The Buddhism-Inspired Meaning Behind “Saved by Zero” by The Fixx

The Fixx’s moody, atmospheric “Saved by Zero” might have seemed like a strange choice as a lead single for their second album Reach the Beach. Not only does the song lack a big chorus, but the concept of someone being saved by a number is esoteric for a radio hit. What could it even mean to be “saved by zero”? As it turns out, there are at least two meaningful ways to interpret the song’s title phrase. One was thought of by The Fixx’s vocalist Cy Curnin, and the other was a meaning he wished he’d thought of.

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The meaning Curnin intended for “Saved by Zero” emerged from the confluence of changes in his life circumstances and a Buddhist mantra he had been practicing. Let’s take a look at the message Curnin tried to get across in this 1983 hit, and the more literal interpretation he has grown to appreciate.

Curnin Takes Back His Power

Reach the Beach was The Fixx’s breakthrough album, but their 1982 debut Shuttered Room made the band visible enough to change its members’ lives. “Saved by Zero” was Curnin’s statement about how he coped with the changes in his personal and professional lives, as well as a response to the feelings of powerlessness he felt when writing songs for Shuttered Room, such as “Stand or Fall” and “Red Skies.” Regarding the latter, Curnin told Songfacts, “I was feeling that sense of impotence back then in the early ’80s or late ’70s when [U.S. President] Ronald Reagan and [British Prime Minister] Margaret Thatcher were getting in bed together, metaphorically speaking, and designing a whole defense system that involved Europeans’ lives without asking us—it was never on any electorate ballot that I can remember.”

“Saved by Zero” was Curnin’s way of taking his power back. About the time he was writing lyrics for Reach the Beach, he had started to explore Buddhism, and part of his teachings involved a mantra that was about getting back to a state of nothingness. As Curnin explained in a 2008 interview for the Las Vegas Sun, “[The mantra] clears your head of all fears and panics and illusions, and you get back to the basics. … The idea of the song is how great it is to get back to zero.”

Contrasting Control with Surrender

In the opening lines of “Saved by Zero,” Curnin contrasts the yearnings that caused him to suffer with the freedom that comes with no attachments.

Maybe someday
Saved by zero
I’ll be more together
Stretched by fewer
Thoughts that leave me

Curnin appears to be observing his ego, recognizing his desire to “be more together,” while simultaneously noticing that those thoughts are only temporary. He makes that contrast even sharper in the final lines of the first verse, when he sings, Chasing after / My dreams disown me / Loaded with danger.

Even with the knowledge that Curnin was writing about his attempts to “get back to zero,” the chorus remains an enigma. When he sings Maybe I’ll win / Saved by zero, what is Curnin trying to win? Is being able to return to zero a win? Or is this the voice of his ego, still chasing its dreams? Later in the song, Curnin poses the question, Who needs to win? It’s a question that only deepens the enigma.

Curnin sets the language of dominance and winning next to words conveying surrender and nothingness in the second verse as well.

Holding on to
Words that teach me
I will conquer
Space around me

While his pairing of these seemingly opposite ideas is initially confusing, Curnin could be using the contrast to illustrate what it means to be “saved by zero.” It’s moving away from the “holding” and “conquering” and toward learning and openness.

The Original Math Rock Song?

In his interview with Songfacts, Curnin disclosed he had become aware of a mathematical interpretation of “Saved by Zero,” He learned the number zero is something of a mathematical hero. He explained, “There has been the invention of zero as a number by the ancient Indian mathematicians. Without that, calculations would have been completely wrong. Because we were following the Roman rhythmic calendar which believed that one was the first number.” He acknowledged he wasn’t considering this meaning of “Saved by Zero” when he wrote it. Nonetheless, he likes the interpretation enough to say, “You know what, I’m taking it anyway.”

The Impact of “Saved by Zero”

After making inroads into the Billboard Hot 100 with “Stand or Fall,” “Saved by Zero” gave The Fixx their first Top 40 hit. The song peaked at No. 20 on the Hot 100 and went to No. 9 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart. The song’s popularity laid the groundwork for the follow-up single, “One Thing Leads to Another,” to be a massive hit for The Fixx. Those two singles went a long way toward helping Reach the Beach achieve Platinum certification in January 1984. It is The Fixx’s only Platinum album and the only one to enter the Top 10 of the Billboard 200, peaking at No. 8.

“Saved by Zero” was used in the “Problem Dog” episode of Breaking Bad in Season 4. The song was covered by Irish synthpop band Empire State Human for the 2005 compilation The Fixx: An Electronic Tribute.

It’s a little ironic that The Fixx’s song about being grounded in nothingness only served to make them one of the more popular bands of the mid-’80s. Perhaps the only greater irony was when the song was used in advertisements to sell cars with 0 percent financing in the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2007 and 2008. If you missed out on the spiritual meaning of this ‘80s classic, you were far from the only one.

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Photo by Scott Gries/Getty Images

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