Beat The Champ is an album about survival, endurance and legacy, and all of those threads intersect at “Heel Turn 2”. The narrator has suffered for years in the name of an ideal that has outlived its usefulness, and in order to move forward he must change in a way that will seriously complicate how people remember him. This is not a choice he makes lightly; if it’s not a matter of life and death, it certainly seems that way to him. (“I don’t want to die in here.”) His life is at stake, but not in the sense that he’s facing a literal death. He’s looking down the barrel at the rest of his life and he’s seeing nothing but a fist flying into his face over and over again. It’s not hard to see why he might want to torch a few bridges.
What complicates things is the unfortunate fact that he’s a good guy — or at least he’s played the part of a good guy for so long and so well that it’s the only way people see him He’s an “upstanding, well-loved man about town,” and the thought that he would throw all of that away is too terrible and confusing to grasp. But out of all the people watching his transformation, pearls clutched and mouths agape, none of them knows how it feels to be down there in the ring, getting the shit kicked out of you just because you decided to be a “good guy.” If you’re taking that kind of beating day in and day out, the thing you’re fighting for eventually stops looking so important. You stop seeing ‘good’ or ‘bad’, you just see winning and losing. And nobody wants to spend the rest of their life on the losing side.
For the wrestler in this song, there’s only one choice he can make. In the dual-toned morality of his world, if you’re not fighting on the side of righteousness, you’re a bad guy, a heel. All you can do is burn it all down and walk in the other direction. Come unhinged. Get revenge.
For the rest of us, things are rarely that decisive. Barring a sudden, personality-altering medical event, you’re not going to switch sides just like that. But you can still make the turn. If you’re frustrated, or you’re in love, or you’re angry, or you’re trying to avoid pain, you can take a step away from yourself. A lot of the time, it’s going to blow up in your face. You’re going to push the limits of who you are, wind up looking like an ass, and slide back into your old ways. But sometimes, that step helps. It gets you closer to what you’re looking for or further away from what you want to avoid. So you take another step, and then another. Enough steps and you can make the turn.
The really, really tough part about making the turn out here in the real world is that there’s no way of knowing if you’ve done it for the right reason. Maybe you did it to survive, or maybe you were just looking for an excuse to let off some steam. Either way, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. After all, there’s no way of knowing if you were even a good guy to begin with.