"Three Angels" and Theme Time Radio Hour


At the beginning on each episode of Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour, listeners are greeted by a sultry voice, laying out a scenario as if describing the opening scene to a movie. There's no evidence to suggest it, but it seems abundantly clear to me that Bob wrote these short "scenes" that help set up each episode (each installment worked around a theme, and played music related to it). Here are some examples of the shows opening sketches:

It’s nighttime in the big city
Fog horns bellow in the gloom along the wharf
A spinster finishes a jigsaw puzzle

It's night time in the big city
Rain is falling, fog rolls in from the waterfront
A night shift nurse smokes the last cigarette in a pack

It's night time in the Big City
a woman in a red gown throws out her cell phone
a man sleeps with a gun under his pillow

It's night time in the Big City
a girl goes through the medicine cabinet of the man who brought her home
a ringing phone goes unanswered

It’s night time in the big city
The last train from New Haven pulls into the station
A man runs out of excuses

It's night time in the Big City
an ambulance races through downtown
an off duty cops parks in front of his ex-wife's house

It’s night time in the big city
A hotdog vendor drains water from his cart
There’s a low cloud cover

It’s night in the big city
A man falls asleep far from home
The last piece of pie is gone





These are beautiful images that attempt to make sense of  the world and its madness. They express a vision rooted in a detached, yet compassionate lens that sizes up the world with an observant eye. One get's the sense of  all the high drama, dignity, and humanity that plays itself out on a daily basis in the world. In these particular scenarios, cities are the the stage settings to a play overseen by God.

Interestingly enough, Bob has stated that these images of the world- the diners, the street corners, the railroads and highways-have inspired his writing: 

"Being a performer you travel the world. You're not just looking off the same window everyday. You're not just walking down the same old street. So you must make yourself observe whatever. Like "yellow railroad"-could have been a blinding day when the sun was bright on a railroad someplace and it stayed on my mind. These aren't contrived images. These are images which are just in there and have got to come out. You know, if it's in there it's got to come out".- Bob Dylan

This sense of spirituality, and love of the world was not first communicated by Bob during Theme Time Radio Hour, but shows up around 40 years earlier in his song "Three Angels":

"Three Angels": By Bob Dylan
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?




Here, connections between the opening sketches in Theme Time Radio Hour, the spoken word lyrics of "Three Angels", and Bob's thoughts about traveling the world and songwriting run strong. There's clearly an element of Bob's work that expresses deep appreciation for these street scenes and the humanity embedded within. In "Three Angeles", Bob asks if anyone hears the music the angels play above the street. He asks if anyone even tries, or attempts to "lift their eyes" to the hills to see the larger picture, the spiritual truths that rest in the routines and pains of life.  Bob Dylan's calling has been to use music to uplift the mundane and elevate it to the spiritual. That's pretty much what the book of Psalms is about, and is certainly an avenue worth exploring from every angle. 


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