Running To Stand Still

Stunning. An odd word to use, possibly, because on a certain level this is just “Bad” redux; in addition, this is the one song of all on The Joshua Tree that doesn’t yank at the listener for attention, being deathly quiet and barely rising throughout. Indeed, the most brash move at any point might well be the opening and closing phrases on the Dobro, heavily bending one note in particular. It’s a little cheesy, but that’s about the biggest criticism that can be fired at this song. The guitars play relatively simple, strummed parts (sometimes for a verse it’s just a single harmonic hit over and over). The rhythm section barely seems present, although of course they are, slowly building up to the final lines, before the aforementioned Dobro and a cry of harmonica.

It’s the lyrics, though, that make this. Quite where the refrain Ha la la la, la day comes in isn’t certain, but it manages to express a repeated sigh (singing it automatically makes the singer wind down and breathe out deeply), and it’s part of what made The Joshua Tree an international success, an expression not tied to any given language and thus no creed or idea, about as wide as possible a reach to humanity. The there’s the sheer brilliance of describing an impossible situation – You got to cry without weeping/Talk without speaking/Scream without raising your voice – and Bono’s voice raises, as if he’s attempting the task of the last line to show how difficult it is. We’re given the actual place in the line I see seven towers, which refers to the now-bulldozed high-rise buildings in Ballymun, northern Dublin. And that place is full of steam trains, driving rain, and permanent cloud – there’s actually an excellent (if small) picture of the Ballymun towers in U2byU2 that the song illustrates.

It’s hard to pin down exactly why “Running To Stand Still” is a standout track on the album – it may well be the critics’ nightmare, just the intangible performance of it. Like “Bad”, we once again have a song that isn’t condemning or hectoring, and thus avoid puritanical overtones (or even just plain puritanical attitude), simply mournful, despairing of a desperate situation. And what better an image is there to describe addiction (not necessarily to heroin; to anything) than the idea of having to run, i.e. exert the maximum, merely to stand still, to stay where you are? Unfortunately, “Running To Stand Still” could never be a single, because the public still won’t buy anything en masse that lacks a screamingly obvious chorus, but public be damned – those who get past the three singles and live favourite get to this piece of genius, lodged between the two extremes of “Bullet The Blue Sky” and “Red Hill Mining Town”.


~ by 4trak on September 22, 2008.

One Response to “Running To Stand Still”

  1. What an awesome song. I was thinking years ago that the entire second side of the Joshua Tree (B side of tape; I’m showing my age) has some of the most underated songs of all time on it. For me, I like it way better than side A. How can anyone not like a song like Running…? I think they still play it live here and there. Thanks for the write up.

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