02.01.91 THE ADVERTISER
The following article by David Sly appeared in a February 1991 issue of the Australian newspaper The Advertiser...
Sting in the tale.
Sting says his songwriting is cathartic, yet he could not compose a single verse for three years after his parents died. The reason, he says, is that he refused to confront the stark reality of death.
Sting, or Gordon Matthew Sumner as his parents christened him 39 years ago, was jolted by the death of his mother, Audrey, to cancer in early 1987 and his father, Ernest, to the same disease later that year.
As the father of four children, Sting became painfully aware of his own mortality. He tried to cope with the crisis by not thinking about it.
"I figured I would deal with these deaths in a very modern way, that I would just go to work the next day and try to pretend it didn't happen,'' Sting said.
He plunged into an exhausting 16-month concert tour to promote his second solo studio album 'Nothing Like the Sun', which went to South America, Britain, Europe, the United States and Australia. He was fully occupied but less than satisfied.
"What I was doing was running away from a situation trying to pretend it wasn't quite so enormous and that it was just death," Sting said. "If you do that, it comes back to kick you in the teeth and bite you in the leg."
Sting suspected that his method of coping with death was not so effective when he developed a close friendship with Raoni, chief of the Amazon Kayapo tribe in Brazil's rainforest. Sting lived with the Kayapo tribe in 1989, practised their rituals and learnt their customs, one of which was to mourn a death in the family.
"What I've learnt from the so-called primitive societies, in the time I've spent with them, is that they deal with death very seriously," he said. "It is not something they take lightly, going through a lengthy and intense period of mourning. In modern society we tend to disregard this important feature. "At some stage in your adult life you have to contemplate death and I didn't."
Sting wasn't forced to address his problem until January last year, when he tried to write songs again after a three-year hiatus.
"I couldn't write songs and had to figure out why. Either I had nothing to say or I did but was afraid to. That is very scary. You have to really face yourself and dig deep," Sting said. He booked recording time at the Guillaume Tell studios in Paris and hired a trio of backing musicians - Kenny Kirkland on keyboards, Manu Katche on drums and Dominic Miller on guitar - but his songs wouldn't come together until he came to terms with the death of his parents.
"It was like unblocking myself. It seemed so difficult at first but it became so easy almost cleansing."
The resulting album, 'The Soul Cages', is a deeply moody and reflective work. As Sting explained coldly, it is not a party album. Sting isn't about to make excuses if some sentiments on the album seem jumbled and confusing. He is simply relieved to have catalogued some of his darkest contemplations in song.
"The theme of the album is essentially about dealing with death. For me, at my age, it's an important subject," Sting said. "I don't kid myself that my experience is unique but I have a way of expressing things through songs that may be useful to someone else some sort of therapy. They're still rather overwhelming for me."
Sting will support the album with a tour. He has already performed a few shows in New York, will soon start dates in Britain, tour across the US and possibly Australia. It will be the first time Sting has graced the concert stage since he did a few shows in Chile and Uruguay early last year for Amnesty International. He said those shows, which drew international attention to Amnesty, as a "success story that I'm proud to have been associated with."
But the tour had its tense moments. Sting, labelled a subversive by Chilean authorities because of the song 'They Dance Alone', which criticised the Pinochet regime, was confronted by political strongmen.
"I reflected on that record being banned in Chile and thought that if I didn't go there I'd be a coward and I'm certainly not a coward," he said. "Let's not over-dramatise this. I'm only a singer. I'm not that important. All of us in life have to face a few things, look at something and say this is wrong and be prepared to stand up and say so, regardless of how dangerous it is."
Another issue Sting has taken to his bosom is ensuring the preservation of Brazil's Amazon rainforests. He was media spokesman for the Rainforest Foundation and toured the world with Chief Raoni in 1989, talking with world leaders and mustering donations for relief projects to help the Kayapos.
"We are making slow, painful progress because we must be cautious about how we help these people," Sting said, explaining that the foundation had established medical and educational programs based on the Kayapo culture. "These people don't need charity, they need an infrastructure which protects their integrity and independence. They don't need an organisation to give them handouts. Money for them can often be worse than poison."
Despite his strong stand on global political issues, Sting said it was not necessary for musicians to be political. "I think for me it's just a function of the age I'm at. I want to say what's happening, to express my opinion," he said. "It's not my job to think I'm particularly special as a human being. I'm a citizen, sociable, an average bloke. I suppose press reports confuse people's opinion of me but they're writing about some other Sting. It's amazing how much stuff I didn't do, what I didn't say and who I didn't make love to. I only wish I had."
© The Advertiser (Australia)
Sting has chosen to open his world tour in small theatres rather than big arenas. Giles Smith met him in New York. Sting's new live show opens, naturally enough, with a string of songs from his latest album, 'The Soul Cages'. Then comes a pause during which, ruffling his hair with calculated diffidence, he leans into the microphone and asks, "Any requests?" At which point - bedlam. The audience, until now seated in what, by American standards, would have to count as calm acquiescence (ie outbreaks of shrill whistling and chimp whoops at merely 15 second intervals) suddenly bursts into a barely decipherable roar, some people even rising out of their chairs to stake a claim: 'Every Breath You Take', 'Message in a Bottle', 'Don't Stand So Close To Me', 'So Lonely' (Someone near me appeared to be shouting, again and again, "Kiss my ass!" but he seemed to be having a good time and probably intended it kindly.) In short, too many requests to honour...
Where the hell have you been? It was the return of the prodigal son. A lapsed Geordie, Sting was suddenly confronted by the twin crises of a writers' block and the deaths of his parents. He began to panic - but found a solution by going home to Newcastle. "I had something to say, but I was scared to face it. It was time to reassess..."
Three years after the death of his parents, Sting draws on the healing power of music to create his first new album since 1987, the powerful 'Soul Cages'...and it feels like starting over. "This is my dog Willie and his brother Hector," Sting explains as his two dogs careen down the road ahead of him, barking wildly, delighted to be liberated from the house. "They actually love each other, but they're tearing each other apart right now. They're a bit crazy - apparently it's the breed. They're springer spaniels. I'm told Willie is very like me; he's my familiar. They want to get him doctored, but I refuse to have that happen..."
Sting racks his memory and rattles his soul: Sting is getting a rush, or several rushes actually, by riding a motorcycle through the drastically distinct patches of brilliant sunlight and blinding shadows of Los Angeles' oh-so-mellow Topanga Canyon. He enjoys swooping up and down the inclines, rounding corners with a smooth flow of energy. I'm down at the bottom of the hill, basking in the expanse of the Pacific, scribbling last minute questions for our conversation. When there's not a minute left, it's into the bowels of the canyon I go, and almost immediately the road signs along the winding lane begin speaking to the situation at hand: trying to get to the bottom of Sting - musician, rock star, advocate, sales item...
Sting in the tale: Sting says his songwriting is cathartic, yet he could not compose a single verse for three years after his parents died. The reason, he says, is that he refused to confront the stark reality of death. Sting, or Gordon Matthew Sumner as his parents christened him 39 years ago, was jolted by the death of his mother, Audrey, to cancer in early 1987 and his father, Ernest, to the same disease later that year...