Monday, November 29, 2010

Run That Body Down

Another unusual advice-giving song. The message here is clear: "How long you think that you can run that body down?"

In other words, how long do you think you can keep up this crazy schedule, with no rest?

This album was released in 1972. The speaker on this song is Simon himself; we know this because the doctor calls him "Paul." Although he was only in his early 30s at the time (yes, he had accomplished his entire S&G career by age 30), we might well assume that the strains of writing and recording his first (post-breakup) solo album-- with all the pressure for hits that came with it-- was wearing on him.

The "Peg" mentioned in the song is Simon's first wife, Peg Harper. She is mentioned again in the song "Call Me Al." A friend of theirs kept forgetting their names; instead of "Peggy" and "Paul," he would call them "Betty" and "Al."

The "kid" in the last verse might well be the listener... or it could (depending on when the song was written) refer to Simon's first child. His name is Harper, in honor of Peg's maiden name. He was born in... 1972. Babies, of course, are notorious for their sporadic and ever-changing sleeping and eating patterns, perhaps not unlike those of rock stars.

Harper's birth might also explain was Peg was doing that was running her own body down-- having and taking care of a newborn.

The somewhat lethargic tempo and languid tone of the piece fits the message: We're all going a mile a minute, and the pace starting to take its toll. Let's rein it in a bit, shall we, before we collapse.

As Billy Joel would later put it in his song "Vienna": "You better cool it off before you burn it out."

Speaking of Harper, he recorded his debut album in the past couple of years, and we will discuss the songs on it with which Simon helped him with after we discuss the songs on Simon's own Surprise. After that, of course, we will turn to the songs on Simon's 2011 album So Beautiful or So What.

Next Song: Armistice Day


  1. Hey there. I really like this blog, I stumbled onto it while seeking some context for another tune (Peace Like A River; you're the only one I've read who is even in the same ballpark as me on that one, but I was hoping for specific info, I.e. *which* peace march...). Anyway, running that body down always seemed to me - right from the first hearing - to refer to drugs and alcohol abuse. Simon left all of that behind at a healthy young age, and this song, I think, accurately reflects his attitude towards that stuff at that point in his life. How many nights do you think that you can do what you've been doing...Kid you better look around.

  2. dmitch77, Thanks for the compliment. I don't know which protest it was. It might be possible to find out exactly when Simon wrote the song and check news reports for that year in New York to see if a specific protest was held. Or it could be that anti-war protests in northern cities reminded him of civil-rights protests more prevalent in southern ones (which might explain why he added a gospel element to the lyrics).
    For what it's worth they have downgraded from "wires" and "chains" to pepper spray but "The Man" is still attacking peaceful protesters. To quote another song: "When will they ever learn?"