All This Time...
Sting, recently turned 58, looks remarkable - not "good for his age" or "well-preserved" or any of those other patronizing labels that are attached to people who defy chronology.
Besides, it's embrace rather than defiance that defines Sting. He looks his age. He's also just made an album.
If On a Winter's Night ... is a collection of traditional songs, hymns, lullabies and laments inspired by Sting's favourite season. His record company had suggested a Christmas album, but he wasn't partial to that idea. "I'm interested in the psychological concept of what winter means to us," he explains. "It's hugely important, and it's disappearing with global warming.... We need the winter to reflect, to sit in darkness, to deal with the ghosts of the past. And then we can move forward. So, for me, the album is about regeneration rather than salvation."
But the album is more the kind of music you might expect from a creative lion in the winter of his years, rather than a man who is a mere 58.
"I've always been a little premature," Sting acknowledges. "I grew up quickly, and I'm heading into maturity quicker. In some respects, I'm 14 1/2. In others, I'm an old man, growing into wisdom about the world, asking questions about why we are here."
Sting places his faith in the power of the human imagination to fathom that mystery.
"That's my religion," he declares. "Without imagination, you have no art, no music, no literature, no religion. You can't throw one out without throwing them all out."
For this latest album, he initially wanted "to go back home," he says, "to be inspired by my own experience of winter, which was largely as a child, working on the milk round with my father, driving in the snow, not saying too much to the old man."
Still, as much as he believes musicians are innately melancholic ("It's life viewed through a prism of minor keys"), Sting insists he's happier than he's ever been. "In my late 20s, early 30s, I was very successful and not particularly happy. It was interesting to learn that success doesn't equate to happiness. Look at poor Michael Jackson trapped in this closed, hermetically sealed world with no way out. That's no kind of success."
Sting, by comparison, walks to work every day (in London, he's based in his wife Trudie Styler's offices). There are no bodyguards, no entourage.
"I try to live as normal a life as I can, a citizen's life, given that I have a huge amount of privilege and I'm paid ludicrous amounts of money to do a job I'd do for nothing."
Sting himself is, of course, famously - even notoriously - physically fit (though, in a recent interview, his daughter Coco squelched the stories about his day-long tantric sex sessions with Trudie). "There's a certain amount of vanity involved, and dignity. I wouldn't feel good singing my own songs unless I looked decent, and I couldn't really do my job if I was a fat git."
As well, the element of surprise is something Sting values.
"Reforming the Police? That was a huge surprise even to me," he says dryly.
If you think the evolving wisdom of late middle age would have provided an antidote to the problems, think again.
"It didn't make much difference," Sting concedes with a rueful laugh. "Still, we did 150 shows, played to 2.7 million people. We didn't kill each other. We stayed friends more or less. We'll still go to the weddings of our children, and we'll meet each other occasionally without remorse."
Sting included two of his own songs in the lineup for If On a Winter's Night ... They help underline the personal nature of the project at the same time as they would seem to express a hope that his own songs will endure.
"No, posterity is not something I spend a lot of time thinking about," Sting demurs. Instead, it's the music itself that absorbs him. "There's no end to it. If you think you know about arranging, go and listen to Ravel. If you think you know about rhythmic composition, go and listen to Stravinsky.
"I have so much to learn and so little time."
So time, in the end, is a hard taskmaster, even for Sting, a man who seems so at peace with it.
"Yeah, I could do with another 58 years," he agrees.
© Zoomer magazine by Tim Blanks