My song today is ‘Running Scared’. This song was written by Roy Orbison and Joe Melson and was sung by Orbison. Written as an operatic rock ballad, the recording of the song was overseen by audio engineer Bill Porter and was and released as a 45-rpm single by Monument Records in March 1961. It went to Number 1 on the ‘Billboard Hot 100’ chart. ‘Running Scared’ also reached Number 9 in the ‘UK Singles Chart’. It sold over one million copies in the US alone. The song was included on Orbison's 1962 album ‘Crying’ as the final track on the album.
Noted for being a song written without a chorus, the song builds in the lyrics, arrangement, and vocals to a climax that, without vibrato, demonstrates the power of Orbison's clear, full voice. It is written in the bolero style, and Orbison is credited with bringing this to the rock genre. Fred Foster, producer of the session and of Monument Records, did not want the powerful high note that ends the song to end in falsetto but in a full or natural voice.
This record was released almost two years before I set sail for Canada, where I would live for a couple of years before returning home to West Yorkshire to settle down, marry and start a family. Ever since incurring a serious traffic accident, that almost cost me my life and my legs at the age of 11 years, my adult plans before getting married had been mapped out since the age of 14 years. Following my bad accident as a boy, I was awarded an amount of compensation that was a considerable sum of money for the time and I was determined to use that money to travel around America after I attained the age of 21 years and was able to access the cash.
My teenage years were spent as a wild teenager, a dare-devil lad who was confident and too full of himself. I was a good-looking young man who could sing and dance and who was popular with the young women who were on the courting circuit. Unlike all the other young men during the 1960s (who tended to get married before they were 21 years old and even become the father of two snotty-nosed kids before they were 24 years of age), I had no intention of settling down to the domesticity of marriage and parenthood until I’d rid myself of all my wanderlust, and any other lust that was hanging around!
Consequently, I never dated any girl longer than a few weeks, and always broke up with them before I started to develop feelings for her. I had always been a hopeless romantic and while I quite liked the notion and experience of ‘falling in love’ with every beautiful young woman I ever dated, I clearly knew the difference between physical and emotional entanglement. I, therefore, maintained an emotional distance from all my dates while managing to get as physically close to the young woman in question as I could.
All my life prior to my accident, I had proved to be fearless. I would play ‘chicken’ running across the railway lines with other lads from our estate. There was a railway bridge up Cemetery Road in Heckmondwike (near the Catholic Church) that had a wall at each side of the road about one foot wide and thirty yards in length. Boys would race each other across the distance of both walls with a drop of over twenty yards onto the railway tracks below, were anyone to fall. I have raced this ‘run of the bridge’ at least one dozen times. I have known one boy fall toward the track below. As soon as he started running, the boy tripped and fell off the bridge. As the rest of the boys quickly looked over the edge expecting to see a blood-spattered body on the tracks below, fortunately for the unfortunate faller, he had landed on the grass verge which ran three yards wide, bordering each side of the railway tracks. Although he fell onto a grass verge below instead of the hard tracks and lived to tell the tale, he never walked again without wearing a metal ring-like brace (llizarov frame) which is used to hold badly broken and crushed legs that have been pinned with metal rods to hold the bones together.
I recall being in one of the first families in Liversedge to move onto the newly-built council estate called ‘Windybank’ when I was 8/9 years old. Half of the estate remained to be built over the five years that followed and whenever the workers went home at the end of the day, all the boys and girls on the estate would use the partly-built houses and the high sand piles to play in. One entrance into gang membership included jumping off the roof of a three-bedroomed two-story house onto a heap of sand below (approximately an 8-yards leap from a roof rafter). Many a boy’s arm or leg was broken, but apart from a few fractures and the odd scrape, I escaped such harm.
I recall when I worked at Harrison Gardener’s Dyeworks (just off the estate) there was a mill chimney over 100 feet high. The chimney had a metal ladder down each side. I had always hated heights and I was bet £5 by a workmate called Arthur Kirk to climb the chimney to the top and back. At the time of 1959, my weekly wage was around £14, and I accepted the wager.
When it came to the time to scale the chimney, my nerves overcame me as soon as I placed one foot on the first rung of the metal ladder which was fastened to the tall brick mill chimney. I withdrew to chides of ‘chicken’ and paid the £5 wager to Arthur. However, that was not the end of the matter.
If there was one thing I feared above all other things after living through my horrific traffic accident and learning to walk again after three years of being unable to, it was the presence of ‘fear’ itself. I had been brought up by my father to deliberately do that which I feared to get rid of the fear. My dad used to tell me that was the only way to master fear instead of letting it ‘best you’ (my father’s term for ‘get the better of you’).
One summer evening when I was working over at the Dyeworks and after the day workers had ended for the day, I stepped on to the first rung of the mill chimney and started to climb. I had no audience cheering me on as I had told nobody of my intention to scale the chimney. This time, I wasn’t climbing the chimney to win a bet, but instead to overcome my fear of climbing it. Pride not prize was my only incentive. Up I went gingerly, all the way with my body inside the chimney ladder looking out; not realising that the climb would have been easier and less fearful had I climbed the ladder from the outside like some steeplejack would do instead of constantly having my eyes focussed on how far I would fall if I lost my footing.
For weeks after bottling out of my first failed attempt, I remain angered at this nagging fear inside me. Its mere presence angered me more than the fear itself and I knew that if I did not climb that bloody chimney, I would never be able to live with myself again. My climb was therefore wholly egotistical, in order to preserve my self-respect. The chimney was there, its height terrified me, and being fearful of climbing it angered me greatly. At the time, I was wholly unaware that the presence of a sufficient level of anger in my body would help suppress my fear level. It took me half an hour to slowly climb both up and down inside the metal ladder. Each rung of the ladder climbed witnessed me hanging on for dear life, almost frozen in fear each time I attempted to move up another rung. I gripped each metal rung as though there was no tomorrow. I have never shit my pants but I have never been as scared in my life as I was that day.
I managed to climb up and down but two other workmates who were also working overtime cooling down the furnace stoker saw me half-way down, gingerly descending the ladder. I asked them not to tell the other workers the next day, knowing that I’d be instantly dismissed by the bosses if they found out. They obviously did tell some workmates though. So, whenever asked, I always denied what had taken place. I did not need the glory as I did it out of fear. I did it for me; for my pride and self-respect. Arthur Kirk was more than happy to believe that I would never made the climb. I always knew afterward that I would never climb the chimney again, even were I offered untold riches.
So, the message of today’s song, ‘Running Scared’ never really applied to me ‘except in one thing only’. Prior to going to Canada at the age of 21 years, I was always ‘running scared’ from establishing any emotional closeness to the beautiful young women I dated, and the potential risk of early marriage if I ever stumbled and fell!
Love and peace Bill xxx