In two characteristically observant posts Rocket Man has explored the aesthetic implications of the Bob Dylan Victoria’s Secret ad. In his most recent post on the subject — “Dylan’s secret” — Rocket Man noted the wings on the ad’s model and inquired into the source of the angel motif. He subtly speculated that intimations of mortality might explain the motif.
Dylan’s 1997 “Time Out of Mind” disc concluded with a dark acknowledgment of death following Dylan’s serious bout with histoplasmosis that year. The concluding song of “Time Out of Mind” seems more to account for Dylan’s look in the ad, less so the model’s. In “Not Dark Yet,” Dylan sings:
I was born here and I’ll die here against my will.
I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still.
Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb
I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from.
Don’t even hear a murmur of a prayer,
It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.
But a look at the model herself calls to mind the vital earthbound variety of angel that Dylan celebrated on 1974’s “Planet Waves” in “You Angel You”:
You angel you
You’re as fine as anything’s fine.
The way you walk and the way you talk
It sure plays on my mind.
On 1970’s “New Morning” album, Dylan took a metaphorical approach to the angelic. In “Three Angels,” an unusual spoken-word song, Dylan used the presence of angels to criticize our obliviousness to the transcendent among the mundane:
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?
On 1979’s “Slow Train Coming” album, Dylan celebrates an angel who was “the queen of my flesh” but who was also “the lamp of my soul.” In “Precious Angel” Dylan collapses the metaphor for feminine beauty into a literal agent of grace:
Precious angel, under the sun,
How was I to know you’d be the one
To show me I was blinded, to show me I was gone?
How weak was the foundation I was standing upon?
Here’s hoping the Victoria’s Secret ad is only the first in a continuing series exploring the Dylan songbook!