10.02.91 THE DAILY TELEGRAPH


The following article by Chris Salewicz appeared in an October 1991 issue ofThe Daily Telegraph newspaper...

Forty years old but still Jung at heart Sting - rock star, ecological crusader and would-be psychotherapist - is 40...

Forty years old but still Jung at heart Sting - rock star, ecological crusader and would-be psychotherapist - is 40. Chris Salewicz went to his party and talked to him about life and death

"Life is like a two-week holiday. And when you reach 40 you're in the second week." That grim joke was a favourite of Andy Summers, the guitarist in the Police; 10 years ago the trio's wilful talent, uncharacteristic intelligence and ferocious energy made them the most popular rock group in the world.

Summers's gallows humour came to mind last week as I watched him join Sting, once the group's singer, on stage for two songs at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Now equally successful as a solo artist, Sting was celebrating his own 40th birthday with a concert. A firework display, in the centre of which the number 40 sparkled and exploded, heralded the end of the show.

"Most people in my position would have been more discreet about their 40th birthday, but as I happened to be doing a show that night, why should I pretend that it's not a celebration of some kind," he told me later as he prepared for a concert in San Francisco, part of a tour that comes to Britain on November 22. "I feel really good about being 40. I've got five beautiful kids. I've got a career. I'm healthy. Why on earth shouldn't I be happy about it?" Such a reversal of tradition is in character for an artist for whom the unexpected - leaving the Police and forming a group with American jazz musicians, for example - is commonplace. Of the several internationally acclaimed singers currently on offer from Britain, Sting is maybe the only one with some intellectual credentials - indeed you might once have detected something of a ponderous "clever clogs" manner at the heart of this former teacher from Newcastle. For a supporter of the Labour party he has an almost Thatcherite belief in rigorous self-improvement. But any sense of smugness has long gone. The end of working in a group with the Police seemed to allow him to become a softer, more considerate figure: the daily six-mile runs have been replaced by yoga, the sexual wild boy by a family man.

Since his first solo album in 1985, the former Gordon Sumner has ploughed an ardently personal artistic furrow; his two subsequent solo LPs considered, as befits a man who has always worn his art on his sleeve, the intensely subjective theme of death in the family. "Baring my soul is my job. I think I have a pretty normal emotional life, and therefore what I go through has a resonance outside of me." At the end of the 1980s, in rapid succession, his mother and then his father died of cancer. Soul Cages, the latest record, is, he says, an attempt to assuage his grief and resolve his relationship with his father, who worked on Tyneside as a milkman.

"He hated what he did. His brain was under-used. I needed to do something as a kind of closing of a chapter for both of us. That's why the record was difficult to make, and why it can be difficult to listen to."

Sting now has homes in London, New York and Malibu. It is from his Californian beach home that he commutes by private jet to his work in the West Coast's amphitheatres.

Conversation with Sting is a serious matter. Though he is not notably morbid, his birthday brings up questions of his own mortality. He has a tentative belief in reincarnation, and he is interested in Carl Jung and various esoteric philosophies. And, of course, his campaigns to save the world - notably the Amazon rainforests and the starving in Africa - are utterly serious. Many is the time he has been accused of pomposity. But, at 40, he appears a well-balanced man whose central faith is in himself.

"I can't change the world," he says, "I can't save the rainforest. But I can probably save myself." The comment might seem surprising from someone who two years ago traipsed the chat shows of the Western world broadcasting the plight of the Amazon basin. What he means is that if we each sort ourselves out, then the rainforests will not need saving.

Certainly, Sting is not a frivolous person. What would he be like, however, without the £20 million or so he has in the bank? Has that diluted his spirituality, or his integrity? He insists not: " The material rewards I've got have come along by accident, as a sort of side-effect of doing what I love to do, which is to sing and write songs. If I was really interested in material stuff, I would have stayed with the Police, and made other decisions about my life. But I haven't, and I've been rewarded, paradoxically, because of those decisions away from that." Three years ago, Sting considered giving up his career as a musician to become a therapist. Much of his language, indeed, is the jargon of the psychologist: terms and phrases like "projections", "emotionally impacted", and "process" pepper his speech.

Travelling with Sting is his biographer, Victor Garbarini, an eccentric man who jots down telephone numbers in the back of an astrological ephemeris. Sting, Garbarini informs you, considers his archetypal role to be that of "warrior priest", a kind of action man spreading the gospel of good. And you are reminded of Sting, at his birthday party, offering thanks with a half-joke for living such a blessed, lucky life: "I must have done something good in a past life. Perhaps I was St Francis of Assisi." Once a punk rocker, once an angry, almost bitter young man, Sting is now - at the end of week one of life's two-week holiday - a calm, posed adult. "There's a lot of temptation in popular culture to regurgitate yourself in the state you were in when you were first successful - either the angry young man or the really handsome kid," he says. "But there has to be a process of evolution, unless you're impacted emotionally, which I'm not any more - I've moved on. I'm not angry now."

© The Daily Telegraph
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