Calling All Angels — “Train” Got it Wrong

The song “Calling All Angels,” a hit from the group Train, has been watched on YouTube 16.7 million times, so far. It’s a moody, rain-falling, leaf-blowing song, but the bleakest part goes like this:

And I’m calling all angels
I’m calling all you angels
When children have to play inside so they don’t disappear

If you watch the video, those lines are at 2:16. Note how the child outside…disappears!

Does Train really believe that children who step outside DO disappear? I realize the song is not meant to be instructional, or even factual, but it’s sort of like singing, “When children have to sleep on mats, so they don’t die from falling off their beds.”

What I mean is: It’s wrong. It’s not dangerous to play outside. The vast, vast, VAST majority of children are just fine — actually better than fine, playing outside. They’re happy and independent and creative and tuckered out. And the fact that there will inevitably be some tragedy as some point has, alas, always been true. Also true is this: more kids (and adults) met tragic ends when the Train musicians were young than they do today, because our crime rate is at a 50-year low.

Nonetheless, “Children have to play inside” has become such a deeply held belief that in a Peggy Noonan column in last week’s Wall Street Journal, she reported the results of a focus group of voters across the political spectrum. They are a depressed lot, and one of the things weighing them down is a loss of security when it comes to kids. “They can’t just go out and play,” said one.

But. They. Can.

The only thing different today is the new and pernicious notion that any time children are not supervised they are automatically in grave danger. This misperception, fed by a deliriously dystopian media, has become so bone-deep that parents get arrested for RATIONALLY deciding to let their kids frolic in the park.

These laws and social norms turn parents into bodyguards, and kids into babies. Most of us are ecstatic that we had the freedom to play without our parents Velcroed to our side when we were kids. There’s no reason we have to raise our children any differently.

Free, unsupervised time is an American birthright: it’s when kids learn how to invent games, roll with some punches, overcome fear, understand social cues and discover their true interests. Play is also cognitively rich brain food. It teaches kids to think and connect. What’s more, it is the foundation of entrepreneurship (you’re not about to take risks if you’ve never been exposed to any) and of our happiest memories. Just because the News at 11, and now Train, are telling us we have to lock our kids in the living room is no reason to take away the best and most important part of childhood.

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Children are disappearing!

Children are disappearing! No one is safe! That’s why I look so miserable and so does the kid behind me. 

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15 Responses to Calling All Angels — “Train” Got it Wrong

  1. John B. November 3, 2016 at 12:19 pm #

    The song I’m sure is not meant to be instructional or factual BUT just proliferates the “kids outside unsupervised are in danger” type of mindset that is so prevalent in America today. To believe that unsupervised kids are in constant danger seems to be the norm here in America and this just reinforces it.

  2. DrTorch November 3, 2016 at 12:24 pm #

    Bigger question is why is it bands who promote this nonsense get the recording contracts?

  3. delurking November 3, 2016 at 12:42 pm #

    This song was recorded in 2003.

  4. Vicki Bradley November 3, 2016 at 1:02 pm #

    This song sends a terrible message and it’s a horrible song to boot.

  5. James November 3, 2016 at 1:43 pm #

    It’s sensationalism, and unfortunately it sells. If you tell people how horrible the world is they call your lyrics deep, meaningful, thought-provoking, and whatnot. If you say “Actually, life is really good right now, and we should celebrate that” you’re dismissed as trite at best and cheesy or juvenile at worst.

    The fact that this song isn’t meant to be factual actually makes it worse. Music has a long, long history of conveying not facts of history, but the moral significance of the events of the past–the Germanic bards and the like sang songs about heroes not so that the people listening would learn history, but to teach them how to properly conduct themselves. In a similar vein, what bands choose to sing about is what their listeners learn to internalize. If musicians focus on perpetuating paranoia, it re-enforces that paranoia in a way we evolved to be susceptible to.

    The funny (in a tragic sense) part is that this post is biased IN FAVOR of Train’s nonsense. The author left out the fact that the majority (I don’t recall if it’s an overwhelming majority or not) of child abduction cases are situations where the child and their parent/legal guardian knows the “abductor”–cases like custody disputes and the like.

  6. Jetsanna November 3, 2016 at 2:33 pm #

    It’s a great song and one of my favorite bands, but that line has always annoyed me. By the way, the song came out almost 15 years ago. I do think the line needs to be taken in context with the rest of the lyrics, but it’s still bad thinking.

  7. Gary November 3, 2016 at 2:38 pm #

    Who?

  8. Vicki Bradley November 3, 2016 at 3:32 pm #

    Sorry to disagree, Jetsanna, but this song is mawkish.

  9. En Passant November 3, 2016 at 4:16 pm #

    Lenore wrote above:

    Play is also cognitively rich brain food.

    That’s what attracts so many roving hordes of zombies to snatch kids playing outside these days. They like to feed on the best nourished brains.

    [/snark]

  10. Curious November 3, 2016 at 5:20 pm #

    Disappearing?
    Really?
    How deplorable.

  11. delurking November 3, 2016 at 5:51 pm #

    Oh Noes! A vapid pop song has a bad lyric!

  12. James Pollock November 3, 2016 at 6:01 pm #

    Children who play outside DO disappear. They grow up and move out. Poof!

  13. David November 3, 2016 at 9:10 pm #

    I interpret the song very differently, and have no problem at all with the statement in question – when taken in context.

    I hear a desperate cry for help from someone in a dark and hopeless place. That place lends itself easily and readily to melodrama and hyperbole. I hear him or her relaying to us their perception of the world, and yet knowing that their perception is flawed.

    “When there is no place safe and no safe place to put my head” – no one, except those drowning in true depression or mental illness, truly believes that there are literally no safe places to be found.

    “‘Cause my TV set just keeps it all from being clear” – Whoever is speaking is brainwashed by television, and though they know it, they can’t help it. It’s their drug. They know it’s bad for them, but their head is in such a place that they just can’t stop.

    “When children have to play inside so they don’t disappear” – taken in the context of tragic hyperbole, this line becomes not a literal reading of the world, but a reading of the world through a lens knowingly distorted by depression, hopelessness, and a reliance on media uninterested in balanced journalism, but on sales by sensationalism.

    I think this song is about mental illness and how it distorts perception of the world. I could find no confirmation or contradiction on the Googles for this interpretation, and even if I had, I don’t think I’d care. That’s part of the beauty of music (in all its forms, like them or not) – you take out of it what you want to.

    Art is meant to challenge you to not only find the meaning the artist intended, but to find the meaning that brings you closer to an understanding of yourself, the world around you, and your place in it. If, when listening to this song, you stop at the line in question and take no deeper meaning, I believe you’re doing yourself a disfavor. Dig deeper.

  14. sexhysteria November 4, 2016 at 2:52 am #

    Most people are educated or informed by mass “news” media, not by textbooks or statistics. Bob Dylan has had more students than any university. I’m afraid that’s not by coincidence. Ignorant and superficial citizens are easier for commercial opportunists and profiteers (and their government lackeys) to manipulate.

  15. Havva November 4, 2016 at 9:32 am #

    I think David makes an excellent point about the nature of the song. It does sound like a cry for help. It even identifies the distorted reality of the TV.

    “And I’m calling all angels
    I’m calling all you angels

    “I won’t give up if you don’t give up [Repeat x4]

    “I need a sign to let me know you’re here
    ‘Cause my TV set just keeps it all from being clear
    I want a reason for the way things have to be
    I need a hand to help build up some kind of hope inside of me”

    My daughter hasn’t misheard these lyrics. So no instant parody like she got me started on turning “let it go” into “let me go”. But I do have a visual. What if the ‘angels’ respond. And it is a free-range intervention. (Lenore, Are you still doing the TV show? Don’t know if Train would agree to such a thing, but an intervention on this song would make an excellent ad. Not to mention how nice that level of production would be).

    Anyhow the angels should be Lenore and Danielle Meitiv offering their hands. And they provide the answer that the TV set is a fun house mirror. Reply to “I want a reason for the way things have to be” that what the TV says is not the way it has to be. That there is hope, the child can play freely. Coax the singer outside to see the world clearly. Perhaps the singer shrinks and they reflect back his words “I won’t give up if you don’t give up” until he joins them. Show him random strangers being kind and helping one another (say a dog walker helping a kid who fell from a scooter who brushes off and caries on). Then call out more angles… Free range kids. Rafi and Devora Meitiv among them of course, to lead the kid to play in the park. When the parent flinches answer that fear is the reason the kids disappeared.

    I think it might be too much to lyrically respond to everything in the last verse. But perhaps one could replay the grim image and then flicker out to the happy reality of what life can be. The haven’t talked for years counter balanced with parents finishing separate chores and realizing, they have a moment to chat, reconnect, over a cup of coffee as the children (who haven’t disappeared) run giggling past the window. Loosing sight of having dreams, counter balanced with the wild imaginative story telling of a breathlessly happy child, and perhaps a friend, bursting through the door. And I don’t know how/if it would resonate for others. But for me the counterbalance of not wanting it once it is yours, is the joy of trying to hug that squirmy, happy, ball of energy that comes bounding home. Because unlike parenting in fear, that moment holds immense contentment.