What is going on and what we think is going on may be two different things. If the difference is vast enough, we consider that a mental illness.
The song is set in the emergency room, or "ER," of a hospital. Some nights, it is quiet. The speaker compares this almost-silence to a piece of medical equipment that makes some noise, but not much-- the EKG. This stands for "electrocardiogram" (why there is a K in the abbreviation but none in the word being abbreviated is another story). It's the heart-rate monitor that goes "beep" every time your heart beats, and "beeeeeeep" when your heart stops.
Anyway, tonight is not one of those quieter nights. Tonight, the place is flooded with "broken bones" and "wounded souls" (compare this to the imagery in the folk-doctor's room in "Spirit Voices" or even the first part of "American Tune"). The injured are doing paperwork or calling someone. The place is busy, even bustling, but not at all chaotic.
Into this scene comes someone, however, who does not see this commotion for what it is. To him, it's a "parade"... and he is smack in the middle of it. He can't even "talk to you now," because after all, a parade is no occasion for a conversation.
Clearly, this person cannot fill out his own paperwork. So someone else does, and we get to read it. He is diagnosed as "schizophrenic"; his outlook is judged as "guarded," meaning there is a smidgen of hope, but not a wide smidgen, as smidgens go. He is given an anti-psychotic medication meant to re-balance his brain's chemistry.
We don't see the lines on the form regarding name, age, address or the other usual information, possibly because these are blank, in turn because they are unknown and unknowable. The only person who could answer is otherwise... occupied. But that line on the form, his occupation, they are able to determine.
He's a "street angel."
Yes, the same one we met a couple of songs back. He was brought into the ER by someone who didn't know where else to bring him.
The clinicians do try to have a conversation with him, but it's not all that informative. He tells them that he drank some orange, then grape, soda. And he may have... perhaps along with some medicines that may have been added to these in order to make dosing him easier.
But this seems to focus him on sugary imagery, because next, he explains: "My head's a lollipop and everyone wants to lick it." That may seem odd, but he's not necessarily being inaccurate, just metaphoric. Examining a true schizophrenic is fascinating to medical science. He may have been in another institution or institute in which everyone around him wanted to use him as a guinea pig for their experiments or analysis. We often forget that such probing is noticed by its subject... even if we think they are, mentally, on another planet. As for the lollipop image, we use the expression "Everyone wants a piece of me" when we feel overwhelmed with requests.
He explains why he wears a hooded sweatshirt, twice. The first time, he says he wants to "cover his mistake," and the second time "so I won't get a ticket." Well, is someone were trying to get in your head, wouldn't your instinct be to cover it? Maybe his mistake, to him, was letting someone analyze him in the first place. And "getting a ticket" is sure to mean being punished, possibly for resisting treatment.
Lastly, he says, "I write my verse for the universe," which echoes what he'd said in the original song. "That's who I am," he concludes. He is a poet, and he generously shares that poetry, with everyone, for free.
Not insisting you get paid for your work? Now, that's just plain crazy.
The Street Angel is-- fundamentally and mentally-- a poet, and so he speaks in poetry. He needs a psychiatrist who was a minor in literature to interpret what he says. This is how he interfaces, to the degree that he does at all, with the world. So he needs a poetry-to-mundanity translator to communicate.
Now, where are angels? In some other-where called "Heaven." Yet, they interact with us, on our plane of existence. What must they think of us humans-- how must they perceive us, through that veil between the physical and meta-physical? And if they tried to explain that to us in ways they could manage, in ways they think we could perceive... would we think they were poets? Or mentally ill?
In any case, our Street Angel is off the street. Let's hope the doctors let him keep some of the angel part, too.
Some of the drum tracks here were recycled from the song "Cool Papa Bell," also off of this album.
But the more interesting sample is slowed-down, played-backward tracks of gospel songs from the 1930s. These sounds sounded, to Simon, like the words "street angel" and some of the other lyrics.
Next Song: Proof of Love