Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Songs that Changed the Landscape of Human Thought and Understanding: David Geddes' "Run Joey Run"

In his classic text Politics, the philosopher Aristotle correctly observes, "The notion of a city naturally precedes that of a family or an individual, for the whole must necessarily be prior to the parts, for if you take away the whole man, you cannot say a foot or a hand remains." If this is indeed the case, then we all must live in pretty dysfunctional cities. Aristotle's idealistic view of the family's role in society illustrates an unassailable fact: that it wasn't until quite recently in human history that the family unit became such a source of complete befuddlement for its sharpest psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists. A cursory examination of literature and film prior to the 1950s will reveal that ALL families ran swimmingly. However, thanks to Natalie Wood's role as Judy in the 1955 classic Rebel Without a Cause, that all changed. Her father's rejection of her in the film created the perfect conditions for father-daughter dissent globally. In its wake, popular music responded strongly. Madonna's "Papa Don't Preach" (1986) and DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince's gender-neutral masterpiece "Parents Just Don't Understand" (1988) appropriately reflect this new era of fragmentation in the family structure. However, no song better illustrates this rapid devolution of the family unit than David Geddes' "Run Joey Run," a Top Ten hit that took the entire universe by storm in 1975.

"Run Joey Run" relates the story of an Oedipal triangle of desire featuring the narrator Joey, his, um, ex-girlfriend Julie, and Julie's abusive father. After finding out Joey has gotten Julie pregnant, Julie's father vows to kill Joey. However, because of one of these things--a) fate; b) the father's lousy aim; c) a faulty firearm; d) Julie's secret martyr-complex, or; e) a soul-crushing way to learn about the concept of irony--the father misses his intended target, killing his daughter instead. To keep this story from bumming out an entire generation of teenagers, David Geddes--who was, oddly enough, a law student at the time the song became a raging success--successfully deploys some Socratic method (just kidding!) and a little 60s girl-group melodrama to build up tension within the track. The addition of an unidentified female voice in the role of Julie along with a crescendo rivaling The Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack" (1965) make "Run Joey Run" a cautionary tale about how a combination of abstinence-only education and an asshole dad can lead to fatal shootings. David Geddes' achievement with "Run Joey Run" is to signal the unfortunate shift in family relations in the years after James Dean made straight men lust for him in Rebel Without a Cause in an accessible manner. Its heavy story and violent conclusion are completely undermined by its "I'm going for a hard jog" musical backdrop, and for that it is a brilliant achievement. As Matthew Slaughter (acted by Martin Donovan) says in the film Trust (1990, dir. Hal Hartley), "A family is like a gun. You point it in the wrong direction, you're gonna kill somebody."

I don't mean to make light of the serious subject matter of this song. If you or anybody you know is being physically, sexually, or emotionally abused, please check out the following links:

The Hotline: The National Domestic Violence Hotline
Prevent Child Abuse America


  1. I find it interesting that the puppet-interpretation adds racial implications in their casting of an uncanny Obamaesque puppet as "Joey." Alters significantly the meaning behind "Run, Joey, Run." Should Joey "run" for office in an attempt to revise gun laws? Or "run" from the gun? Either way, a volatile interpretation, Puppet Masters.