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"There's a skeleton choking on a crust of bread" is a lyric from the song "King of Pain", written by Sting, and recorded by The Police for their album Synchronicity. In the song, Sting's lyrics feature a series of one line vignettes of unusual and disturbing situations, followed by the refrain "That's my soul up there". Sting's soul is akin to a black spot on the sun, or a salmon frozen in a waterfall, and of course, a skeleton choking on a crust of bread. Having refreshed you on the cultural history of the 80s, lets focus on the important issue:

Why would a skeleton be choking on a crust of bread? Skeletons are dead, and no longer need nourishment. This is our first objection to this lyric. The second objection follows from the first: being dead, a skeleton doesn't need to breathe, so choking isn't a problem. The trachea and esophagus are no longer at loggerheads, both being unnecessary. And, in fact, choking implies the presence of some type of flesh to be blocked, whereas a crust of bread pushed into a skeleton's mouth would merely fall to the floor. Theoretically, the crust of bread could get stuck in the skeleton's cervical vertebrae, but that wouldn't interfere with access to the lungs. Which of course, they don't have. And if they did somehow have some type of spectral lungs that could be blocked by bread in their non-existent esophagus, they have other options for airflow: a skeleton would just let air flow through its ribcage to deliver oxygen to the lungs that aren't there.

From an anatomical and biological point of view, this song makes no sense.

There is one theoretical way the lyric could be meaningful: perhaps it is a reference to the skeleton of someone who died, choking on a crust of bread? But the lyric makes it sound like the bread is still there: long after the flesh has melted away, the crust of bread stays lodged where it ended the person's life. There seems to be no easy way to explain the lyric, all explanations bring more questions than they answer.

It might seem like unraveling Sting's lyrics from 35 years ago is not the best usage of our time. But the reader should remember that in the early 1980s, Sting was not just a lyricist, he was the lyricist. He was considered poetic and experimental enough that he transcended the usual world of being a rock star. And at times, this reputation was deserved, especially after the heyday of Arena Rock in the late 1970s. But here, we see what passed for profundity at the time: an image that is both trite and nonsensical.

beyond reason
beyond logic
beyond hope
beyond reality

my soul longs

like a skeleton
choking on a crust of bread

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