“Let the River Run”

“Let the River Run”

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Story Behind the Song

Carly Simon
“Let the River Run”

Written and Recorded by Carly Simon

Mike Nichols called one day and asked me if I’d score a movie he was doing — it was Working Girl. It didn’t really matter what it was, because anything he does is so classy, funny, I’d drop anything for him. He sent a script to me but I didn’t get much of a sense of it until I read through it a couple of times. On the first read, I knew it was about a girl in the tough world of Wall Street, a man’s world. Then I saw the story emerge. The essence of it is that New York, and Wall Street in particular, is the jungle so I thought of a jungle beat.

Ironically, the character Melanie Griffith plays worked in the Twin Towers. My skin gets crawly when I think about it. When she takes the ferry in the film, you see the Towers. Of course, that was before 9/11. It’s so profound to see it now.

I wanted the irony of a jungle hymn (this is the one and only hymn I’ve ever written). This is about beasts killing other beasts, what Wall Street is in a covert way, although not so covert anymore.

When I thought about the lyrics and the title, “river” came to mind. Almost every song I’ve ever written has the words river and dream in them. I owe much of the concept to Jim Hart, my husband at the time and still a great friend. It was he who suggested that I consult with Walt Whitman to get a feel of a hymn and I got an understanding of Old Amsterdam from “Leaves of Grass,” which I read quite a lot. Old Amsterdam, too, was a jungle and man has always been a bit of a beast.

It was Jim who said I should use “River Run” in the title. He’s a poet (and a good one) and appreciates the way words are put together. I was thinking of the Hudson River in real terms and, metaphorically, the universal river that runs through all of our lives. Although this is the only song Jim ever helped me with, he pointed me in all of the right directions from Whitman to William Blake, who referenced New Jerusalem. Jim is much more knowledgeable about the Bible than I.

I wrote most of the song in the living room of my house on Martha’s Vineyard. The words came first and I just kept going back to the piano until I was happy with the melody. For the power of the song, I wanted the bridge to have a different tempo than the choruses. The varied rhythm built the tension — it pulls away then comes back for the choruses.

When I was ready to make the demo, I called my lawyer, friends, my kids and their friends, rented a studio, and taught them all the melody and the words and everyone sang it together. There were 7 voices on 8 tracks and we kept doubling them until I got a choir sound. When it was finished, I invited Mike (Nichols) and Diane (Sawyer) over — they came to dinner a lot — and played it for them while I sang and played it on the piano in my living room over the recording.

Mike was thrilled and I’ve seen him when something wasn’t right! You can tell when a song works — and this one did. It is one of my most requested and most played songs. Mike reacted like that when I wrote “Itsy Bitsy Spider” as the theme for Heartburn. Mike, Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson called me from their trailer crying. I knew that was right and it was the same with this. Although I wrote several other songs for Working Girl, this one worked so well that we just used various versions of it 15 times throughout the film.

One of the most meaningful applications of the song was right after 9/11. The Post Office asked me to sing it for a TV spot praising the postal workers, for which I re-recorded some of it.

Although I did a video with Melanie Griffith and Joan Cusack for the song, unfortunately, with questionable judgment from the record company, it wasn’t released as a soundtrack until four or five months after the film was released and it had already lost its impetus for radio. I tried to promote it myself and have radio play it, but it was a daunting task and not my forté. The song has certainly taken on a life of its own, however, and there are even arrangements now for school choirs.

Winning all of the accolades, from the Oscar and Golden Globe to the Grammy and British awards, was the icing on the cake.

“Let the River Run”

We’re coming to the edge,

Running on the water,

Coming through the fog,

Your sons and daughters.

Let the river run,

Let all the dreamers

Wake the nation.

Come, the New Jerusalem.

Silver cities rise,

The morning lights

The streets that meet them,

And sirens call them on

With a song.

It’s asking for the taking.

Trembling, shaking.

Oh, my heart is aching.

We’re coming to the edge,

Running on the water,

Coming through the fog,

Your sons and daughters.

We the great and small

Stand on a star

And blaze a trail of desire

Through the dark’ning dawn.

It’s asking for the taking.

Come run with me now,

The sky is the color of blue

You’ve never even seen

In the eyes of your lover.

Oh, my heart is aching.

We’re coming to the edge,

Running on the water,

Coming through the fog,

Your sons and daughters.

It’s asking for the taking.

Trembling, shaking.

Oh, my heart is aching.

We’re coming to the edge,

Running on the water,

Coming through the fog,

Your sons and daughters.

Let the river run,

Let all the dreamers

Wake the nation.

Come, the New Jerusalem.

Theme from the Motion Picture Working Girl. Words and Music by Carly Simon. © 1988, 1989 C’est Music; T C F Music Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. Photo credit Heidi Wild.

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