NEW MUSICAL EXPRESSApril 01, 1980
The following interview with Paul Morley appeared in an April 1980 issue of the New Musical Express magazine...
A Passage to India...
Getting out of Bombay was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I'm certain that everyone is staring at me; that they're all whispering and watching behind my back; that they're all waiting for me to fall - or at least to trip.
I was escaping India, the dreamworld or the real world, and I knew that I was running away and so I was panicking. There was a threat. I could come to no decision. I felt impotent and pathetic. Fraudulent. If only I could see further than others...
Do you enjoy being involved in other people's lives?
"I feel a lot of responsibility, actually, I don't know how much I'm in their lives. I feel a responsibility and that's a reason that I want to avoid the stereotype. I feel that responsibility very strongly, because I think rock stars let people down in many ways. It's not that they're not intelligent, it's just that they stop thinking and that is disgraceful. That's an insult to people who follow them, to the people who buy their records. The average Police fan is spending money on me, he believes in me, and he expects something from me, and I feel a responsibility to that kid. I don't want to serve him up the same old shit.
"First of all I want to please myself, and it would please me more to think that I'm giving more satisfaction than cynically saying 'Oh, any old shit will do!' But that's such a danger and it happens so often. It happened to pop in the '70s. It wasn't the artists themselves who were being cynical, it was the industry who created Mud, Sweet, Alvin Stardust, The Bay City Rollers - absolute puppets. They had no intelligence whatsoever in the real sense. The puppet-master was just breaking them in. And on the other hand, on the serious side, you had Led Zeppelin doing the same thing but pretending they weren't. So that's why The Sex Pistols happened. And that is why The Sex Pistols are probably the greatest group since..."
"They were! They were totally relevant, totally right... I personally owe a lot to The Sex Pistols. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Johnny Rotten. I don't suppose he gives a fuck whether I've said that or not, but I do actually feel that without any of that initial push there would be none of this and we'd still have Gary Glitter."
What about the Police's appalling record because whenever a wreck of rock is asked what new wave group they like, they always say the Police. Cozy Powell did last week.
"Cozy Powell, Paul McCartney, Ted Nugent, Keith Richards... just another area of society where the Police has infiltrated! From 8 year old girls to 30 year old rock aficionados."
Why do you think these wrecks who perpetuate the stereotypes flipped for the Police despite you being opposed to those stereotypes?
"They weren't the only people to like the Police, Paul."
But those who were moving to break down these stereotypes are hostile towards the Police and those who relied on them for their continuing existence were in favour.
This has never helped your reputation. Did these rock elders merely identify with the craftsmanship of the records?
"Yeah, I think so. I think they identified with the polish of the records. The way we put them together. You're right. In many ways that's another albatross around our necks. F****** hell! Keith Richards likes us! Oh shit! But Frank Zappa likes us... there's light and shade in the whole thing. I think it's nice that Paul McCartney likes us! I'm greatly honoured! It's just another degree of hipness depending where you're standing. But I'm most interested in new groups and what they think of us... like Gang Of Four... like, well I know that Joe Strummer doesn't like us."
What's needed to be done is separate the too-good-to-be-true public image from the actual - what Sting is from what he seems to be. Few bother to penetrate the nasty Police myth. It's the same laziness they accuse others of having.
"I think it's a slow process. The initiative is with us; to convince the people. I'd like to convince the cognoscenti that we're worthwhile listening to even though we're a pop group. Because I feel that we're in a position where we can make what was once crass worthwhile, and I think they can do the same thing. Why not sell great music to masses of people? Why not? I think it's a great objective to have. The easiest thing in the world is to appeal to a minority. It's much harder to actually appeal to a lot of people without compromise, without going for the lowest common denominator, but going for a reasonable level of art. I think that's what bands should be aiming for."
How do the Police oppose stereotypes?
"In the way we live."
How about performance and presentation?
"There's still a lot of tradition in the Police; we're still on the boards and we go through a lot of showbizzy things. I like to get the audience singing. It appeals to the night-club entertainer in me, it's definitely part of me. It's not a rock star stereotype. I feel that the old god who stood there and went through his act totally aloof of whether the audience was there or not is something that I'm against. I am a musical entertainer. I don't demean people. I don't demean myself.
"Like we played at Leeds and you could hear the audience singing the songs louder than the group, and we play fucking loud. That got the old ticker going. I just enjoy it. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. If that's a stereotype, it's a good one. I want to get rid of negative stereotypes. The ones that almost destroyed rock music."
So what is integrity? Do we knock the Police for visiting India, does such an exercise put them out of reach, or do we admire their curiosity? Their determination? Their innocence? Is it just part of the game? How frivolously or how sternly do we look upon their visit?
I was never happy with the idea of interviewing Sting in India. There is abuse everywhere. The poverty and ruin of India savagely warps the straightforward interview. I just wanted to talk to Sting about pop and pleasure and protest because in our world these things are important and are becoming more important. An interview with Sting that uncovers the extent of his strategy and his cool sensible head is important... as far as it goes. Forming the interview in Bombay - which in many ways left me so impoverished it was hell - was indulgent.
The Police's two day trip to Bombay - the things they did, the sights they saw, the people they met, the autographs they signed, the beautiful meals they ate in upper class houses, the constant filming and interviewing and photographing - was almost like the farcical fantasy of a lunatic. Nonsense. The concert itself was performed for local charities and promoted by a dozen delicate ladies called Time And Talent who usually present sedate de classical music concerts. They were highly delighted with what was happening, and happily posed for pictures with the tolerant group.
The machinery and patience necessary to set up the concert were enormous. The Police spent their two days in Bombay wandering through receptions, eating meals, visiting record stores, buying musical instruments, shaking hands and signing autographs. They performed their task without scorn or visible condescension. So polite. It's their job. I did the interview with Sting in two parts, and during these conversations we entirely forgot about the circumstances and the commotion, the sweet ladies, the despair all round us and the nonsense. I still wish we'd done the interview in a cold white wash room in London.
This is the sort of life that we're leading now. We've been doing Japan, Bangkok, Hong Kong, and I think this is an ongoing sort of thing. The band has always had a sort of pioneering spirit about it, just to do things for the sake of it. The reason we went to America was not because we thought we could be big in America but because it was something to do. We were languishing in London when we did it, and it was the same kind of thing that drove us to do it as this has been. This thing isn't about making money or anything It's just an exciting thing to do.
You impose structures immediately around yourself and then work towards them - like being photographed, for instance, which is happening all the time and yet you always make sure that you look good, you always pose carefully.
"I think there's a stereotype that a lot of band fall into, a lot of individual: in rock fall into, that of being bored, aloof, indifferent to anything else but being on stage. That's a mistake. You end up being manipulated; the Keith Richard syndrome I call it. You end up being a vegetable. I want to be seen to be in control of my own life. I do not want to be thought of as this rock stereotype, which I really abhor and don't want to copy. I want to appear very positive about what happens to me. Because I am. I am very concerned. There are so many pressures and you can see them all the time. The pitfalls in this business are so obvious if you just look."
What kind of opportunities do you now have in this position. "The constant challenge is what next? In the space of two albums we've sold more records than people do in ten. In England our album is quadruple platinum or something. The constant challenge is to forget that, because it is a distraction, it really is. You've got to try and come up with music that is valid and relevant not just feeding the industrial machinery that all of a sudden is all around us. The cogs are so well oiled that as soon as anyone's a success the world immediately becomes what you want it to be, and you sort of have to get outside of that. I don't want to make music where my heart's not in it.
"A band like Joy Division are on the periphery of the whole thing, they don't have the whole industry behind them, they've got to fight it. For what they want to do, they're lucky to be in that position. It's a very creative position to be in. Whereas our position is entrapment. You have a vast army of people dependent on you for a living. The record company expect you to produce so many singles a year, so many albums, so many units, and they're depending on you. And the radio stations want it, and the fans want it, and what you really want to do is make music that you like, music that reflects you, not the industry. It's a problem. See, in many ways this is a dream. It's escapism, and I'm not saying that's a bad thing... the Police are an anachronism in many ways. We've achieved overnight international riches and fame and success and that is a kind of Elvis Presley dream. It shouldn't happen in this day and age. We shouldn't be able to make this amount of money and be loved by this many people. I feel very strongly that this is an anachronism. A time warp if you like. It's like the '60's."
Superstars are coming back - it's sticking at Rats, Blondie, Police, and that's no good.
"I think the lifeblood of the whole business is new groups, and that's why the early '70s was so frustrating to someone like me... Led Zeppelin... Deep Purple... and you couldn't get a record deal unless you'd been in one of those groups. So the only people who were getting record deals were about 20. I couldn't bear that! And then there was the revival of interesting new groups that we sidled in on, and now it's beginning to close up. It's getting harder and harder."
So you have reached this point by being honest - you mention the words 'valid' and 'relevant'.
"I don't feel compromised. The music that we make we enjoy making, and although there is a certain amount of craft in it... We just happen to be making music that is successful, and I don't think we've really compromised. I enjoy making records that I think are going to get into the charts. That now has become inseparable."
What about the distance between what you're trying to achieve and the way that it's finally received?
"It's a challenge. In many ways it's a challenge. Without challenge there's no gig in Bombay The challenge is in the hurdles you have to go over to change. And the challenge at the moment is to forget the distractions and the distractions are the charts."
Do you break down this mass into individual listeners. The energy and intelligence you put in the music might be being wasted.
"Well, it's one of the things that upsets me. That I know if we recorded three minutes of the band farting it would probably be in the charts immediately, and that kills the will it you like. What I'd like to do is place demands on that mass of people. I would like our next record to be slightly a bit... off. I have plans in that direction."
Acknowledging that there is little you can constructively do about the new superstars, part of your responsibility has to be to constantly move into unexpected areas, introduce the innovations being made elsewhere in rock into the chart consciousness. Message and Moon stand up next to what say Gang Of Four, are doing in terms of inverting rock tradition.
"Gang Of Four, yeah... well, you see, I am into that school of bands. That's the sort of knife edge if you like where pop and rock is going. It's not yet a commercial end but I feel that you have to be aware of it. In our position I know realistically where we stand, we're with the Rats or the Blondies, but I'm very aware of where the actual musical barriers are being broken. I'm not saying we rip people off I'm just interested in what other musicians are doing."
How do you feel that the Police introduced reggae moves into a white consciousness. A lot of people consider you diluted the music.
"Maybe we did. I'm not apologising for that. We're white Anglo Saxons. But I've always loved black music. I feel we add something to it."
Anything you can put your finger on?
"Whiteness, I think. It's like the Stones in the '60s were just as valid as John Lee Hooker. I mean, there is a sense of guilt, all white musicians feel that sense of guilt, that sense of duty to the black man, and whenever we meet black musicians, y'know we're interested in what they think of us."
But haven't you taken the reggae thing as far as it can go?
"Yeah. People call us a white reggae group, which is a bit of an albatross around our necks. I think it will always be there intrinsically in the music because I think we're good at it, but not as overt as it has been."
Do you place qualitative or quantitative demands on what you do? You say that getting into the charts and writing songs is inseparable; you also say that the charts are a distraction.
"The music we make we do the best we can. It's not a sort of cynical, 'Oh, that'll do', or 'Let's go for the lowest common denominator and sound like Slade and it'll sell millions anyway'. We don't do that. This music is the best we can do. We try as hard as we can, and it just happens that it's commercial as well. Six months from now it might not be and six months before this happened it wasn't and that's just an accident of fashion or fad. I also think it has a lot to do with our image. I think that's inseparable from the music now. The gestalt of the music is very simple. Three blond hairs, the macho name, albums that have a very camp title... it's very cleverly put together. I'm quite proud of it. The videos are good; it's product. As that, I think its impeccable. Yeah, we do have quality control."
But is this package empty, or are you offering challenge: are you being subversive?
"We are interested in making people think, if you want to get into our lyrics, they have been slammed sometimes, but I think the lyrics to 'Message In A Bottle' are subtle enough and well crafted enough to hit people on a different level from just something you just sing along with. I think it's a quite cleverly put together metaphor, it develops and it has an artistic shape to it. I'm very proud of that song. I've never thought of it being subversive..."
You're talking in terms of making the next single 'a bit off'. You imply that you want to unsettle the chart norm. Why's that?
"Because I think we have to place demands on our audience. There are so many pressures. One is the artistic pressure inside: I want to make something that pleases me first of all. That's the whole thing. It has to please me. Second, there is this thing about wanting to sell records - you can't get away from that. There are so many influences on us, there's the press, and we're very aware of everybody who listens to our records - everybody will listen to the next Police LP very closely either to pull it down or to say that it's the greatest work of art since the ceiling of The Vatican or whatever. You're asking: what drives us artistically? I suppose it's ego. I have to say it. But it's like we don't have any choice. In this position as successful songwriter in a successful group you start losing alternatives, and you constantly have to look for new ones. That's why I say that the next single has to be an alternative, a direction that we really shouldn't take; that the forces around us say we shouldn't take."
Can't those forces halt your natural drive?
"They couldn't. We're in such a position now, financially, managerially, logistically we're in command. There's no way people can stop us doing anything. The only thing that stops us is the responsibility to the whole thing. At the same time we still want to take chances."
These claims can be easily made. Do you really see these chances being taken?
"I'm on this tightrope. I feel it would be so easy just to say, the next album all we have to do is get ten songs, and the usual clichés and it will sell millions. That's dead easy. But I want more than that. I'm already comfortable I want something that I can't actually put my finger on."
The band walkabout Bombay. They push their way along crowded, crushing streets constantly surrounded by beggars and the curious. They're also constantly being filmed as the 'Old Grey Whistle Test' is assembling a documentary on the group. Strolling nonchalantly through the teeming rowdy streets could look really bad on film, especially if it's edited against the group.
"It's our film," Sting claims, "and we have control over what the 'Old Grey Whistle Test' does. But when you're out there in the streets, what can you do? What's the alternative? I find it very hard to take an attitude out there apart from stunned amazement. Either you break down and cry, or you ignore it. It's just what they say in the books, it's the old mystery of India. But walking around Bombay, I just felt odd. Strange. I keep thinking of the Clash and the pictures they had taken in Belfast next to the soldiers. Copping this attitude. It looks good... but what does it mean? What do you do? Not come to India? Ignore it all?
"But I enjoy being photographed wherever. I was also aware that there was a kind of madness about it, all these people living with their nerve endings hanging out."
What about being in a place like Bombay and not being able to walk an inch without it being filmed or snapped or spotted by a journalist? Publicising this thing, don't you fell it trivialises it too?
"I don't think you trivialise it. I think it would be a waste if it wasn't being photographed. We do what we do and we're seen to be doing it, because we are doing it. As for this concert in India, one way out of it is that we are doing it for a charity, however vague, and we are actually promoting a few rupee for the people. We can sort of salve our consciences with that. I wrote a song called 'Driven To Tears' - what are you left with when you're faced with atrocities? You see it all the time in the papers, but what do you do? Basically... all you can do... is cry... really. Then again that's a bit of a futile, useless gesture anyway."
What about the money Sting? The hundred billion dollars. I haven't really got it. It's on paper. We've sold five, six million albums and I get 20 pence each. It's a lot of money, but I haven't got it yet. I still live in a two room flat in Bayswater. I don't have expensive tastes. Next year I'll be rich and that's when the rot could set in. Very easily. I'm very aware that money corrupts."
So why don't you ease back, forget the Police, try something else, if the money could possibly distort the songwriting you say you care so much about?
"I enjoy making money as well. It's a complex thing. It is inseparable, which is why it's so difficult. I enjoy making money; I enjoy playing the game that is the charts; I enjoy the success; and I enjoy the abstraction that is music; and -er- it's a constant battle. But I also enjoy that challenge. I also enjoy that."
So you enjoy being comfortable and enjoy being uncomfortable at the same time?
"Yeah, I'm a workaholic. I could never stop working. When I stop this tour it's great to be back with the wife and kid, but pretty soon I want to be back on the road again. It's the old musician's thing. See, my life is comfortable but difficult. I can't go shopping anymore. I can't scratch my arse in the street because people are watching..."
Do you 'enjoy' being a celebrity?
"I enjoy being the centre of attention. But this is something I enjoyed before I was famous. I enjoyed being a bus-conductor for six months after I left school."
I suppose you were always joking with the old ladies.
"Oh well, it's a situation where people are looking at you and you have the ability to entertain them because you're standing up and they're sitting down. So you have a sort of captive audience for a while and you can ponce around or you can tell jokes. Again, it's creating an atmosphere, and I could do that and that's why I think I was a good teacher. Where I did really badly - and I've had lots of jobs - was where I didn't have that facility. Like I worked for the Inland Revenue for a while, in an office, from where I almost got the sack. It's almost impossible to get the sack from the Inland Revenue but Stingo almost f****** did - just because it's so isolated from that function for which I feel I've got a talent. I'm not particularly good at one to one for some reason. It's a weird thing, but give me more than 20 people and I'm fucking magic."
Do you need that attention?
"I must do. Yeah. And I need it more and more everyday. I also need success It's like a drug. When I first started in the business two lines in Melody Maker was incredible, but now I have to have the front page otherwise it doesn't mean anything. Then it has to be the front page of all the papers. Then it just escalates."
So within your life now it's reasonable to expect front pages all the time?
"Yeah, you expect more and more. It's a situation I never actually aspired to really. When I left teaching I wanted to be a serious musician. I was a muso basically - beard, into Charlie Mingus - and I wanted to be respected in the jazz world. I really did. But the horizons just kept receding. Your objectives go further and further away. Like the first objective was to get a single out. Just to make a single. The next was to get on the Radio One playlist, and it took us ages to get that; and then it was for just one person on NME to like us. And then it just happened: breaking in America, a complete dream, before England; and then to come back to England and the accolade. You find yourself a celebrity overnight. "I fit into it comfortably because I enjoyed it at every stage and I enjoy the stage that I'm at now. I'll enjoy the next stage whatever it is."
You think that it's largely money that damages rock stars?
"Yeah, I think so, and that hunger... that need. It's like animals that kill for a living are cunning and intelligent, but an animal that just eats scraps has no challenge, has no goals. They just become stupid. I am intelligent. I want to maintain my intelligence. So because you have to stay hungry at the same time that you've earned a massive vast fortune is why the band are doing things that are strange; like playing to 50 people in Hong Kong."
Going out of your way to pick fights?
"I think so. Also within the group there's a healthy antagonism because we're all very strong egotists. I don't stand there and say, 'Right, we'll do this and that' and it's done. There's always a struggle. It's not easy being in this group for any of us. We keep it hot for each other. Stewart and I have an intense rivalry which is at times destructive, but is often creative. We like each other; it's not as if we hate each other. We have lived in each other's pockets for three years. For our first American tour there was the three of us in one double bed."
What about the Sting going over the top as glamour boy?
"Oh! That's another danger. It is for sale. The whole thing is for sale. We appeal to the anorexic 14 year olds. Why not? In many ways that is what puts the Gang Of Four out of influence, because we have this kind of overt pop image. It's inseparable, it really is. It's helped us get to the position that we're in, but I just want to make music. We'll lose the glamour image very quickly. I'm 28 for fuck's sake."
The concert itself is close to miraculous, vaguely reminiscent of an open air gig in Regents Park. Sting had worried that the audience was just going to sit still confused, shocked. In the end it was almost too easy a triumph. It was good to share but there was no sense of conquering India. The event could have crumbled into something ugly. It was a sell-out and excited people without tickets clamoured to get in. There was only one small entrance and so huge uncontrollable queues built up, ticketless and ticketed. The mass outside the gates thought the tapes that were played before the, group came on were the actual performance and they panicked. Miles Copeland cooled things down. They all got in; from the craziest hippy to the Chief of Police.
The gig was exciting! They danced! They sang along! They cheered! They didn't spit! They screamed for more! What a lovely sight. Afterwards backstage it's like any gig. Young Indians crowd around the group, asking for autographs, offering sincere congratulations. An Indian journalist wanders around until he hits the right person. "How did you get your name?" When he gets to Andy Summers he asks: "What is your favourite beat group?" Andy Summers passes me by as I chat to an Indian about The Boomtown Rats and Melody Maker. "So that was India," Summers shrugs dismissively.
Later still at the hotel Miles is telling us about how the people who'd paid for the front row,100 rupee seats were confused when all the people moved in front of them and started dancing. "They were complaining they'd paid their money and now they couldn't see, and why didn't all these people sit down? I said, It's rock'n'roll, You just got to let it happen. They understood." "Oh, that's cool," says Sting, "They'll know next time." Next time?! "Oh yeah. There'll be a next time."
What about fun?
"That is the main thing I think, you've got to keep having fun, finding fun. It's like every time I pick up the bass I have fun with it. I find something to play. You've got to keep having that experience. As soon as you stop having fun, music dies. There's no point to it. Just nothing. Then it becomes a chore. It really is fun for us. Sometimes it's exhausting, it's really hard work, but it's never a chore. I think I'll always have that. I hope so. We were talking before about why do people get corrupt? Why do they fall down? Why do they lose touch? I think they've lost the sense of fun, the joy of playing. I think drugs have a lot to do with it."
You don't take drugs?
"I'm not puritanical about drugs; I think drugs should be used. I've used cocaine to get me on stage when nothing else would do it. When you've been travelling 17 hours on a plane and done two shows the night before and nothing else would get me on the stage, I had a snort of cocaine and I think that is a justifiable use of a chemical. I'm aware of the implication. As far as sitting around with a load of pals listening to Grateful Dead albums and sticking it up your nose, y'know, forget it! I don't want to know. I've never smoked tobacco so I don't have any inkling to smoke dope. The only time I've ever taken hash is when I've eaten it, and then it's given me nightmares! I'm interested in hallucinogenic drugs as things to be used. I'd never be so stupid as to take drug after drug after drug. For people who write songs, part of their task is to experience things. I get a lot of inspiration from low-life. You get a lot of low-life being on the road: prostitution, gangsters, dodgy parts of cities. That's a good input to get; to go and experience it."
There has to be people like you who does?
"Yeah, I mean, the other night I went out in Sydney. There's a great part of Sydney called Kings Cross which is a real zoo, and one of the streets there is a total gay street. I'm not gay but I'm fascinated by that and I walked down the street and it was fucking heavy just to see those people obviously lonely looking for love and affection in a way that I find alien. Just to go down that street; I needed to. Maybe it's just curiosity, but there's also a part of me that says, I can use this. I can use this as an input later on. Like today, seeing those kids begging. It's very predatory in a way, but any situation, whether its positive or negative, you can use."
You're not singing songs of extreme experience?
"No. They're metaphors about loneliness. Everybody feels lonely. Who do they think I am? Maybe they've been fooled by The Cool. I suppose that's it. I've succeeded in fooling them. Jesus Christ!"
You can feel lonely doing something as manic as this world tour?
"I feel lonely making love to my wife. It's like we're all here but we're totally isolated, no matter how close you are to one person or a hundred you're always totally isolated. And I find that compelling as an image."
The melancholy tone of the lyrics is an unsettling contrast to the exuberance projected in the music and the visuals.
"Mmmmm. We don't just project one image. We are exuberant: we are friendly; we are open; and at the same time we are, everybody is, isolated. We're isolated all the time. I do get lonely. I'm not that social. I think it's a reaction against being on stage... being what is really everybody's friend. When you're on stage it's like being everybody's brother."
How much longer can you go on singing songs about loneliness and playing the white reggae?
"Yeah, it's... change, we'll have to..."
Presumably all your experiencing in the rock star fishbowl is more loneliness?
"I suppose we have to get more and more subtle in the way we treat the subject. I am obsessed by it. I don't suppose I'll ever lose that. I just think we'll get better at disguising it. That's one objective I have as a songwriter, is to kind of vanish behind the handiwork so that the song exists on it's own; forget who wrote it. I think 'Walking On The Moon' is a good metaphor. Nobody thinks it's good because nobody really thinks about it... to them it's just another set of lyrics... but it's a really good metaphor for feeling good. And I'm not sure what the song's about."
How does Sting as Star intrude into your personal life? You had married and had your son Joe before you were a household name.
"'76 was a crucial year: I decided to have this kid, live with this girl, quit my job, move to London. It was all a big trauma. And then I saw The Sex Pistols, had my hair cut, dyed it; it was like an acid trip without the acid. It completely turned me around... The constitution we set our marriage on was very flexible. I said, 'right, we'll have this kid, but I don't ever want to say to him that I gave up the best years of my life for you', because it was said to me. I wanted to carry on living my life to my standards; and both of us were like this. We're rich enough to have a nanny, so we've been very lucky, and our relationship is strong because of these separations. It keeps it fresh. I've been married four years and I'm still in love."
Four hours after tidying up the last bit of business in Bombay all the Police except Stewart Copeland (who joins them hours later) flew to Cairo, Egypt. To do it all again. I came away from India as pale as ever. As nervous as ever. Nothing has changed, everything is changing. The Police did something, achieved something that may have a profound effect. It may mean nothing. There is still India. There is still greed. There is still hell. There is still Sting, and somehow that seems to be important. To me.
For no logical reason - except maybe the Sting Interview - I came away from India not thinking that pop was sillier than I imagined, but that it was far more valuable. At the end of it all I don't know whether I'd been tricked by the Sting... he'd used me! To add yet another new dimension to the Sting. Sometimes looking at Sting was not so much like looking in a mirror but like seeing right through and seeing something that was simultaneously compelling and repelling.
Whatever I spent the first three hours of my twenty third birthday discussing POP with the Sting, and for a while it didn't seem like I was getting old. Present from heaven! And there I was, piling all sorts of pressures and contradictions and compromises on to him, saying that whichever way he turned he faced problems, that no one was paying serious attention to him, that he was losing himself in the industry, that he was fighting a losing battle, that he was living... hell.
"No. It's not hell," the Sting smiled. I don't suppose it is. Hell is what you make it.
India is a place full of ghosts. The air is thick with madness and lethargy. I had been in Bombay only three days. Most of that I had spent tripping wide-eyed and unconsciously through the unkempt streets, markets, bazaars, parks and alleyways of the laughing misery class.
I had sensed the estranged hierarchical attitude of the stoic upper class, but had always been with a party. Other people with whom to laugh and discuss and share... an absurd circus of rock stars, film makers, TV people, journalists: enough people to camouflage the confusion; to maintain cheery comforting banter; that kept the Indian impatience, its monstrosity, a distant, bearable dream. For three days I was on the press trip to end all press trips. It was part of the exotic section of the Police's triumphant world tour. I was promoting the Police. Summarising this or that.
The experience! I tried to discard the feelings of frustration and submission, the vague feelings of sell out (and mostly managed it). This was a sign that I was beyond hope. I lost sense of reason. But for three days I was with my people and I got on with my job: interviewing, reporting, looking, listening. I had a great time.
But then these rock stars and film makers - this troupe forcing history into the books and onto the screen - jetted on to Cairo, Egypt, setting up more history and having more fun. I had to get out of Bombay on my own. And I couldn't shut my eyes all the time. But I didn't want to. I wanted to stare and rationalise - or at least believe I was rationalising. But stuck in a sticky taxi-capsule lurching maniacally towards Bombay's ramshackle airport, I was paralysed, embarrassed and, ultimately, humiliated. Everybody must've been looking. You know how alarmed I felt. I was sweating more than is natural. What the hell was going on? I left the hotel seven hours early to make sure of my flight, as I had been warned about over-booking. I took no chances. I panic easily. I suffocate slowly.
The Taj Mahal Intercontinental is a soothing westernised haven. It is set deep inside but far away from the constant Indian pressure and commotion of natives looking to sell wares, drugs, girls. Indians just looking crowd around the perimeter of the magnificent hotel grounds, but they're kept at bay as if by an invisible barrier (but actually by six discreet Indian policeman).
I walk through the lobby past relaxing tourists and emerge into the outside glare and wet heat. Yellow and black taxis are lined up. One is ordered for me. It pulls up. I clamber in. It curves away. Scatters some Indians. Screech! Honk horn. Scythe through crazy traffic. At least the taxi is some protection from the weirdness outside.
Bombay life has no order. It is so disordered it is magnificently disciplined. The city is an out of focus confusion of an antique present, a precious past and a disjointed future. It's a city that never stops. I could grow to love it. All the beauty and all the ugliness the world could ever muster has collapsed into an agonising and challenging heap called Bombay.
In vivid afternoon daylight, with a panicky glance through a taxi window, Bombay is like any major city, except it's been left to rot and crumble. When it falls down no one will rebuild it. Roadside hoarding advertising fluoride toothpaste, the best brand of cigars, mentholyptus sweets and Cadbury's chocolate, mock the charismatic crisis of Bombay with explicit cruelty.
The taxi takes such a ridiculous route to the airport that I begin to think it doesn't exist. I sit in the middle of the small taxi's back seat, lean towards the shoulder of the driver in a futile attempt to disperse the irrational panic in my stomach, and try to look straight ahead. I hold my breath. Sweat. No one likes me.
Every time the taxi stops at traffic lights. At junctions - and that's every three minutes - the beggars descend and collect around the taxi. They've spotted me. It's not pretty. It's not easy to slot into any perspective that I know. It's no use writhing in pity. Who can handle the confusion? Where to direct the hate? Is there any use in getting worked up? Some of the beggars are limbless, a few tragi-comically contorted. There are those who drag bony children; others carry cute babies close to their bodies, half hidden inside their robes. They are not stigmatised. They present themselves naturally.
Sitting in this taxi, willing myself on the plane or in London, because all of a sudden the alienating closeness, the brilliant and nebulous difference of the place, was affecting me. I had nothing I knew to cling on to. The beggars floated towards me, weaving in and out of other cars, and performed their trade. I was lost. The people of India are victims. Do we remember as a matter of courtesy? How do we deal with it? How do we act? Western guilt and ignorance mixes with Indian principles with degenerate illogic. Begging is an Indian tradition; truly a trade.
These thoughts do not ease the emotional uncertainty of the visitor, the tourist. Those Indians who are comfortably off, and those who are richer and snugger than you or I, are enthusiastically quick to dismiss the innumerable beggars that cling to likely targets. They make a racket clicking their tongues. "But these people earn more money than the poor fellows working in the factories," a well off Indian would explain.
Some of the beggars are melodramatic and too well rehearsed in their manner. A lot of them use exactly the same gestures and timing, as if they've been taught in the same drama school. If you presented these with a full set of clothes they would be back the next day in their same carefully torn rags, I am told.
Those Indians who have a good home to live in and more than enough to eat, are quick to point out that the hundred and thousands of natives who sleep in inches of brown dust on the city's pavements do so out of choice. It is another half truth. Given the choice of horribly crowded and unsafe tenement buildings or a pavement where you can stretch and pretend you have privacy, most choose the pavement. It's not the sweetest of choices.
The taxi pulls me through the outer limits of the city; a warped parody of Moss Side. What is worse? The makeshift shacks leaning against each other for support, or the isolated tenements that look like a Hulme housing estate turned inside out - walls bleeding, crumbling, black ? It's here in the ruinous outer limits that the beggars come in droves. Trapped in a turmoil whether I was giving chocolate to the starving but unable to reach hundreds of millions, wondering whether I was supplying a comparative rich racket or what, I end up with my fingernails clenching in my palms giving nothing. Now I feel bad about it, except the whole scene flickers out of sight, desperately out of mind.
I stared straight ahead, leaning over the driver's shoulder, but he was no help. He looked menacing. He had a leathery, gnarled face, a droopy moustache, green teeth, eyelids that could crush an arm. A beggar paws my expensive suede jacket. I stare straight ahead and he curses me. Apparently my head will fall off tomorrow. The driver murmurs to every beggar that signals, weeps, chuckles and sighs. Is he pointing out my callousness? Telling them to go away? Sharing a giggle. Can he understand my confusion? Like a dog sensing fear, he undoubtedly senses my pathetic silliness.
A little child is pushed through the back of the taxi. She whimpers I clutch some rupees in my pocket. But the taxi quickly pulled away. I rub a thumb over my forehead and collect a strip of grime and perspiration. We reach the airport that's set in the midst of this desperate wasteland. From the outside it looks like a row of garages. I'm visibly shaking for reasons I only half know. The taxi meter registers 16 rupees. The bandit driver snarls 60. Outside a horde of eager porters surround the taxi ready for my bags I point to the meter, having been warned that I will be conned. But it's stupid arguing hysterically over 60 rupees (just over ¬£3) for a journey that would cost three times that in London.
I throw the money into his lap. Drag my bags out of the car. Almost fall over. Stumble into the departure lounge Into what I wildly presume will be a bland, anonymous airport land, somewhere clean and comfortable. But the chaos I trip into is no comfort. Where do I go? What do I do? No helpful signs. No obvious people to ask. I spend the next five hours in a state of high panic and paranoia - pacing around, jabbering... Five and a half hours after reaching the airport I get to my plane seat. Smiling Japan Airlines. Escape. I sit back and shut my eyes. Pop music. The Police. India. Taxi drive. Beggars.
What the hell was that all about?
The first time ever I met the Sting... was at The Who gig at Wembley Stadium, and it was also around the time of 'Quadrophenia' and Sting had a seat in the royal box. I was at the bar, absent mindedly sucking some white wine, when I half-recognised an agreeable looking guy who was standing next to me. But he was carrying a small, three year old boy and that threw me off. Then he said something to me. He recognised me. Now I'm not going to pretend that this never happens and when it does that it doesn't cheer me up. I'm not going to pretend that I'm not corrupted.
So this guy with the boy recognised me and introduced himself as Sting. Oh, I thought, unimpressed. He mumbled something about the Ted Nugent article I had written. I'd argued with Nugent about 'Roxanne' - I'd called it, bitterly, polite. and I'd never thought of the Police as being anything other than polite and certainly nothing to do with me. The Sting softly told me that he'd stuck the pertinent part of the piece into his scrapbook.
This appealed to my London-bred conceit. I can be a bit of a show off. Sting and the kid departed in a searing wave of cool. I gulped down the rest of my white wine. It was the first time ever I'd seen his face...really. I began to think about Sting. Within two months it was as if I'd never loved a pop star as much as I loved Sting.
Stars are as much a part of rock'n'roll as the progression and the sex and the poetry and the introversion and the communication; and rock'n'roll would be grimy without them. I'm where I am because of Marc Bolan, so I could never lose the part of my heart that flutters for stars. But the stars have got to be right. I am also where I am because of punk, so I know how destructive stars can be. The power they have can go either way.
The real stars look larger than life end see the world through a personal magnifying glass; with a lot of spite, sadness, drama, defiance. They're not meant to be just pretty pictures. It would be patronising and vulgar to say that there should be no such thing as stars.
In the later part of the '70s there had been no new star who had the sublime glamour, timing, looks, mystery, sensitivity and relevance of The Ideal Star and who also had punk enforced principles. Johnny Lydon isn't a poet and poster star; there are too many shadows.
I tried to make a few of my own: Pete Shelley. Howard Devoto (the closest... so close). Then it began to get desperate: Gary Numan! I soon lost interest. I began to moan about how the true new pop - beat, heart, melody, love and yearning, chilling life studies, dress, style, charm - was not where it belonged, in the charts, on our walls. Bob Geldof is not a real post punk star. Sioux comes closest. Most of the new pop stars who would be are being shoved into the underground. The Industry is still in control. People older than me still run the media.
I was thinking about Sting. And then - 'Message In A Bottle' made my nose bleed, helped shape a new vision - I realised that everything I wanted was already there. The cool. The mask. The soul. The beauty. The music. Those words. The voice. The Star. Sting! More so than the Police. Sting had beaten everyone.
The Police. I hadn't liked the name, the image, their record label, their ages, the smoothness of their music. I hadn't liked their summer success. I was lazy. I didn't look through the gloss. I didn't like Andy Summers, this has-been; and I didn't like the brash and ludicrous Stewart Copeland. But Sting introducing himself, not one bit bothered by all the nasty things I'd written about the group, had swollen my head and made me think.
'Message In A Bottle' was released with its crystal clear communication and startling structure. It clicked. The Police (Sting) were only right as a supergroup. Were the only right supergroup: the tension, aggression, vulnerability, superiority. When they were obscure and struggling, supporting Chelsea, rushing off to America, the Police smacked of insincerity and conspiracy. But the Police as supergroup... were important and, if we only looted, refreshing!
Sting transcended the whole blue and frothy Police myth. He beat back the notion of star as something stupid, to be reviled. He was part of the rock'n'roll tradition, yet the looks, the voice, the intimacy, the intelligence and developing perception contradicted at all. Sting with the Police as star in the charts and on our walls was the fantasy and mocked the fantasy. Sting didn't hide the fact he was smart.
The second time ever I met the Sting... was at ten o'clock in the morning in India. I was jauntily walking through the large lobby of Bombay's Intercontinental hotel, foolishly kidding myself that I'd got used to this decaying and fantastic country. Walking towards me was the Sting. I paused. I tried to pretend I hadn't seen him. It didn't work. Since the last time I'd met Sting I'd elevated him into something special and here l was fooled by the personality that I'd made Sting into. He said hello. Stewart Copeland was with him. He said Hi. I stuttered. They went on for breakfast. After recovering I went in and joined them.
Just as I expected, Stewart Copeland ranted and raved about the charts. Sting sighed, tried to read, stayed mostly silent and restless. Later on, during one of two conversations I have with Sting where I was beginning to look at him as if into a mirror (his will strangely imposes itself yet is quite selfless) we were talking about art and innocence. I ask him about the immense cool of Sting. It cannot be ignored or played down. It is not intimidating, it is merely... spectacular.
He shrugs. The cool makes The Star. His voice is soft and accentless; husky from recent throat trouble. "I don't feel like a star, myself. I just feel like I always did."
But you do build up this coolness. I push.
"I know what the effect is and I know why I choose to do certain things," he muses. "Just cool! I just think about how I look. I care about how I look, and I care about how I present myself. Like this morning when we met, I cared very much what you thought of me at breakfast. Maybe it's vanity. I feel that I'm being watched and I enjoy it, therefore I have a task to do it at all times I mean. It's no great burden on me. If anything I find that it's a pastime, just to maintain that kind of cool..."
I let him know that the second time we met I was nervous. "I know! You moved away! You thought you'd pretend you hadn't seen me!"
The first time we met I was very cynical towards the Police so it was a different thing. The Sting lets some more of his secrets slip. "I went up to you at Wembley with the sole purpose of introducing Sting because I didn't think that Paul Morley had ever thought about Sting and it was a good opportunity to get you to. The excuse was the article about Ted Nugent..."
Bastard! It did have a profound effect on me. "I know! I know! I thought it's put the cat among the pigeons." It worked. What a sucker!
"I know it worked. I tell you how I know it worked because not long after the photographer Pennie Smith came along and said Paul Morley sends his regards, and I thought, 'It's worked. I've got him'.
"It's interesting how personal meetings can effect things. Like I met Elvis Costello once. I was walking down Kensington High Street and this guy leapt out of a car to buy a newspaper. He was in front of me and he's small and he was trying to pass me and he looked up and saw that it was Sting and he's trying to scowl at me, and I just shrugged. And he fucking went off and I thought, 'Well, that's the first meeting, wait until the second one!'
"And there's this thing building up about him hating the Police and I'm just dying for the next meeting, because I'm going to get him. Metaphorically. There is no way I'm going to be drawn, into a slagging match. The next meeting I'll get him to love me." Sting chuckles, presumably plotting again. "And that's the ultimate cruelty."
In the lobby of the hotel the Police troupe is slowly gathering. It is the 26th of March, my twenty third birthday. The day the Police play a special concert in Bombay, the first rock concert in the city since Hawkwind played ten years ago. It's a cultural occasion; a significant event.
Because the Police in Bombay is being covered by a posse of film, TV and journalist people, there is always a wait for everyone to assemble before the pack takes off. "Who's not here," shouts the Police manager Miles Copeland, intensely fluttering as usual. Those that aren't don't answer. Those that are sit on a long seat facing the hotel reception. Elongated drummer Stewart Copeland sits at the end. His brother Miles resigns himself: those that are coming will come when they come.
He sits next to his brother. In many ways Miles is the fourth member of the group. "With the belief they have, I think Stewart and Sting and Andy would have made it in the end, but probably not as big. Me, personally, I'd like to think that part of the success of the Police is up to me!"
His brother Stewart has his say. His American accent is slower "If you like the music then we get credit for that; but if you respect our success then Miles gets a lot of credit for that."
Miles takes off. "The Police is the ultimate dream for everyone, y'know. It happened without hype: the kids discovered the record in America, the record company followed afterwards, but it was the import that was taking off in the charts not the record...
"It is a group that did not get into debt when it started happening, so the first royalties actually went into their pockets. Erm, for me as a manager, they look good, they're co-operative. If you say, 'Hey guys, we need a photograph,' they're all there. They're ideal. Obviously I'm speaking comparatively..."
"The things that make us co-operative," butts in Stewart, "the things that Miles says are good about us, that we're good boys are just little things that you've got to do, extra parts of the job. And we definitely get paid for it, to shake another hand. It's not such a hassle."
There is a three way pull inside the Police. A flamboyant blend of steadiness, tradition, ambition, rivalry, calculation, dedication. Out on the left is the champion Sting. Out on the right are the breathless Copeland brothers. Andy seen-it-all Summers is a placid but influential buffer for this rivalry.
The personality and cool of Sting dominates the group, is the phenomenon. But it is the workings of the Copeland brothers - third brother Ian runs an agency in America which gave them their early dates there - that has pushed the Police into their sturdy, unprecedented position. In many ways it has also given Sting his stardom. But whereas Sting will talk about breaking down barriers, looking to challenge stereotypes, the Copelands talk incessantly about facts and figures and markets and success in the abstract.
A lot of the things that are bad about the Police are rooted in the Copelands' activity. Sting suggests this rivalry is stimulating. I ask Stewart about it.
"We've got different things that drive us, that keep us pushing. His is a kind of sense of rivalry and mine is something different. There are different things that I want out of life. I have a different plan for getting them. And I have different kinds of talents for getting them, different things to put into the ballgame to make it happen for both of us.
"During the three years that we've been working together, Sting and I have evolved a way of working with each other that brings the best out of each other, and it's mostly just out of making it hot for each other."
What has success and the Police given to the drummer?
"The fact that I get to do anything that I want to and if I want to do it really seriously I can shun other responsibilities and get really involved in it. Ordinarily that would not be possible because I would have to earn a daily crust. Things like making movies; such as going to Bombay; such as, well, making records, which is what I'm best at. I mean you can have a pretty good old time and it's been like this for the last year."
Does his immense popularity crush his impetus in any way?
"Oh no, because it's really only different in degree from what I've always known. The feelings I have about my current popularity are pretty much the same as when I first headlined at the Marquee with my own group and you swagger into the club and everyone knows who you are. And it's exactly the same now but to a different degree."
Does he think about responsibilities?
"Sort of. Every now and again. When I'm in a pious mood I do feel that I have to kind of remind myself. I have to kick myself every now and again. I've been doing that regularly up to now and I don't know what good it's done. We're doing this gig in Bombay for charity and so that all seems OK, and I can relax, my karma's alright. "I suppose I'm guilty of a certain amount of vanity... shit!... y'know... you really got to struggle to get where you wanna get and when you get to the top you're bound to want to thumb your nose up at people!"
While we're sitting in the hotel lobby waiting for everyone to gather for the gig at the Rang Bhavan in the very centre of Bombay, I'm wondering - why India?
Sting said it was about challenge, adventure, initiative. Then he'd talked about Miles Copeland and his 'vision', a long term project to introduce rock'n'roll into countries such as India with a view to 'westernising' such places. Is he serious? Sting had said Miles had "a sort of right wing drive."
But when I asked Sting how he related to his manager's apparently half-political ambition, he was cautious, "I'm into his energy. I'm enjoying the adventure and Miles isn't in charge by any means. We will argue about things... Miles' energy and Miles' ideas, whatever the end is, are useable. There is no Police spokesman. I speak for myself and him for himself. I think he's probably one of the most dynamic managers in rock and roll, he really digs it, he thinks of great things to do... But he does have this idea about Russia. All Americans are frightened of Russia, and I'm sure it's the other way round. Miles' idea is that the world is in two camps and that there is a political solution to the world. I don't believe that. I play along with it... I think the solution needs to be more spiritual..."
Later I tell Miles what Sting has said. I ask him about introducing western and capitalist values into the eastern world. His deceptive face breaks into a stiff smile and he answers as if addressing some distant persons, half preaching, almost reciting, drawling like a wet Jimmy Carter.
"I believe in the word capitalism in a different way to maybe how some English people would use the term. In England the word means oppression and everything like that. To me it means freedom of the individual, and to me the great thing about England and America and our western way of society is that the individual can pretty well make up his own mind, at least compared to other countries - i.e. Russia.
"I find socialism oppressive because I don't believe The People when they start talking about The People; they really mean a few people dominating everybody else in the name of The People'.
"Erm, I grew up in the political life. My father (a top man in the CIA) was involved in various aspects of politics and the way governments run and all that, so I obviously have an interest in it. I grew up in a lot of exotic places and as a young kid I met Nasser and I hob-nobbed with rulers of various countries. But I'm not trying to inject politics into what I'm doing in music. But the fact is if western music gets played in Russia and gets played in India and gets played in China it tends to liberate all those individuals to a degree that it's revolutionary music. It's kids standing up for themselves.
"Look at England. Music is used as a form for changing society; it's a revolutionary force and our society has the freedom to do that and it can influence events. In the '70s a lot of pop stars altered the course of America in the war with Vietnam. But if all the Russians and all the Chinese and all the Indians get into western music it means really that they get into western culture, which means they become oriented towards the west as opposed to the east. But I did not get into this business to do that. I'm not playing India because I want to change India. I'm just saying maybe that's a side-effect that in the end is a good thing. I happen to believe in the values of our western society as opposed to anything else that is being offered. I don't pretend we're perfect, but we certainly are better. Somebody like me is free to do what I want to do in England. But I wouldn't be able to operate like this if I was in Russia. So I have to believe in the values of our society.
"But the Police are not in India for any ulterior motive on my part. We're having a good time! It's fun! It's a new culture! It's exciting. It keeps the band fresh. They're playing places nobody else has. We're doing something good I think. All the Indians are real excited that at last all these rock groups they hear about are gonna come over and they're gonna get a chance to see what it's about."
"Let's go!" Miles Copeland commands loudly and the huge white limousine which is totally incongruous amongst all the tiny vehicles in India, eases away from the hotel and heads for the open air theatre where the gig is to be. I'm in the back of the car with the two Copelands. Andy Summers is in the front. Sting is lost. The two Copelands are chattering on about the endless tapes of conversations and idle chitchat that Miles is building up from the whole tour. "I'm catching all those little moments that in ten years from now when they do the Police story, syndicated all over the world, I'll have all these little bits." Miles grins like a little boy. Stewart begins, "We're laying the foundation..." and Miles completes, "...for the Police Tapes!"
But the atmosphere of happy tourists cruising along Bombay's early evening streets soon comes to a horrific end. "Oh my God," groans Miles loudly. The car has pulled up at some traffic fights. An armless girl beggar has presented herself at the car window. "Shit!" spits Stewart. "Can you imagine showing your deformities to everyone?" We all try to stare away. No one knows what to say. "Oh God," Miles repeats. The car moves off. "But if you give them money you're actually encouraging it, and I think it's not to be encouraged... "Where do you draw the line?" wonders a shaken Andy Summers. "Where do you stop. You can't give it to one and then leave seven million out..."
The incident is soon forgotten. Deep down everyone needs consoling. The car pulls up outside the neat open air theatre and Miles is back to his good self. Two hours before the concert and there are already queues for the sell-out concert. Three and a half thousand tickets have been sold. He looks gratefully at the queue which is breaking up and beginning to surround the car. "I see that there are a few foreigners here come to check the stars."
The third time ever I met the Sting was on a high balcony of the Taj Mahal Intercontinental Hotel and by now we must know that Sting knows what he's doing. But how. Overlooking the Arabian Sea and the majestic Gateway to India, Sting and I talk about Joy Division. Sting may like the group - "The LP blew me away" - but he also knows full well that they're my favourite group. It's a calculated move for us to talk about them immediately, yet still honest. It's part of that Cool. In the lobby prior to the Police pack going off on some outing into the Bombay maze, we arrange when we'll do the interview, when we'll talk about Sting and Pop, and I say that I feel slightly silly discussing the pop phenomenon in Bombay. "Oh no," Sting shakes his head. "Pop is important."
Have you always loved pop?
"I always hated rock in my teens. From about 15 to 25 I stopped listening to it. But I loved the '60s thing and the whole heavy punk thing."
Is it the idea of The Star that interests you in the Ray Davies, John Lennon tradition and not the Plant, Gillan sort of macho thing, and you want to find new ways of adding to that tradition because of what it's given you?
"Yeah, I think we add... I think the whole school of pop and rock groups take their inspiration from the generation before the last one. We hate the groups from the last generation and so we take our inspiration from somewhere else, and carry on from those people. Or maybe we're just trying to get as far as they did. The Beatles are definitely the blueprint for almost any group."
Is that an old fashioned thing to say?
"It's true, whether it's old fashioned or not, because they did it. They did everything. They did it long before we did. The whole perpetuation of the myth and the idol and the star thing, they had it..."
And tried to do something strongly, within that...
"Yeah, I think The Beatles changed the shape of history."
So Pop is important?
"Oh, it's vitally important. I mean, being English from the age of five onwards I've been as interested in who's at the top of the charts as I have been in which Prime Minister or government has been running my life. I think England is probably the only country in the world where it's that important. I don't think America cares that much about it. England as a community is very pop orientated. I think it's the folk music, the folk culture of our time. People just take it seriously.
I can come close to blows over it. I can giggle at its silliness. And here I am in the middle of Bombay trying to discover, whether one of the biggest pop stars in the world is 'serious' or not. Well, you can look at it objectively and say, 'God, this is a load of crap. This is a load of noises on a piece of plastic'. But there's something about the music that is indefinable, a magic to it that you can't laugh at."
But now you are what you are it's important that you resist becoming aloof.
"Well, we've got a good start. A lot of groups have an image that is very hard to adhere to, like the stony-faced idol who can never be approached. I think Gary Numan has this, and it looks great at times, but how long can you keep it up? It's not long before people are sick of it. We get up on stage end we laugh a lot and we tell jokes and we banter with the audience, and I feel very natural. I feel very ordinary in fact. I think that will stay longer than the cold unapproachable icon. That's attractive for a short time - unless it changes all the time, like with Bowie, which is fascinating, it's a work of art. But there's a lot of pressure on him. He can do it because he's a very clever man. We don't have that problem. We're just ourselves."
How does your work in films move into this Sting as Star angle?
"I try and keep it very separate now. I've been offered lots of movies lately where the two worlds merge. I was offered a film by Francis Ford Coppola to play the singer in the film, the lead, and it was very attractive. The pedigree of the film was impeccable, but reading the script it was like the stereotype rock star with stereotype rock star problems, which had nothing to do with me. I find that too dangerous an area to work in. Too much a risk. The goal at the end of the movie was not worth the risk. What I would get out of working in that movie wouldn't be worth the price of failing in it."
What inputs went into the Quadrophenia mod? The character was very enigmatic; lots of secrets in there.
"That performance was... me, actually. Definitely part of me and very easy to do. I'm not an 'actor'; looking good on screen is just a matter of intelligence. I was lucky in that film because I was in it just long enough to create a big impression, and not long enough to blow it. It was perfect. The Police did a lot for that movie actually. The week it came out in England we were number one. I know for a fact they waited until the Police had toured Australia before they released it there."
How do you relate the Police Sting and the film Sting: do you feel there's a common goal?
"Yeah, I suppose so. I think Sting is separate from the Police."
That separation has been a seductive development.
"Yeah... I've developed... I think the other two are developing their own personas. I'm standing back a lot now and letting the other two take the limelight, because there was a sort of imbalance - and I don't apologise for that. I was the singer. But I'd like my career to be a long one and I don't really want to stay just a rock'n'roll singer. I think there are more graceful ways of growing old. And acting is one that appeals to me. I don't think I would go back to teaching."
You taught for two years. Was that a good apprenticeship for what you're doing now?
"Yeah, learning to stand up in front of people and not being an arsehole, although I might seem to be one. Self-confidence in front of people. Entertaining, I suppose. I think the phenomenon in the classroom isn't teaching, it's learning. I think what you have to do is create an atmosphere where people can feel happy and want to learn things, and I think the rock'n'roll thing is similar. You create an atmosphere where people can let themselves go, get worked up if you like. It's a sort of ritualised release. We get back to the placebo thing: wouldn't they be better off on the streets, bringing down the government, killing off old ladies? I don't know. Music made me give up teaching."
© New Musical Express