In 1983, I was just about the happiest pup in the play yard.
I was a teenager, and everything – almost – was going my way. In retrospect, it was one of the best years of my life. I remember one very difficult rite of passage related to losing a good friend to major mistakes (his), but other than that, all of my memories of that year are very positive. Like all adolescents, a touchstone of my memories is the music. That year, The Police released Synchronicity.
One of the biggest hits from this album was King of Pain. I sang it. I wrote the lyrics. I drove around town with my friends listening to it. I hold it as a “Top 10” of my high school years songs. And I had no more idea what it was about than I knew how to split the atom in my kitchen.
Today of all days, I know what it is about. I accepted something today at last that I was postponing, postponing mostly due to my desire that it not be true. Who can say why some things are clear in one interpretation and not in another? I think it is in the interpretation, but also in the life experience. I came across a video of another popular music artist singing the song, and in the first listen I got it. Maybe it’s today. Maybe it’s that the artist’s gender and age match mine at last. Maybe I’ll never know. But listening today, all of the images that for eighteen years have been strange and mysterious suddenly converged into a single, clear message: Futility is painful.
The images in King of Pain are not just about futility. The images are nearly 100% images of life in its natural state, being exactly where it is “supposed” to be doing exactly what it is “supposed” to do, and yet being unreachable and unable to continue its purpose.
A dead salmon frozen in a waterfall. A blue whale beached by a spring tide’s ebb. A king in a position to lead, who is rendered blind. A piece of cloth, run up a flag pole, whipped about in a wind that won’t stop. A fossil trapped in a high cliff wall. A cat unable to come down from a tree I’m sure it joyfully climbed.
This song is a very sad poem about doing everything right and still being in trouble and not knowing what to do next.
I think I’m really very grateful I had no idea what it was about when I was young. I wouldn’t mind not knowing now. But there is more…..all is not lost!
Whenever someone asks what famous person living or dead I’d like to have dinner with, I am never prepared to answer. Today, I am prepared. I want to have dinner with Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner. I want to ask the man who voiced King of Pain where he is now. It’s not that I don’t think he still understands where he was in 1983; but he’s 60 years old this year and I imagine that after living nearly twice as long now as he had when he first sang his sad and haunting song, he has a new layer of perspective on those images.
Sting, just drop a comment here on the blog, friend. I’ll email you and set something up.
11 thoughts on “King of Pain: Always Be?”
Oh! He says “salmon?” I had no idea… 🙂
Like you, I have heard this song a million times and never picked up on the meaning (other than there’s a guy who says he’s in pain and he wants someone to “end this rain”).
It all makes sense now–those “little black spots” have no hope of preventing the sun from doing its job.
Thanks for shedding some light on this.
Well, it’s just the first time I’ve even had a clue, even of something that makes sense to me! I’m sure there’s more; thus, our future dinner date.
p.s. You are also invited.
I am pretty sure that my devotion to The Police was very close to worship. Sting’s image looked down from all of my bedroom walls. I wrote, in my best loopy print, “Deborah Sumner.” I used lyrics from If You Love Someone to break up with a boyfriend. I prided myself in understanding all their songs. I knew everything when I was a teen. bah! You just opened a door I didn’t even try to open back then. Veryinteresting You have led me to read about Carl Jung’s theory of Synchronicity..Wikipedia (yes, I know) says that the album is named after that theory. It makes sense. But, if unlike Jung, you believe in God not coincidence, the theory can go beyond The Police’s interpretation of the theory in King Of Pain. When I have done everything right, but it all still goes wrong, I am glad that the God I put pop stars ahead of, welcomes me back and offers me comfort that exceeds all understanding. Thank you for this blog entry. You unknowingly wrote words that led me down a path of study that has lifted me from a pouring rain of pain. Synchronicity.
You and I need to spend some time together this year. Love to you, friend. And thank you so much for being so open and sharing this with me.
This post triggers so many thoughts. How we change, how our perspective changes. How we don’t always appreciate the artists’ art at the time.
Related trivia: The Police performed at a club called the Galaxy 2000 in South Charleston (where the Thomas Imaging Center is now) back in the early 80’s, just before they exploded on the national scene. Davy Jones of the Monkees, too, but that’s trivia for another post.
I’m afraid to confess I vaguely remember that Galaxy 2000 gig! I was too young to go, but I remember them being there (I think).
I’ve read rumours about the Galaxy 2000 gig by THE POLICE for a few years now. The gig is not listed in any official literature and even left out of the sting.com list of concerts – by now I’ve learnt that it was on October 18, 1979. looking for more details !!!
The date sounds right. I graduated from college in 78 and and 79 would have been about the right time. The right time for Davy Jones as well. How did you learn the date?
Really good piece, Elizabeth- really good. Of course, right now I have Quiet Riot going on YouTube. Probably not the same depth in “Bang Your Head(Metal Health)”…but you never know.
Thanks, Mr. T. I, in fact, never know. 🙂