deadsongs.vue.217 : We Can Run
permalink #0 of 3: David Dodd (ddodd) Mon 8 Sep 03 09:48
We Can Run
deadsongs.vue.217 : We Can Run
permalink #1 of 3: Alex Allan (alexallan) Mon 8 Sep 03 19:00
We Can Run 
Lyrics: John Barlow
Music: Brent Mydland

Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission.

We don't own this place though we act as if we did
It belongs to the children of our children's kids
The actual owners haven't even been born yet

But we live in the garden and we rarely pay the rent
Most of it is broken and the rest of it is bent
Put it all on plastic and I wonder where we'll be when the bills hit

We can run but we can't hide from it
Of all possible worlds we only got one, we gotta ride on it
Whatever we've done we'll never get far from what we leave behind
Baby we can run, run, run but we can't hide

Well I'm dumping my trash in your back yard
Making certain you don't notice really isn't so hard
You're so busy with your guns and all of your excuses to use 

Well it's oil for the rich and babies for the poor
We've got everyone believing that more is more
If a reckoning comes maybe we'll know what to do then


All these complications seem to leave no choice
I heard the tongues of billions speak with just one voice
Saying just leave all the rest to me, I need it worse than you, you
Then I heard the sound of one child crying

Today I went out walking in the amber wind
There's a hole in the sky where the light pours in
I remember the days when I wasn't afraid of the sunshine

But now it beats down on the ashphalt land
Like hammering blow from God's left hand
What little still grows
Cringes in the shade till the night-time

deadsongs.vue.217 : We Can Run
permalink #2 of 3: David Dodd (ddodd) Mon 22 Sep 14 16:29
From my post on "Greatest Stories Ever Told" (Sept. 18, 2014):

After a brief foray into the land of cynicism with my post last
week, it’s back to my usual hopeful outlook today, albeit via a song
that seems to lack hope.

I was listening to the new Wake Up to Find Out release on my drive
in to work today, when up came “We Can Run.” It’s a beautiful
version, and the fact that Brent forgets the words to the final
verse only adds to its charm—great to hear that chuckle from him,
and I could just picture him shaking his head, smiles all around the
band. Join the club, Brent — who in the band hasn’t forgotten a
verse here and there?

And it occurred to me that this coming Sunday is the People’s
Climate March in New York City, and it seemed like the time to take
up this song.

The Dead were quite involved on a number of levels in environmental
causes over the years. They played numerous benefit concerts for
organizations working for change in environmental concerns, ranging
from the February 17, 1979 show at the Oakland Coliseum Arena for
Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda’s Campaign to End Environmental Cancer to
the New York City concert in support of the Rainforest Action
Network, Greenpeace, and Cultural Survival on September 24, 1988. At
the time Jerry Garcia was quoted in a New York Times article:

''We've never called on our fans to align themselves with one cause
or another, and we've always avoided making any political
statements,'' the band's lead guitarist and vocalist, Jerry Garcia,
said Tuesday. ''But this [saving the rainforests] is an issue that
is life-threatening, and we hope that we can empower our own
audience to act.''

(The 1991 CD they subsequently supported, Deadicated, which featured
bands playing cover versions of Dead songs, was earmarked for the
Rainforest Action Network’s and Cultural Survival’s benefit.)

So when Brent Mydland and John Barlow came up with “We Can Run” for
the 1989 Built to Last release, its sentiments were in line with
years of action and support on the part of the band. Barlow’s
lyrics, much as they were with “Throwing Stones,” are anything but
subtle, and the preachiness is only offset by the sincerity of
Brent’s delivery—hard to argue with that bluesy voice being
righteous. Mydland’s setting for the words is pretty
straightforward, and his bridge is well-constructed, but overall
there isn’t much to distinguish the song aside from its message. 

Maybe that is intentional.

The message is that we are stewards of our planet. And that we are
not behaving well in that regard. It’s not a new message, but it
does seem to be one that has to be sung, stated, written, and
delivered by any means necessary on a continuous basis.
Last night, I watched the documentary The Cove with my son, a high
school freshman, who was assigned the film as extra credit. He has
to write about it. His immediate takeaways, aside from the brutality
of the meaningless slaughter of intelligent beings, were that
clearly some few people stand to make a lot of money at the expense
of the overall ecosystem. Myself, I had to leave the room when the
killing started.

Barlow’s condemnation of our failure to be good stewards of our home
planet is wide-ranging. He points out, in the short course of three
verses, that we have a hole in the ozone layer, that war and arms
dealing distract us from concern for the environment, that the
widening gap between rich and poor worsens everything, and that
subsequent generations will reap the consequences—“the children of
our children’s kids.” This seems like a pretty thorough summary of
all the depressing factors at work in the world, only leaving out
religious fanaticism (although that could be one of the excuses to
use guns that Barlow mentions).

The new release of the show from Nassau Coliseum in March 1990
showcases Garcia’s solo work in the song—particularly well-placed
following the line “the sound of one child crying…” which stands
alone with accompaniment. Garcia’s solo enters as a wail, and, as
with all his playing on this release, proceeds with elegance and
emotion. No wonder Mydland was speechless after the solo and forgot
the words to the next verse!

One aspect of Barlow’s lyrics I’ve always enjoyed is his re-use of
cliché phrases in ways that re-expose them and make them new, and he
does this in this song, beginning with the title. “He can run, but
he can’t hide,” is a phrase (often used with “you can run…”)
embedded in our language. It seems to have been coined by Joe Louis,
the fighter, prior to a heavyweight bout in 1946. Barlow turns it in
on itself, using the first person plural, and making it clear that
the planet is only so big.

“Of all possible worlds,” echoes Voltaire’s character Pangloss—“In
this best of all possible worlds…everything is for the best.” Blind
optimism in the case of the original statement (though mocked by
Voltaire), turned into an admonishment in Barlow’s hands. And in a
way, this song takes the lyrics of “Throwing Stones” and expands and
re-emphasizes that view of our bright blue ball, dizzying with

The day Brent died, my good friend Blake, a guitar player, comforted
himself by playing and singing this song. It’s a good thing to
remind ourselves that the global sense of the song can also be taken
as intensely personal: we can run, but we can’t hide from ourselves.
(Think of the identity of the “nightmare spook” in “Throwing
Stones”— you and me.)

Global / personal. Time to stop running, turn around, and face
ourselves and the facts.

There I go…preachy! Sorry.
deadsongs.vue.217 : We Can Run
permalink #3 of 3: David Gans (tnf) Mon 22 Sep 14 17:02
Thanks David!

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