Angels with Broken Wings
Angels with Broken Wings
The day after Thanksgiving. Black Friday it has been named by those who see the shadows of Christmas commercialism gathering before the day dawns. I didn't go to the mall. I didn't rush to Best Buy to get Play Station 3. I didn't stand on line at Macy's for 50% off. Instead I sat in my recliner as the afternoon sun faded in the west, listening to music, Christmas Traditional Music it was named, on Channel 401 of my Comcast cable service.
What I heard was mostly pop songs of the season, with a carol or two crooned in between, from the third quarter of the 20th century. That is, they were tunes of my time when I was young and with it. But now that I am old and out of it, I listened with nostalgia, even for bad songs badly sung, like Gene Autry's rendition of his composition about a deformed reindeer.
But when Karen Carpenter, whose voice always charmed me, sang "Home for the Holidays," one specific memory cast the moment in sadness. Go back with me (if you are old enough) to the Ralph Edwards' TV show, "This Is Your Life." The Carpenters, Karen and her brother, were beginning their pop music career when they appeared there. I sought to corroborate the following recollection, but without much success. That brother and sister were from West Haven CT; that they got their start singing in the church choir, a Methodist Church; and that their pastor was on hand for their night of honor before an audience of millions.
Karen, sad to say, died at the tender age of 33, from anorexia nervosa. To this day I cannot listen to "We've Only Just Begun," a staple at many wedding receptions, without hearing Karen's mellifluous voice.
She was an angel with a broken wing, whose glorious gift came with a crippling flaw.
As I sat in my recliner on the day after Thanksgiving, as my longtime friend observed seeing me sitting there, "getting in the Christmas mood," I started to count the other angels with broken wings singing me the good tidings of the season. Frank and Bing (no need to give surnames) crooned a duet of "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow." Their travails with marriage and family and business associates and alcohol are public knowledge, but we can forgive them for all that for all the joy they brought to us in song.
Robert Goulet, with that voice that resonated on Broadway, added to my Friday afternoon his version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." He sang to rave reviews in many musicals, but how will we remember him? Because he forgot a word or two in "The Star Spangled Banner" the night of the Sonny Liston vs. Cassius Clay heavyweight championship fight in Lewiston, Maine, in 1965.
Then in living color on my Samsung Elvis offered a laid-back version of "Here Comes Santa Claus." Speak of angels with broken wings! Elvis, the Pentecostal boy with a guitar and a suggestive gyration of his hips, popularized music White folk had long ignored. There are women in their seventies who still idolize him and help to make Graceland one of the most visited pieces of real estate in the U.S.A.
Let Nat King Cole have the last song. It was, the Friday after Thanksgiving anyway, "All I Want for Christmas...". Didn't we love to dance to his songs at Phil Jones' Dance Class at the Woman's Club on Strawberry Hill Avenue?! A voice so soft and soothing, you would hardly know the indignities he endured in his career because... well, because he didn't have the right skin color. Ditto Lena Horne (whom I heard on "Little Drummer Boy").
This Christmas when the narrative about the shepherds is reread in church - you know, about the angels serenading them, "Glory to God in the highest..." - I think I shall picture them no longer as carefully scrubbed, soft-skinned infants, but more like the angels I witnessed from my perch in the recliner, the ones with broken wings, far from perfect souls, who nonetheless, are the messengers of great good news about a God who so loves the world, this broken, this flawed world, that he gathers its pain to himself in the person of a child born to be our brother, our friend, and our savior.