, and the cd has a hairy pattern on it, my perception of this piece of work is that once you own it, it's like having a piece of Byrne all for yourself, the book is like a little David Byrne you can examine, physically, emotionally and psychologically.

I want to point out I haven't opened my book yet! I'm saving it for later, but it's perhaps what I'm most excited about from all the Byrne stuff I got.


We're opposites in one respect, Oedepus. You like to collect physical objects, and I like to download music straight to my computer. You like to have something to touch and look at, while I prefer to have access to the music without having to take care of a physical object.

Given that I haven't seen the photos, I'm going straight for the book. This is from page 170: "Byrne had photographer Jean Baptiste Mondino make a photographic investigation of his body that consisted of a regular studio portrait, studies of hands and feet, fingers and toes an elbow, the neck and an eye, extreme close-ups of body hair and skin. The series was continued with X-rays of molars and chest, computer scan photos of different cross-sections of the spine, as well as a series of cell photos. This investigation obviously subverts the notion of the photographic portrait as revealing the intimate artistic personality, as by revealing more and more physical detail the photos became more and more impersonal. (Byrne didn't actually lie in a CT scanner himself; the medical pictures were supplied by the New York University Medical Center.)" So, on one level, the photos are personal. On a deeper level, though, they're distancing. The CT scans could be, and were, any random person.

I've seen some other DB stuff that works with this theme- the muscle suit from The Visible Man(page 196), the end of "Stay Hungry" ("here's my shoulder blade. . . here I am.") It may present the artist as human sacrifice or Christ figure- a body offered to the masses for consumption. It reminds me of Jesus Christ, Superstar ("Hey, J.C., J.C., won't you die for me, zanna hey, zanna ho, Superstar.") :breakdance:

Do we ask too much of our artists? Do we need them to turn themselves inside out for us, lay their soles bare, or will it suffice if they produce beautiful work?
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Re: Song of the Week- March 27- "Angels"

Postby Aspiemom on March 30th, 2011, 2:50 am

Oedepus wrote:Angels as a song, has a recurrent theme in Byrne's catalogue, There is an old demo in the Rarities album called "I'm not ready yet" and then there's the B-side "Ready for this world" I think the resolution is Angels (I'm ready now)

Hey Aspie, it's interesting you had a vocal teacher, I have also attempted to sing Angels with mine :o

The lyrics evoke great imagery, when he says: "Flying over fields and factories" you can picture it from an Angel's point of view.

The song to me is about humanity and surrender, the angels are none other than average people, what Byrne is ready for, is the everyday life, with it's joys and pains. Although it sounds like he's talking about eternal paradise. One thing that puzzles me though is the "dogs outside part"


This song is so much fun to sing! It stays in my range, and I love to belt it out in the car or when I'm home alone. Those octave jumps are yodels. It sounds like you are a more serious singer, though. Did you ever think about opening a set with "I'm not Ready?" You could sing a few lines, then tune your guitar for a minute, sing a few more lines, adjust your amp. . . . I wonder what response you would get?

"Flying over fields and factories" reminds me of the girl from "And she was" lying out by the Yoo-Hoo factory, but that doesn't really fit the rest of the song. I still think there's too much excitement for the song to be about being ready for ordinary life. I think it's a lover, or a savior, maybe both? Anyway, someone anticipating the best night of his life would want to put the dogs outside. It's part of getting ready.

The lyrics seem to describe a longing for contact with another person or with God. Given that identity itself may be an illusion of the mind, connecting with someone else seems unlikely. ("I am just an adverstisement for a version of myself.") But the impulse remains strong ("I am quivering in anticipation, like the sunlight on their wings.")

I can impose a story on this song about a couple in a long marriage. Maybe they're the momma who's going off her head and the daddy bringing home the bacon. Maybe it's been awhile since they were in love with each other, and their gender roles lead to misunderstandings and disagreements :argue:. One of them wants to rekindle the romance, but the other spouse spurns the advance. "I'm ready now, but where are you?" :bawling:

Ready to "taste that wine" could be just another sensual reference, or it could be a Christian reference. Maybe the singer is ready for a religious experience, but can't find God.

Either way, the references to flight, the "late" backbeat, the singing posture with the head thrown back, and the octave jumps, all create a feeling of hope. As if wishing hard enough for that transcendent moment could make it appear. :coffee:
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Re: Song of the Week- March 27- "Angels"

Postby Oedepus on March 31st, 2011, 5:01 am

Or could it be they become extremely personal?
it was odd to find out it's not his skeleton, I kinda wish they had never told us.

You mentioned The visible man, that's one of the most interesting things he's worn for sure, the book describes him as an "anti-icon" what does that mean, someone you can't relate to?
Your approach seems right, and it echoes Buck Naked (if you turn us inside out) I had never thought of that parallel before, thank you!

Angels is very fun to sing, yup, but rather difficult for my register.
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Re: Song of the Week- March 27- "Angels"

Postby Aspiemom on April 1st, 2011, 2:10 am

Oedepus wrote:Or could it be they become extremely personal?
it was odd to find out it's not his skeleton, I kinda wish they had never told us.

You mentioned The visible man, that's one of the most interesting things he's worn for sure, the book describes him as an "anti-icon" what does that mean, someone you can't relate to?
Your approach seems right, and it echoes Buck Naked (if you turn us inside out) I had never thought of that parallel before, thank you!


Sorry to bum you out about the ct scans. Maybe it's DB's real skeleton in Back in the Box? But I think the more interesting question is why fans would want an actual x-ray, and whether such desires are peculiar to DB fans. I agree that many songs, particularly on this album, give the impression that the listener has been invited inside DB's head. But we can't be sure, can we?

The muscle suit is interesting because it's what someone would look like with no skin. Skin functions as a barrier between the self and the outside world, although it is an imperfect boundary. (The air/skin thing recurs on almost every album from Fear of Music to Grown Backwards, but the neurosis lessens over the years: "Air" - "What is happening to my skin? Where is that protection that I needed? Air can hurt you too.", compare that to "Glass, Concrete, and Stone" "Skin, that covers me from head to toe, except some tiny holes and openings where the city's blowing in and out, and this is what it's all about, delightfully.") So, appearing skinless is showing vulnerability. Of course, the muscle suit is actually covering the real muscle and skin, making DB almost unrecognizable. Ouch, the irony makes my head hurt!

I'm guessing the anti-icon thing means rejecting the corporate-produced rockstar image, as many punk bands did. But Talking Heads rejected a lot of punk conventions too, like leather and eye makeup on men. It may get back to the ordinary people idea you mentioned in your previous post.
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Re: Song of the Week- March 27- "Angels"

Postby Aspiemom on April 1st, 2011, 3:31 am

Here's another story that works for "Angels." The song is a retelling of "Send in the Clowns." Yep, the song that drove DB away from vocal lessons. Hear me out anyway. "Send in the Clowns" is a song about an actress who realizes that the person she has spurned for many years is actually the love of her life. But by the time she realizes this, he's no longer interested. Sondheim's lyric: "What a surprise! Who could foresee I'd come to feel about you what you felt about me? Making my entrance again with my usual flair, sure of my lines. No one was there."
Both songs address the issue that life is playacting ("I am just an advertisement for a version of myself.") Both songs express an inability to connect with a loved one because of the acting.

But wait, there's more! "Send in the Clowns" is in 6/8 time, as is "Crash," the song that follows "Angels." The song after that, "A Self-Made Man," has clowns laughing in your face. "Where are the clowns? Quick send in the clowns! Don't bother, they're here." :hippy:
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Re: Song of the Week- March 27- "Angels"

Postby Oedepus on April 1st, 2011, 4:21 am

Well I thought about it and maybe the irony is that listening to the songs, and looking at the photographs, you would assume you have been granted a peek at db the person, in all 3 levels, and when you find out it's not his skeleton, and that the close ups make the artwork become impersonal, you realize you still know nothing. That's quite elaborate!

I remember we mentioned The visible man last week in The rose tattoo, now that you mentioned Glass, Concrete and stone, that's another interesting parallel. Reading your song quote in the context of The visible man, it ocurred to me those holes are obviously nostrils, eyes, ears...when I first heard the line I thought of something else :lol:

I will check out Send in the clows, I know nothing about it!
Angels seems to have a lot of possible angles and approaches, that makes it an incredible piece of work in my opinion. It's one of those songs which no matter how curious you are about it, you are better off not asking the author what it really is about.
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Re: Song of the Week- March 27- "Angels"

Postby Aspiemom on April 2nd, 2011, 4:56 am

Oedepus wrote:Well I thought about it and maybe the irony is that listening to the songs, and looking at the photographs, you would assume you have been granted a peek at db the person, in all 3 levels, and when you find out it's not his skeleton, and that the close ups make the artwork become impersonal, you realize you still know nothing. . . .

Angels seems to have a lot of possible angles and approaches, that makes it an incredible piece of work in my opinion. It's one of those songs which no matter how curious you are about it, you are better off not asking the author what it really is about.


I think you've hit the nail on the head! :respect: Cool that you used the word "peek". In my mind, I call this idea Byrne peekaboo. He'll show you something that seems highly personal, then raise a question about whether it was authentic, or whether an authentic self even exists. "Who are you now? Who are you now?".

I agree with you about not asking writers to explain their work. Often, lyrics seem to have spaces in them for listeners to fill in as they like. The pronoun "you" in particular is often left undefined in DB's lyrics, as in "Angels" ending with the question "where are you?". The meaning of the song depends on the meaning of "you."
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