03.01.88 ROCK EXPRESS
The following article by Judy Weiner appeared in the March 1988 issue of Rock Express magazine...
On his way to this interview, Sting's car spun out on rain-slicked highway. With his legendary composure ever so slightly shaken, he allows a peel into the private man behind the public persona...
Sting - glorious, elegant, profound, stunning Sting - blew into the Malibu motel room, threw his grungy rain drenched self across the bed and moaned. "We had an accident getting here." While driving to the motel in a torrential California downpour, his rented BMW skidded into another car on the Pacific Coast highway.
Judy Weiner: Did you hurt yourself?
Sting: No, no... I just banged me head on the windshield.
What? Really? Ohhhh! You're supposed to rest quietly after something like that happens. Are you sure you want to ago ahead with this interview?
Sure, sure, let's talk. (Rubs head.) Maybe you'll get the truth out of me for a change.
Do you need to call someone about the accident? What about your girlfriend? What about Trudie Styler? Are you still with her?
Uh, I was this morning. (Laughs)
You have two children with her right? And two with your ex-wife?
Yes, two boys and two girls. They're all like me.
Uh Oh! Is being a father a great experience for you?
Um, I just happened to be a father by accident. I didn't plan any of the children. It was never anything I intended to do.
No, I had no ambition to be a father, and most of them have come at a time that was inconvenient. But I'm glad I have them.
Well, since we've stumbled into your personal life, let me check some facts with you.
Oh, what's this? (He points to my notes, where his age is incorrectly listed as 38, and flops back on the bed, yelping) I'm still a young man! You have me two years older!
Sorry! Sorry! I got this information out of a book about you. I also wrote down a list of words that critics and interviewers have used to describe you: cool, casual, articulate, normal, nasty, nice, manic, isolated, calculating, easy, obsessive, ambitious... Naturally, each word is the opposite of the next one. My question is: What is the biggest misconception people have about you?
Well, to be truthful, it suits my purposes that people think of me in terms of opposites. It means I have freedom. If some people think I'm nice and some think I'm nasty, that gives me the freedom to be both nice and nasty. I'm a normal guy and I lead a normal life. As soon as they label me and gut me in a box, then that's it. It's over! forget it! I'll never have any freedom again!
I have a maximum amount of freedom considering the job I do. I can go out on the streets. I don't hide myself behind barbed wire fences. I don't have bodyguards or wear red sunglasses. I live a normal life. I live in London and New York and Malibu. I can go to the pubs and shops and laundromat and not be bothered. Even if I'm recognised, people just say hello. It's a great reward for success. For me, a reward for success would not be to be trapped in a cocoon, protected all the time from whatever is out there. Like poor Michael Jackson!
Oh yeah! They say he really suffers.
Of course he suffers! He doesn't live a normal life. He should go out.
Did you always know how to lead a normal life? I mean, was there a time when your stardom confused you?
Well, using Michael Jackson as one extreme, since he's never had the opportunity to lead a normal life, having been a child star. I was already 25. I'd held down a teaching job for two years. I had a marriage and a baby and a mortgage and a pension plan and a university education. I was prepared for real life. So that when this other life came along, I wasn't willing to give up my normal life. I was an adult. And although you are encouraged to be adolescent and stupid in this business, I wasn't really willing to stop being an adult. That's why I've survived 10 years of stardom without going crazy or losing my marbles... l think. Don't you?
If you say so. Then what is the hardest part of this remarkable life you lead? What would you like to dump?
I wouldn't change my life at all. I'm very lucky. But the hardest thing... um... well, most of my work is kinda confessional. I take a bit of myself and put it in a song. Sure, I veil it a little for protection. Or these interviews, for example. They're kinda confessional. I want to give you enough to make your article interesting, but I don't want to reveal the whole truth about myself. I don't want to make it so that I have no privacy. I don't want to plaster my soul all over everything.
So the hard part for you is to find that balance?
Yes, and it's a challenge. It's basically revealing opposites. I'm a private person and yet my job is to reveal private thoughts and to steer a course between the two.
But you are soooooo respected!
Respected??? (Laughs, covers his face and falls back across the bed again.)
Oh yes, respected! You are so well respected that when I told people I was going to interview you, they fell into a swoon of respect for... ME! (Sting laughs.) You're respected as a Grammy Award winning singer songwriter, musician, actor, everything. Not one of the people I talked to for this interview had anything trashy to say about you.
Well, Judy, in this job, you're not expected to be dignified, you know? (Laughs.) So here I am, 36, wealthy and successful... and yes, respected. But that comes from being dignified at what I do. I don't wear a wig or a corset to do my job. I don't have to look silly and dress up like a chicken. I can be myself. I'm allowed to be mature in an industry where they encourage you not to be. So, if people respect that, well, good! That makes me feel good!
Let's talk about your album, 'Nothing Like The Sun'. All the songs are remarkable, but I'm especially taken with 'They Dance Alone'. Did you have a personal experience with the glorious women who were the inspiration for this song?
I had been to Chile before and when I did the first Amnesty International Tour, we got to meet people who had actually been freed by Amnesty. You talk to them and hear their life stories and your own life suddenly seems... well, I've never been penalised or persecuted for my political views. I can speak my mind freely. So meeting someone who had actually gone to prison for doing the same thing was quite a shock.
I knew I wanted to write about this, but before I could, I needed a metaphor, something that would make the idea universal. Writing a song about specific events is only half artistic. You need a metaphor, and the idea of the Gueca dance is so wonderful. Everyone can relate to a mother or wife or sister or girlfriend dancing with invisible partners, their missing loved ones. It's very moving. For me, well... um, this whole album is feminist.
I was going to bring that up. It certainly is!
I regard myself as a feminist because I think a liberated woman leads to a liberated man. And this dance the women in Chile do is a very feminine approach to oppression. The male reaction would be to throw Molotov cocktails and burn cars and have riots - which would just lead to tear gas, beatings, imprisonment and further violence. This is a very female way of approaching the same problem. There's a victory implicit in it which is difficult to deal with as a man. In the song, I have the soldiers looking on, without any power to do anything. So it is truly a more positive and enlightened way of approaching oppression. And it doesn't lack dignity and it doesn't lack power. It just lacks violence!
You said recently that your mother's death last year had a strong effect on this album. I was wondering if losing your mother contributed to this feminist feeling you have about women?
Well... l didn't sit down to write an album in praise of women or whatever, but when I narrowed the songs I'd written down to 12, and started writing the liner notes, the idea slowly emerged; this thing of the woman not as a fantasy lover, but as a mother, sister, companion or guide - rather than just the object of sexual desire. The album title, 'Nothing Like The Sun', comes from Shakespeare's Sonnet 130, 'My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun...' It's about a real woman as opposed to a fantasy woman.
A more realistic admiration of women?
Yes, and I don't know how closely linked to my mother's death it is, but there is a sort of coming to terms with the women in my life - my daughters, mother, girlfriend, people I work with. I find myself treating women in a relatively different way than I did five years ago. I think that part of maturing is seeing women as people rather than objects of ego massage or desire. I'm having a sort of partnership with women now... getting more in touch with the female side... l hope.
Which leads me to another song I like a lot, 'An Englishman In New York'. You say it's about Quentin Crisp, a world famous gay man who had the courage to be what he was at a time when you could, again, go to jail. I wonder why you didn't actually come out and say something specific about him in the lyric. Frankly, I thought it was about you.
(Laughs.) Well, it's partly about me and partly about Quentin. Again, I was looking for a metaphor. Quentin is a hero of mine, someone I know very well. He is gay, and he was gay at a time in history when it was dangerous to be so. He had people beating up on him on a daily basis, largely with the consent of the public. Yet, he continued to be himself. He is funny and witty and utterly singular. He lives in New York too, in the Bowery, and dares to walk the streets.
I didn't just want to be writing about myself as an alien. I wanted to write about Quentin, someone I admire. So it's not really about being gay. It's about being yourself, never conforming. That's what the song is really about.
Of course, this isn't such a terrific time to be gay either, what with all the misconceptions about AIDS. Have you aver done anything to raise money and awareness about AIDS? Here, in America there has been a lot of trouble funding the necessary research because of the stigma around being gay. Had this virus entered the population through the heterosexual community, as it has in Africa and other countries, it would he a different story.
Yes it certainly would. But I find that I'm having mixed feelings about organisations raising money for research. Of course, it's very good that they're doing it, but I feel the government has enough funds and resources to do it themselves. They're spending billions of dollars on weapons and not spending a lot of money on AIDS research. I get the feeling if celebrities raise money for AIDS research, the government will say, 'Oh, well, you're already doing it. You're coping with it.'
I think that each citizen in every country has the right to be protected from this disease to the fullest extent by their government! Sooner or later, everyone will know someone who has died from AIDS. Celebrities can't raise enough money to fight this. It will take monumental, governmental amounts of money to win this fight. And we are rich! The government has the money! I don't need any more protection from the Soviet Bloc than I already have.
So Ideally, your involvement with fighting AIDS would take the form of pressuring the government to turn over money for research.
Yes. We don't need any more arms. We don't need any more Rambos! That's why I love Quentin. He's just the opposite of the Rambo type. His heroism is so much more useful!
Like the women who 'dance alone'?
Exactly. And I'm not saying that men should be effeminate, at all. I mean, I'm not. I'm sorta masculine in a physical way - I just hope not mentally!
© Rock Express magazine