Jan 232009

Longtime Townspeople will know of my fascination with the video for The Jam‘s “Absolute Beginners.” First of all, it’s one of the last Jam songs that I love unequivocably. More importantly, though, I’ve always sense a lot of meaning in the all-out running scenes. What does it all mean, man? Let’s try to figure it out.

Fig. 1

The members of The Jam are back to back (Fig. 1), as if they’re about to mark off 10 paces for a 3-way duel and…they’re off a mere 9 seconds into the song! I’ve frozen the frame right at that 00:09 mark (Fig. 2); you’ll see that undisputed bandleader Paul Weller is hunched over and lunging out of the blocks. Is he desparate reach the finish line with this band, or is he desparate to prove once and for all that he’s top dog in this fading outfit?

Fig. 2

Bassist Bruce Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler leave the blocks with more poise and confidence, but exactly 1 second later (Fig. 3) the video cuts to an arial view in which Foxton and an even more awkwardly lunging Weller suddenly have two steps on Buckler, who seems to be running to stand still. I read this frame as a clear knock on Buckler and, perhaps, all drummers.

Fig. 3

Two seconds into this unfair advantage, Buckler leaps out to the lead, leaving the left side of the frame altogether while Weller huffs to the right and Buckler keeps to his starter’s rhythm. Then we get our first solo shots of the boys in action. I’ve arranged them in split screen for ease of comparison (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4

Buckler is an animal, a model of efficient movement, all furiously pumping arms and legs! It’s no wonder the guy excelled on driving 4-on-the-floor beats. There’s no swing or freelancing in this guy’s gait. Foxton is lithe and efficient. He’ll do well in the open field, probably being the most adept among the band members at dashing out of the way of an unexpected bicycle or fruit stand. Weller looks bad. His form is wobbly, at best. He seems to be favoring one side, perhaps having stumbled while out shopping before the shoot? At some point in the race he’s acquired a scarf. Why?

At 28 seconds, the lads have somehow reached a point in the race where they’re all on the same street, headed in the same direction. Running ahead of his bandmates, Buckler is clearly the stud of the field. Then a winded Weller (Fig. 5), whistle dangling from his neck and rhythm section relaxing behind him, calls Time! and gets the boys back to the studio, where he can reclaim the lead in this race.

Fig. 5

Now Weller’s got his fire back. Foxton looks just as ready for rockin’ as he did for runnin’, but check out Buckler: he looks a little frustrated to be tied to his throne, once more following the lead of the uncoordinated Weller. With a trademark snare roll he convinces his bandmates to finish the race, even orchestrating a neck-and-neck-and-neck heat, with Paul featured in the middle (Fig. 6). That’s taking one for the team, baby! Think about this image next time you’re about to cut on a drummer. When we next see Buckler running solo his hair is billowing and he projects a manly confidence and visage not unlike that of the late Heath Ledger.

Fig. 6

The band is playing better than ever. Foxton is matching Weller phrase for phrase, snarl for snarl. Buckler is sitting high in the saddle. At the 2:07 mark, Buckler’s seen blowing the whistle (Fig. 7). Then, for the second time, Foxton is shown in front of a clock. Is this marking the end of the band? Now each band member is shown next to the clock…and it’s back to the race!

Fig. 7

As we cut back to the race Foxton has taken the lead followed by Buckler and a struggling Weller. The video cuts back to an angry Buckler, who reaches back and smashes the clock with his drum stick (Fig. 8). “I had this race in the bag!” he must be thinking, “Damn, why’d I have to let them catch up?”

Fig. 8

NEXT: The singer always gets the girl!


  24 Responses to “Bands on the Run”

  1. saturnismine

    I’d like to see a video for the Velvet Underground’s “Run Run Run” that shows them doing exploding plastic inevitably interpretive running, all wasted and artsty-fartsy like.

    Wait a minute…no I wouldn’t.

    This is wonderful stuff, mod.

    The Beatles are miraculous runners. They manage to broadcast the same cheekiness while running that they are known for at post-trans-continental flight press conferences: more evidence that their deity-like status is well deserved.

  2. saturnismine

    very lame-assed pince-nez: isn’t the Christopher Cross song called “Ride like the wind?”

    either way, i’m glad not to see him run.

  3. Mr. Moderator

    Has ANYONE ever seen the ’60s Stones movie, Charlie Is My Darling? I was hoping to find clips of the Stones running away from fans for a separate Beatles-Stones analysis, but there was nothing on YouTube and the like.

  4. Mr. Moderator

    There’s no better use for the Pince-Nez than something that lame. No need to apologize, Sat!

  5. saturnismine

    Thanks for your approval of my nez pince-ing.

    I can’t remember if there’s any running in “Charlie is…”.

    I saw it back in the early 90s, when potato still had no “e” on the end, if ya know what I mean.

  6. Re Absolute Beginners: Will the awesomely stupid use of backward filming (the jumping out, then back into, the red smoke) be the subject of a future thread, or should we discuss it now?

  7. “Lately I’ve been scouring YouTube to find videos showing actual rock musicians in the act of running”

    I’m impressed that you have the balls to have written this line in a public forum.

  8. BigSteve

    The Beatles run kind of androgynously, no? Most rockers didn’t spend a lot of time in gym class, probably acquiring whatever running skills they might have by running away from bigger guys.

    There’s lots of comical running in the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage video:


    I love the sound of the backing track on that one, the vocals and the video not so much.

  9. Mr. Moderator

    How could I have overlooked “Sabotage,” one of my favorite videos ever? Thanks for bringing that one to the table, BigSteve. How’s Denver?

  10. BigSteve

    Denver yesterday was great — sunny and warm. Today there was snow, but you know it’s January, what are you gonna do? It has a surprisingly uncongested downtown, and many, many brewpubs. In general The West kind of creeps me out, but I’m hanging in there.

  11. alexmagic

    Mod, I’m sure everyone admires and appreciates the amount of work you’ve put in on this subject that, no doubt, we’ve all be pondering for some time now. Something I’m surprised that you didn’t note in the Jam running review: Buckler is wearing a shirt with racing stripes on it. Clearly, he came into the Jam Relay expecting it to be a serious competition, which probably accounts for why he’s so angry that Weller called a timeout to skew the race results.

    Doing my part for the efforts here, I’ve gone back this morning and reviewed the pertinent running sections of A Hard Day’s Night. There are two scenes worth noting: the intro and the Can’t By Me Love interlude/track meet.

    During the intro, we see that John has terrible form, running with his arms flailing about wildly. George has an arguably more unorthodox form than John: he runs with his left hand either in his coat pocket, or hovering just outside his coat pocket. I believe, in running circles, they call this a Half Napoleon. Maybe he had a pack of cigarettes in his pocket and was afraid they’d fall out. Famously, George trips and takes a header in the intro, wiping out Ringo behind him. Later evidence may suggest that Ringo is lagging by choice here. When we see the three of them making their final run for the train in the intro, Ringo displays a more natural runner’s form, while John continues to flail about. Note here that Ringo passes the other two and gets into the train first.

    Paul sits out the first heat but shows up during the “Can’t Buy Me Love” events. Early note: a shot of Ringo barely jumping for comedic effect comes later, but when the Beatles all vault over the pile of junk at the bottom of the fire escape, Ringo displays a natural, almost animalistic pounce.

    As they take the field, Paul is down for business, quickly shedding his jacket. Does he feel he has something to prove here, having been forced to miss the first round? In the same moment, John tries to throw off his hat and falls hard on his ass. Paul looks back for a second, spying weakness. Lennon immediately tries to compensate; he takes off for a long run away from the rest and sprints back, his hat now blowing off. About three quarters of the way down, he appears to get winded like Weller would find himself years later. As he runs back, his arms windmill, and he almost does a header face first into the concrete. McCartney strikes back, running at double Lennon’s speed, likely making fun of him as he windmills and does an intentional tumble to the ground. Is this the moment Paul took over as the leader of the band?

    Next, the four of them line up for a relay. George and John are in traditional starting stances in the middle, while Paul and Ringo stand at the outsides, probably exchanging smirks. Paul doesn’t run, instead pretending to kill the others with an imaginary starter’s pistol. Ringo outruns the other two, even in fake death.

    When we next see them, capering in pairs in the concrete square, Paul and Ringo have paired off again, while John and George are partnered once more. I think we’re seeing evidence of the Varsity and JV Beatles squads.

    After they box for a bit, we see a full race. Paul disappoints here, sort of leaping in the back. He’s not going all out, perhaps afraid to lose face to Ringo. John is running at full steam in the lead, but his bad form costs him again, as he tumbles and Ringo is wiped out for a second time. George, having fallen earlier, easily navigates this Beatle bunch-up and sprints ahead for the win.

    Next is the jumping competition. Ringo does his hop, having nothing to prove. George and John show considerably better form than Paul during their jumps, as Paul isn’t taking this thing very seriously. It’s a bit disheartening, as he makes a joke of the whole thing by bounding around quite a bit.

    My take on the Beatles as runners, based on available evidence: Ringo is by far the best runner, with the surest mix of form and athletic skill, but a questionable drafting strategy. John may be the fastest, but terrible form and surprising clumsiness cost him greatly in the field. George seems to be the worst athlete early on. Evidence on Paul is inconclusive: he shows signs of speed and acrobatic skill, but he’s dogging it intentionally throughout. Conclusion? Paul and Ringo need to race each other in 2009, to determine once and for all which Beatle was the best runner.

  12. hrrundivbakshi

    No, No, NO, Mod! Look carefully at the scene where Buckler smashes the clock. Your explanation of what’s happening here completely misses the point, since BUCKLER IS NOT SMASHING THE CLOCK WITH A DRUMSTICK. He’s using a hammer! Yes, it’s true — a hammer! YouTube might not provide the frame-by-frame detail required to see this, but I assure you that’s what he’s deploying; I slowed down the DVD to analyse this moment in detail when I got the Jam DVD box set, so iconic a moment it is in the band’s video history.

    This hammer-smashing-clock scene has gone on to acquire tremendous importance to me as I explore my feelings about this band. Am I disgusted by the fakery of it? Did they try earnestly to do the smashing with a drumstick and fail (and, if so, where are the outtakes)? Is this somehow a comment on the plight of the working man; an exhortation to rise up and smash the system that keeps you tied to the clock from nine to five… using the tools they give you to build their God-damned war machine? What’s going on here?

    I appreciate your desire to examine Running In Rock, but, as I say, you’ve missed a crucial detail in this clock-smashing scene. Your carelessness threatens to up-end your entire analysis.



  13. give this a whirl Mr. Moderator:
    you’ll wish you haden’t!

  14. Mr. Moderator

    Kilroy, you’re a genius! You too, Alexmagic. HVB, my deepest apologies for missing the hammer, if I did indeed miss that. I’ll have to see if I can get a screen capture of that for the record. This may change everything.

  15. saturnismine

    it’s definitely a hammer.

  16. Mr. Moderator

    The “Absolute Beginners” single preceded the release of The Gift, right? I was noticing that the split-screen graphic I created for this analysis seems to tie into that later album’s cover. Note, too, how the band members are organized according to the Olympic medals ceremony placement that would have followed the “Absolute Beginners” race!


  17. 2000 Man

    One thing this thread is helping to prove is the apparently endless gaffe goldmine that is Mick Jagger’s solo career. Can’t he get Bill Cosby to buy all his old videos so they won’t be seen anymore?

  18. trivia:
    Let’s Work was the first commercial video produced using Hi-Definition technology.

  19. mockcarr

    I suspect a video for the Jam’s Running On The Spot went nowhere.

  20. How about the video for The Pixies’ “Velouria?”


    I recall that MTV only showed it once; they disliked it so much.

  21. Mr. Moderator

    Great find, Doctor!!! Slo-mo rock running. Now that’s cool.

  22. AlexMagic,
    Great Beatles analysis, but don’t forget that the extreme high shots of the 4 Beatles includes a ringer Ringo. Ringo was sick that day of shooting, so it’s 3 Beatles and a stand-in for Ringo in the scenes where it’s too far to see their faces. For all we know it may be a marathon runner from Kenya portraying Ringo.

    Don’t Costello and the boys run around like pigeon-toed dorks in Oliver’s Army?

  23. Mr. Moderator

    Wow, Chickenfrank, Elvis takes off at the 1:25 mark but not the rest of the band:


    It’s possible, though, that they all run on one of those other Help!-like videos they made at that time.

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