This week our host of Song Lyric Sunday, Jim Adams, has prompted us with tribute songs. What a fun prompt and I am hoping we will see a broad range of music honoring those who have died. My choice for this prompt is the beautifully moving song “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan.
Many of us who write, can relate to McLachlan’s description of the ease in which the words to this song flowed from her mind with little effort. Those are the times when we feel we have a deep connection with someone or something and the words need to be heard. I have included the album track and a live performance of the song. I hope you enjoy it.
McLachlan wrote this about a drug-addict’s struggles with the world. The “angel” symbolizes the drugs the addict gives in to repeatedly.
As McLachlan explained on VH1 Storytellers, this song is about the Smashing Pumpkins touring keyboard player Jonathan Melvoin, who overdosed on heroin and died in 1996. McLachlan didn’t know him and was never a heavy drug user herself, but when she read about his death in Rolling Stone, she felt a connection, as she had just come off two years on the road where “there’s nothing constant but everything becomes the same.”
On the same Storytellers show, McLachlan said that this song only took a few hours to write, stating it was a “very easy labor.”
This is the song McLachlan’s fans ask her about the most, and the one many seem to relate to. “I have the same real, visceral attachment to it that that they do,” she told the Charlotte Observer. “It was one of those beautiful songs, for me, that came out quickly and easily. I felt like more of a conduit. There wasn’t all that blood, sweat and tears attached to it. It just kind of happened. Those are blissful moments that seldom happen for me as a songwriter.”
This was used in the 1998 movie City of Angels during a pivotal scene. McLachlan said this was the best use of any of her songs in a TV series or movie.
The song has had enduring popularity and has been used in a number of different ways, with some uses (such as in a child memorial) misconstruing the lyrics. McLachan said during a Reddit AMA that she doesn’t mind that it gets used in so many different ways. “I think once an artist puts a song out there, it becomes open to interpretation, and I purposefully leave a certain amount of ambiguity in songs so that people can relate the songs to themselves and to their stories,” she said.
“And it’s for me, it’s a great validation as an artist to know that something I’ve created has gone out there in the world and helped people to heal, or to feel something, in a profound way like that.”
This is the song that soundtracks those ubiquitous ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) commercials that have been running since 2007. The spots are a serious downer, showing frightened and abused animals in slow motion interspersed with messages like “they suffer alone and terrified.” They often come on late at night when TV stations donate unsold advertising time to charity, so you could be enjoying an old movie in the wee hours when suddenly you’re looking at a caged kitty that seems to be crying for help. Many change the channel.
A bane of insomniacs, the spots nonetheless proved incredibly effective, generating over $30 million dollars in donations. They also inextricably linked McLachlan, who appears in some of the spots, with abused dogs and cats.
When she made the commercial, she didn’t think it would be a very big deal; she simply donated a few hours of her time and use of her song. And while she supports the cause, she isn’t as passionate about it as many believe. “I love animals as much as the next person, but if I really wanted to attach myself to something, it would be kids and education,” she told the Charlotte Observer in 2015. She also admits that she can’t watch the spots.
Spend all your time waiting for that second chance, for a break that would make it OK. There's always some reason to feel not good enough, and it's hard, at the end of the day. I need some distraction, Oh, beautiful release. Memories seep from my veins. Let me be empty, Oh, and weightless, And maybe I'll find some peace tonight. In the arms of the angel, fly away from here, from this dark, cold hotel room, and the endlessness that you feel. You are pulled from the wreckage, Of your silent reverie. You're in the arms of the angel, may you find some comfort here. So tired of the straight line, and everywhere you turn, there's vultures and thieves at your back. The storm keeps on twisting. Keep on building the lies that you make up for all that you lack. Don't make no difference, escape one last time. It's easier to believe in this sweet madness, Oh, this glorious sadness, that brings me to my knees. You're in the arms of the angel, may you find some comfort here. Written by Sarah McLachlan Courtesy of Songfacts