THE MINNEAPOLIS STAR-TRIBUNEAugust 01, 1991
The following article by Jon Bream appeared in an August 1991 issue of The Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper...
Sting packs serious new album on road trip.
The Stingman, the Stingmeister, der Schtingel. You may have heard the bit on 'Saturday Night Live', or heard it repeated around the office water cooler.
Which nickname does Sting himself prefer?
"Stingo," said the man who was born Gordon Sumner, the man who went from being a schoolteacher to being an international rock star (he'll be at Target Center Wednesday). "Real close aficionados have been calling me that forever. That's the inner circle."
As for comic Rob Schneider of 'Saturday Night Live' coming up with Stingalingaling, Stingaringarooney and other monikers, the Stingster said, "That was funny. He ad-libbed those."
Stingo the Renaissance Man. Paaahleeze! How can you take a man named Sting seriously?
"I never expected to be taken seriously as an artist. I wasn't planning my life with a name like Sting," said the Briton who earned the nickname because of his penchant for wearing striped outfits that evoked a bumblebee. "The name is actually beneficial."
Indeed, it's advantageous to have a single word on the marquee.
"It's true. God. Hitler. All the biggies have one name," he announced with a chuckle.
So let's ask a question that's as silly as his name. What does His Stingness think of Sting, the superhero-styled pro wrestler?
"I'm quite flattered," said Sting recently by phone from New York City, one of several places he calls home. "Maybe I should fight him. He's about 300 pounds. Well, I could run faster than him probably. I don't know. I think he's funny. He's quite successful, right? Well, maybe he could take over, and I could retire. I think he's pretentious, actually." Sting giggles at the self-mockery. He's in a glib mood on this day.
These light-hearted topics hardly seem worthy of Sting, the most pretentious and most serious figure in rock. Perhaps he'd rather talk about his current album, The Soul Cages, a musical rumination on the death of his father. It was a mammoth topic, not to mention a major psychological hurdle. A star for a dozen years, Sting hadn't written any songs for nearly two years. So he talked to his buddies, including New York neighbour Paul Simon, about his writer's block.
"Paul has obviously been doing this longer than I have. What he said had a great deal of resonance. He wanted me to relax. I was panicking really whether I could write a song. He said, 'No. You should do it like a painter does a painting. You put one layer down, then you put another layer down, and something will emerge.' I did relax a little. I talked to Bruce Springsteen about it. He'd started his record then. Bruce has now written 50 songs, and he's trying to decide which ones to put on the record. He has another problem. I never assume there's an endless reservoir. This could be my last record. This could be my last meal. I don't treat things as being forever."
His current tour will include music from 'The Soul Cages' as well as older material. His new band includes former Springsteen and Peter Gabriel keyboardist David Sancious and now features Sting on bass instead of guitar. The music on 'The Soul Cages' is serious, perhaps closer to jazz than rock, closer to the art songs of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill than the hits of the Police, Sting's old internationally flavoured rock band. In 1989 the rock star did a stint in Washington, D.C., and on Broadway in a production of Brecht-Weill's 'Threepenny Opera'. Did that experience influence his music on 'The Soul Cages'?
"Maybe. I haven't consciously thought about that. But I'm sure doing that music for six months must have got into there somewhere. There are certain theatrical aspects to my album, maybe some musical ideas, but I can't identify them. You can't do a show like that and not have it affect you. You know, the critics didn't like Brecht and Weill, either, so I'm in good company."
The Soul Cages has fared well, though it has not become a blockbuster as did his previous solo albums, 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles' and 'Nothing Like the Sun'.
"It's a very personal record about death. It's not a pop concept. It's not 'Everybody dance now.'"
For Sting, music is therapy. "It saves me a lot of money in shrinks, especially in New York. The emotions that I'm excavating and putting up on the screen are not unique to me. I think they're universal ones, and hopefully the records have a kind of universal usefulness to other people."
So let's do a little bit of psychoanalysis with Sting. He has said that he spent his youth competing for the attention and approval of his father. Does he find that his five children (from two different relationships) are that way?
"I think they are. I try to be as approving as I can possibly be. Probably too much. I probably gush too much over my child's drawings of ants. I'm not sure if I'm a good father or not. I try. I think all of us are struggling for acceptance for our parents. We all want to be appreciated. I'm just glad my father wasn't a music critic."
Music has created a platform for politics for Sting. In addition to putting socially significant messages in some of his songs, he has participated in numerous benefits to raise money to help save rain forests, to fight for the rights of political prisoners and other causes. After 10 years of advocacy, he figures it's a good time to evaluate the effectiveness of pop charities.
"On the positive side, you can increase awareness pretty dramatically through the media by your involvement. You can also raise money fairly quickly for emergencies. On the down side, the tendency when celebrity is involved is that people come to expect some kind of miracle to take place. What I've learned is that miracles don't take place. What takes place is process, day-to-day slog whether there are celebrities involved or not.
"The other thing that's negative is that it (celebrity benefits) detracts from real sources of power in government and multinational corporations. I think there are positives and negatives, and I don't really know the answer. But we have to ask the question. On the other hand, it's quite difficult to say 'No' to various causes. It's quite easy to sing a song."
Benefits, records, movies (he's starred in eight), concerts, theatre. Not to mention those globe-trotting children. What motivates the Sting?
"I love working. I love the privilege of working. I like learning things. I like putting myself in situations that aren't sure-fire. I'm not afraid of failing. I'm more interested in the process of something than the finished result."
Where does all the energy come from?
"Probably paranoia. I do get involved in a lot of things. I do tend to exhaust myself. But I'm learning to relax. In fact, I've just been on holiday for two weeks. I didn't have a TV or a telephone. A perfect holiday."
Being Sting the Renaissance Man is a lot different from being Sting the Bleach-Blond Rock Star.
"With the Police, I felt very tuned into whatever the commercial, popular vibe was at the time. I feel less connected now. I don't know what's going to be hit; I don't have a clue. Whereas when I wrote 'Every Breath You Take' I knew it was a solid gold seller. Now I don't. It's nice feeling when you have a hit record. It's not as exciting as the first time. I attract a wide demographic - it's male and female, it's from a wide age group. That's pleasing to me. At the same time, I'm expressing what is suitable for a 39-year-old. I'm not saying 'Everybody dance now.' I'm not that interested in hit records."
© The Minneapolis Star Tribune