Keith after his Toronto drug bust in 1978, when they were about to make him run
Four years ago, in the midst of a rather difficult time, I made the decision to abandon academia and strike out into the world of independent schools. It felt like a risky decision, but being 1500 miles from my wife and working in a dysfunctional environment in an isolated, culturally bereft town was driving me nuts. During that time, a few songs were in heavy rotation in my stereo, and "Before They Make Me Run" was one of them. The chorus just said it all: "I'm gonna walk before they make me run."
It's a song sung by Keith, and he brings his customary tumbledown attitude and sly style, with a lot less affect than Jagger. The character he voices appears to have stumbled in from a Tom Waits tune. He talks of working the "sideshows and bars" of "Route 22" and saying "good-bye to another good friend" who got taken down by all the "booze and pills and powders." Richards' voice as he relates this story can only be described as a drawling sneer, and it's perfect. Musically it moves along well, aided by the fact that Richards, not Bill Wyman, plays bass on it. Based on the other songs where Richards plays that instrument, I'm pretty convinced that he could have been one of rock music's greatest bass players had he not been a guitarist. They song moves and grooves with fluidity, and Ron Wood provides some wonderful slide guitar touches.
"Before They Make Me Run" is one of the last great Stones songs before they turned into an oldies act during the great American Reagan-era cash-in. The funkier groove that Keith and co. seemed to pick up in the polyester decade often seemed wasted on half-baked, tossed off songs, but this tune is a rare exception. In any case, I have a soft spot in my heart for a song that gave me the strength to "find my way to heaven, 'cause I did my time in hell."