King Nothing

Burning Down the House by the Talking Heads starts with this cautionary statement, “Watch out! You might get what you’re after!”

I have used this as a motto since my college days. I have always been good about setting goals and accomplishing them. And this saying keeps me humble about choosing a goal and making sacrifices along the way.

In the same vein, I have become intrigued by the ominous question “Where’s your crown?” in Metallica’s “King Nothing.”

And as I am chasing my “crown” of a Boston qualifying (BQ) marathon, the lyric “All the things you chase. Are you satisfied? Are you pacified? Careful what you wish. You just might get it. Careful what you say. You may regret it. (And it all crashes down!) Where’s your crown, King Nothing?” is a warning to me. What if I don’t get my crown? Keep it in perspective. Stay balanced.

[As someone noted in the comments, that crown looks like something Burger King might give away. Reminds me a little of a finisher’s medal. It’s only worth what you put into it.]

I was right in the middle of a long run, and “King Nothing” came on. My mind (ego) was thinking dangerously about being the “king” of my body (id). I was on the cliff’s edge, thinking I can push just a bit faster. Then Viva La Vida came on.

“I used to… Listen as the crowd would sing, ‘Now the old king is dead. Long live the king.'” And later, “Revolutionaries wait for my head on a silver plate… Ah, who would ever wanna be king?” [The blending of the French Revolution and John the Baptist is not lost on me. I love it.] And I thought, “Not me.” And my ego said to my id, “How ’bout we share it?​ And you tell me how fast you feel we can run.”

These thoughts drove me to the Bible to find the verse about the “crown of life.” It’s from Revelation 2:10. Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life. The “ten days” was coincidental: Today is about 10 weeks from the Kansas City Half. It is very important to me to do well, because I am using it as a benchmark for my training for the LA marathon in the Spring, which is the marathon at which I hope to BQ. This Bible verse gives me some perspective as I face the remaining training. Really, a Boston qualifier is small potatoes. What is ultimately important is that I give God thanks and praise.

Then, U2 had something to say. Out of my MP3 player come the words of the prophet Bono, singing from the book of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, chapter Vertigo.

It is no accident that this video is set in the desert, because this song takes the story of Jesus being tempted in the desert by Satan and draws an analogy to being in a dance club, where there are temptations and gray areas, like the “girl with crimson nails with Jesus round her neck.” As the video descends into darkness, the voice of Satan is heard: “All of this can be yours. Just give me what I want. And no one gets hurt.” Finally, Bono breaks out of the “checkmate” with “Your love is teaching me how to kneel. How to kneel!”

And the answer is clear again. Perspective. Balance. Humility.

Epilogue. When I watched the video for Burning Down the House, it was like getting punched by Mike Tyson. Over and over again.

I think of myself as an “ordinary guy.” The current working title of my book is “Everyday Runner.” I know – to think I could write a book that people would read – that’s vain. But maybe I’ll just write a book.

“Don’t go jumpin’ overboard,” reminds me of Jesus at the top of the Temple. “Transportation is here!” makes me think about the angels that are going to save him from (even) bruising his feet on the rocks.

The lyric “fighting fire with fire” is a koan. Is that fighting hell-fire with hell-fire?

“Sometimes I listen to myself… Gonna come in first place.” But that thought never lasts long.

In the video, the alter-band makes me think of a family; I would love it if Melanie, the boys, and I could do a mock-u-video as the alter-band. My imagination is just going to have to do.

As the kid (monkey?) climbs on David Byrne’s back, and he sings, “Some things sure can sweep me off my feet,” I am reminded of my falls that eventually led to my chronically injured piriformis, which eventually led me to a chiropractor. The fact that the kid is on David’s back and he plays on as if everything is fine makes me think of me running on as if everything is fine. Gosh, that used to really hurt!

Finally, the video closes with David Byrne, his face superimposed on the road (to nowhere), which looks just like the road I run on, early in the morning, when I’m all alone and I own it.

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2 Responses to King Nothing

  1. Tad says:

    Music while running would be a blessing and a curse to me. Perhaps that is one reason I avoid it. I can imagine myself angrily pounding out 5:28 worth of pain and regret to King Nothing. Far and away the best track on Load. I’m also contemplating my cadence going above 200 on Burning Down the House. Finally, nobody does hopefulness coming out of melancholy like Coldplay.

    Don’t worry about a BQ being King Nothing. You’ve already got your crown! Mission accomplished. If the new goal is running it, you’ll easily get it for 2016. Ten more minutes!

    • neltow says:

      Thanks for the comment. You helped me remember that I was satisfied with my BQ in 2013, and I had no desire then to actually go to Boston. It also reminded me that when I was young, I would “point” these songs at other people. They were the ones who were King Nothings. Now I’m a more apt to see my own shortcomings and have my own regrets. And these things can get pretty heavy in the middle of a run.

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