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.