Running to Stand Still

Listening to the Irish rock band U2’s “Running to Stand Still” yesterday, I was struck by the beauty and slowed-down simplicity of the song.

As I sought information about the piece, I found a lengthy and fascinating Wikipedia article telling about the background, composition, recording and production of the song from U2’s highly successful 1987 record, The Joshua Tree, produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois.

The band wrote the song about a heroin-addicted couple living in one of seven high-rise towers built in the Ballymun district of Dublin, Ireland. The government housing project, eventually growing to 36 buildings, was constructed in the 1960s and became infamous for its poor maintenance and inadequate amenities and living conditions. Unfortunately, these are common characteristics of large-scale public housing built without the thoughtful intention to provide suitable services and amenities that support healthy, comfortable living and thriving. These factors, in turn, lead to compounding socioeconomic stigmatization, isolation and suffering. The development was demolished between 2004 and 2015.

Starting with the twanging chords of a guitar, leading into the piano melody, vocals and a subtly strummed electric guitar line, the song develops while bass, a captivating drum line and a second guitar gradually join in to build drama and intensity. Co-producer Lanois played the first guitar part as the band improvised the music in the recording studio. The Edge’s guitar track, played while he was in a lounge next to the studio, was overdubbed directly into the recording room console. The song ends with the same guitar twangs that open it. It’s a remarkable piece of music, and the masterful production collaboration of Eno and Lanois is evident.

I think it’s an exquisite song about resilience and perhaps even finding hope and beauty in the face of hopeless living conditions. The simple instrumentation cradles Bono’s compassionate and raw balladeering vocal.

“And so she woke up
Woke up from where she was lyin’ still
Said I gotta do something
About where we’re going
Step on a steam train
Step out of the driving rain, maybe
Run from the darkness in the night
Singing ah, ah la la la de day
Ah la la la de day
Ah la la la de day

Sweet the sin
Bitter the taste in my mouth
I see seven towers
But I only see one way out
You gotta cry without weeping, talk without speaking
Scream without raising your voice
You know I took the poison from the poison stream
Then I floated out of here, singing
Ah la la la de day
Ah la la la de day
Ah la la la de day

She runs through the streets
With her eyes painted red
Under a black belly of cloud in the rain
In through a doorway
She brings me white golden pearls
Stolen from the sea
She is ragin’, she is raging
And the storm blows up in her eyes
She will suffer the needle chill
She’s running to stand still”

“Running to Stand Still,” by Paul David Hewson (Bono), David Howell Evans (The Edge), Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr.
Unofficial lyrics retrieved from AZLyrics.com.

Now you know a little about why this is My Song of the Day for Today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here is the music video from U2’s official YouTube channel:

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