The following article by Jim Farber appeared in an October 1999 issue of The New York Daily News
He's the King of Fame: Sting just wants to please himself.
Sting says we've got him all wrong. He isn't The Voice of Universal Concern, out to save the world. Well, not the whole world, anyway.
"You'd be surprised," he says. "I support only two causes: One is Amnesty International. The other is the rainforest. Anything else would dissipate whatever power I have. I ain't saving the lemmings."
He even says he isn't that serious a guy. "People take me incredibly seriously," he says, laughing. "I don't take myself at all seriously."
When you think about it, why should he? As Sting says in four or five different ways during a talk in a New York rehearsal studio, where he's preparing for a tour that comes to the Beacon Nov. 16, 17, 19 and 21: "I have no complaints about my life at all. I'm very privileged."
Indeed, the former Police frontman is wildly wealthy, has three sprawling homes - in Italy, New York and the UK - a long-lasting marriage (to Trudie Styler) and five healthy children, ranging in age from 4 to 22. (His eldest son plays in a Police cover band, the other members of which, Sting claims, have no idea who he is.)
His seven solo albums have sold millions of copies worldwide, making him one of the few former band leaders to sustain his own career. And while his audience skews toward adults, his music has been appropriated by trendy tastemakers like Puff Daddy, who sampled the old Police hit 'Every Breath You Take' in his No. 1 smash 'I'll Be Missing You'.
To top it off, at 48, Sting still looks smashingly fit. Clearly, he's at a place in his career where he feels comfortable enough to release a challenging album like the just-issued 'Brand New Day', his least commercial work since 1991's 'Soul Cages', which addressed the death of his father.
The new album doesn't chart such troubled waters. But its music darts all over the stylistic map, from Algerian music to jazz to country. While the LP features brand-name guest stars like James Taylor, Stevie Wonder and Branford Marsalis, it takes few stops in conventional pop. Sting took this risky approach even though his last album, 1996's 'Mercury Falling', sold disappointingly by his standards, 983,000 copies, after failing to gain major radio play. In comparison, 'Ten Summoner's Tales', released in 1993, sold 2.7 million.
Sting hardly seems concerned. "If I sell a million records as opposed to two or three, I ain't crying," he says. "I'm not interested in putting myself in a corset or wearing a wig to make myself more popular. I want to be myself."
In fact, he says he records purely "to amuse myself. That may sound selfish. But that's it."
He admits the result can require patience on the part of the listener. "For an audience to get the best out of a piece, they do need to work," he says. "You have to go a little further than just sitting back for easy listening. [But] I've never been afraid to make music complex. To sing a simple melody over an unusual rhythm is one of my games. It's like a crossword puzzle to me."
This time Sting's puzzle began with music: He didn't write the words until the very end. "I didn't even admit I was making a record until very late," he explains. "There's such a huge amount of infrastructure depending on your creativity, a massive number of people employed who have to pay mortgages. I wanted to forget that stuff."
So he recorded casually, with a tight group of friends at his Italian home. "I felt if I'd structured the music properly, it should have some kind of inner logic that would [eventually] dictate the words."
Apparently, the music dictated exclusively love songs, including 'A Thousand Years', a reincarnation tale that traces a couple through several lifetimes. "[That's] not normal for me," he explains. "It must reflect the mood of my family and my friends being all around."
Yet he says he didn't write a literal autobiography. One standout track, 'Perfect Love Gone Wrong', finds Sting singing from the viewpoint of a dog. 'Tomorrow We'll See' has him teetering in the high heels of a transvestite hooker. "I enjoyed being that character," he says. "In Paris, coming back from the studio, I'd see this incredible array of exotic creatures. They're like Birds of Paradise. And it's not just commerce. It's a branch of show business. They're fiercely proud of the way they look. They're saying 'don't judge me. I'm doing this because I want to.' That viewpoint is very close to me."
In fact, Sting says applying that principle to music has allowed him to buck repetition in his career. He's adamant about never re-forming The Police, even though just about every other '80s hit act has regrouped, from Culture Club to Eurythmics. "The legend of The Police is something I'm very proud of," he says. "The myth is still there because we finished at the top. You can't re-create the past, especially 16 years later. It's like having your dog stuffed and sitting in the corner. I don't want to have The Police stuffed. The world has moved on."
Sting says he's more than happy it has. At this stage of his career, he has few expectations about connecting with the zeitgeist of young pop culture. "I'm not a boy band. I'm not 20," he says, smiling. "I want to be my age and have the experience of my life come through my voice now as opposed to when I was 25. When I listen to my vocals from then, I'm embarrassed. Now, it's got more depth."
He says he doesn't even like his association with rock. "I'm not a great fan of rock 'n' roll," he declares. "It can die for all I care. I care about music passionately. But rock is very reactionary and conservative."
He chooses Tony Bennett as a role model. "I want to be that age and singing beautifully." And he feels he's right on track. "I can do what I want at this point. I can actually get old within a business that really doesn't want you to mature."
"Wherever pop music goes is fine by me," he says, before getting up to leave. "I just plan to stay my course."
© The New York Daily News