07.01.85 THE LOS ANGELES NEWS
The following interview with Jonathan Taylor appeared in a July 1985 issue of The Los Angeles News newspaper...
Serious and sexy Sting: Making a beeline for stardom.
Sting, sitting in an elaborate suite at Los Angeles' trendy Chateau Marmont Hotel, finishes off a croissant before explaining 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles', the title of his first album without the Police.
The title was inspired, he explains, by a dream he had in January in which he was looking out his bedroom window at his beautifully maintained garden.
"It's very English, very disciplined, with a flower bed, a square lawn and a lilac tree," he says, seeming not at all self-conscious about describing something so personal.
"Suddenly a big hole appears in the wall, and out of it come four massive, prehistoric blue turtles with long, scaly necks. They're very macho and athletic and drunk on their own virility. They start doing back flips and somersaults, and in the process they destroy this garden, just wreck it. In the dream I'm watching this spectacle, and instead of being angry I'm laughing. I woke up laughing."
He pauses for a moment, smiling slightly, as he waits for a reaction. Then after a quick chuckle he proceeds with his interpretation, a practice he began as part of the Jungian analysis he has undergone for several years. The therapy encourages self-analysis through the study of dreams.
"The four blue turtles are the four musicians in my (new) band. They're a good symbol: The turtle is a creature who lives both under the sea and out of it. The sea is a good symbol of the subconscious. I feel black people are closer to that unconscious (Sting's band is made up of black jazz musicians), and blue is a good colour for jazz musicians anyway.
"What they're doing is destroying my safe formula, my safe back yard. They're wrecking that safety, that formularised easy option, which is making a Police record. Churning up the land is what a farmer does when he wants it to be fruitful a year hence. In many ways it's a confirming dream. Yes, it's frightening and dramatic, but ultimately you'll be rewarded."
Initial indications are that the rewards of "churning up the land" will indeed be great. 'Blue Turtles', which Sting recorded with four New York jazz musicians, is an out-of-the-box smash. Tracks are being played on pop, rock, jazz and r&b format radio stations, an indication of the LP's eclectic, indefinable sound.
With a national tour, starring roles in two upcoming films - 'The Bride', with Jennifer Beals, and 'Plenty', with Meryl Streep - and a documentary film on the recording of his album, Sting is emerging as one of the summer's hottest entertainers.
The films may make Sting a superstar, but his solo music project reveals a different, more serious, innovative personality. Using the clout he gained from fronting the Police - which, he insists, has not disbanded but is just on indefinite hold - he has produced a compelling album whose lyrics are as intelligent as its music is seductive.
"I'm in a privileged position, being in one of the biggest bands in the world; I knew whatever I put out, people would listen," he says. Indeed, in baggy green pants and a black tank top that reveals his muscular upper body, he looks every bit the intellectual sex symbol.
"I knew no one would ignore it," he continues. "I'm not sure I'm being courageous; I don't think so. But if they're going to listen, they might as well get something that surprises them.
"We must have people say, 'I will make my own statement; there are no rules, there are absolutely no rules. I can do whatever I want.' As soon as that happens and the shackles come off, you get real creativity. At the moment, you have painfully self-reverent pop music, desperately trying to go back to something that's been done before."
On 'Blue Turtles', Sting opted instead to challenge formulas and preconceptions - by synthesising pop, jazz and rhythm & blues in his music, by using only black musicians in his band and by the socially charged themes of his lyrics.
Born Gordon Sumner 33 years ago in Newcastle, England, Sting rarely holds anything back in conversation. He is open, well informed and unapologetically opinionated, although his thoughts are expressed generally in a cultured, well-mannered style that helps him keep his distance.
But there's no disguising his passion when he talks about such subjects as the East-West arms race and other social and/or political confrontations. These issues led to his participation in the British Band Aid project - and last weekend's Live Aid concert, in which he performed a duet with Phil Collins.
The deeply compassionate, humanistic attitude revealed in several 'Blue Turtles' tracks defies simple ideological labelling. Sting's motivations are expressed most concisely in a line from Russians: "How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer's deadly toy?"
"I can only speak as an anxious, worried parent," says the father of four, two with his estranged wife, actress Frances Tomelty, and two with girlfriend Trudie Styler, including a son, Jake, born May 24.
"The responsibility (of parenthood) weighs heavily - it obviously affects my work. But it does so in a positive way. I don't think it's made me sentimental or middle-aged. If anything, it's made me tougher. I'm much more outspoken and aggressive and angry."
This is the drive that has kept him exploring on the cutting edge of modern music. Whether it's the pop-reggae fusion of his early Police work or the pop-jazz-r&b fusion of 'Blue Turtles', Sting seems almost obsessed with presenting himself new challenges.
"I felt I wanted to make a journey in a musical way," Sting says of his motivations for making 'Dream' the way he did. He clearly believes that the journey was successful and worthwhile.
"I wanted to choose musicians who, too, had to make a journey. We ended up making music that's not jazz or rock'n'roll, it's unclassifiable."
Of course, there are excellent white jazz musicians, but Sting didn't want merely to make a statement with his music; he wanted to make it with his choice of musicians, too. The decision to use black musicians - saxophonist Branford Marsalis, keyboardist Kenny Kirkland, bassist Darryl Jones and drummer Omar Hakim - was a conscious political statement on what he sees as lingering segregation within the music industry.
The Police played in Toronto a few years ago, and we had James Brown open for us," he said. "It's the greatest honour we've ever had. I was out there, grooving away, and this grapefruit lands on stage, almost hits him. I thought, 'Who the hell would throw a grapefruit at James Brown?' Then I realised they probably hadn't heard of him. When a young audience hasn't heard of the man who invented soul music, there's something wrong with music in this country."
Not surprisingly, this sort of passion carries over to other parts of his life. Disparaging the sedate "bovine concept of happiness," Sting says he approaches each album, acting role or meal as through it were his last.
"I'm obsessive that way, but it makes me put everything into what I'm doing. On this record, there's no holding back - it's a pouring out.
No such 'pouring out' is feasible in his acting, however; he simply has been an employee in a large production. For Sting, who is accustomed to writing the overwhelming majority of the Police's material and who was involved in producing the group's albums as well as his solo album, this has to be a letdown.
The point is even more pronounced, given the films on which he has worked. After all, his small but heavily hyped role in the ill-fated 'Dune' allowed him more of an opportunity to show off his pectorals than his acting technique.
While he has a lead role in 'The Bride', a remake of 'The Bride of Frankenstein', in which Sting plays the brilliant doctor, it too falls more into the category of grand entertainment than high art.
'Plenty', in which Sting plays a black marketeer in post-war England who has an affair with a disgruntled former resistance fighter, played by Meryl Streep, is only marginally more substantial.
This disparity between the depth of the messages in his songs and the more mainstream appeal of his film roles doesn't seem to bother Sting, for the time being, anyway. He is content simply to learn the craft of filmmaking, starting with acting now and possibly later moving on to writing, directing or producing.
"I can't just become a movie mogul. I think of my work in films as part of my education, part of my search for knowledge. I consider myself an apprentice actor. So, no, I'm not frustrated; it's just part of my life at a different stage."
By far the most interesting acting role in Sting's life is that of Sting itself. The nickname, like the yellow and black jacket he wore while a member of a pre-Police jazz band that gave him the name, has become a cloak that protects him from the strangeness of life in the public eye.
"It's very arch to have one name, very deifying - like Prince, Elvis, Liberace and, um, God," he says, laughing sheepishly at the presumptuousness of his association. "It kind of helps with the mythomania of being a celebrity. It allows me to have a persona that's not necessarily me. 'Sting' takes all the blame, all the glory and leaves me intact, whoever I am. That changes day by day. Sometimes I feel like having my ego massaged, and sometimes I feel shy and retiring. That's my right to be contrary."
And it certainly does seem contrary that while he created Sting to be his public persona, everyone from his mother to his own children call him that, too.
Meanwhile, Sting fights against the constant contradiction of being an intelligent, imaginative artist - and former English teacher in his native Newcastle - in a field in which flash and image usually count more than innovation or substance.
"Pop music is generally denigrated; it can only be about trivia, or having a good time at a party, or sex and drugs," he says with clear distaste. "I think that if I remain a pop singer, I have to think this is as dignified a job as it possibly can be.
"The way I do it is by hopefully being honest about the way I feel."
© The Los Angeles Times