11.17.00 THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD


The following article by Richard Jiman appeared in a November 2000 issue of the Australian newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald...

Spirit in the material world - Sting... likes to try new things. The hits keep coming for Sting, but all he really wants is happiness.

Don't you just love a good Spinal Tap moment? I do. I'm on the phone with Sting and decide to go in hard. "Er, how are you Sting?" "Not bad," he replies. "I'm in..." He pauses. "Where am I?" The line falls silent as The Pop Star consults his mental tour itinerary. "I'm in Nagoya, Japan," he says confidently. "And it's raining..."

All the world's a stage (albeit an occasionally generic one) for this 49-year-old former Newcastle, UK, teacher, soccer coach and ditch digger known to his mum as Gordon Matthew Sumner. "I've been on the road since 1976," he quips and you almost believe him. In the popular imagination StingWorld is a carousel of cities, stadiums and five-star hotel rooms; a blur of airports, award ceremonies and 18th-century manor houses. Three hours of yoga each morning and a game of chess before the show. A Tantric sex god who makes the odd - very odd in the case of 1984's sci-fi epic 'Dune' - foray into film acting and invites rainforest tribesmen home for tea.

Put it all together and you've got Tabloid Sting. A seriously rich, seriously earnest English rock star. A man who - depending on your taste - makes intelligent rock for grown-ups, or faux-jazz for people who admire a song that rhymes biology with ideology.

And guess what? He couldn't care less.

"The perception of me is nowhere near the truth and it's really not my job to try to clarify that," he says briskly. The accent is still discernibly Geordie and the words are measured, each one underwritten by a self-confidence bordering on the supernatural.

"My job is to have a private and personal life that has nothing to do with that [media persona]. I'm very happy when they get the facts wrong - positive or negative. I don't stand or fall by whether the public loves me or not. It's not that I don't care, but I value myself when I see my close friends or my family. I'm a real person and the rest of it is bullshit."

His thirst for touring may seem at odds with his tight-knit family life. He has six kids - two from his first marriage to actor Frances Tomelty and four from his marriage to film actor and producer Trudie Styler. But globe-trotting and fatherhood are compatible, he insists, "because I have a stable family life and they allow me to go off, make a lot of money and come back".

He rates himself among the "top five most fortunate people on the planet", but denies he's ambitious. In middle-age, his primary motivation isn't money, social change or enlightenment, but happiness.

"What makes me happy is trying new things," he says. "And learning things makes me happy. I don't need any more Grammy awards [he has 12] or an Academy Award. I really don't. I just want to be happy."

And don't go looking for the inner Sting in his music. Not the new stuff, anyway. The songs he wrote for The Police - brilliant white reggae nuggets like 'Walking On The Moon' and 'Message In A Bottle' - read like the tear-soaked diary of a high school student. But his seventh solo album, 'Brand New Day', features more role-playing than a management workshop. On 'Fill Her Up' he's pumpin' gas in Vegas. On 'Perfect Love...Gone Wrong' he's a [ahem] jealous dog, and 'Tomorrow We'll See' sees him assume the guise of a transsexual prostitute.

"I think it's a mark of maturity when you can get outside the confessional loop," he says. "I think that's what we're supposed to aspire to."

Perhaps. Fans of Sting version 1.0, the peroxide blond who wrote 'Every Breath You Take' - "as powerful a distillation of obsession as has ever been recorded", according to one critic - might disagree. Perhaps mega-success has cocooned him from the banal hardships that fuel great confessional songwriting?

The suggestion irritates him. "I've lead a far more dangerous life than most people who buy the records or your newspaper," he says.

Care to elaborate? "I don't need to," he says. "I've lead a very interesting life and continue to lead a very interesting life. I don't live in a cotton candy world that's surrounded by luxury. I do have luxury, but I also put myself out on limbs and go places and do things that as a writer are essential." He pauses again. "I'm not a transsexual though. Heh-heh."

'Brand New Day', which netted two Grammy awards, was judged a return to form after 1996's "elusive" 'Mercury Falling'. It's typical of Sting's early post-Police output, with its line-up of superlative players (32 in all) including Stevie Wonder, jazz heavyweight Branford Marsalis and uber-drummers Manu Katche and Vinnie Colaiuta. Its hallmark is also a broad stylistic range: pop, funk, bossa nova, jazz and country in 9/8.

This catholicism - or indulgence - was forged on his solo debut 1985's 'The Dream Of The Blue Turtles'. He admits it was a response to "taking off the handcuffs" imposed by The Police. For a jazz musician who cut his teeth with Newcastle combo Last Exit, unusual time signatures must have seemed too good to resist after nine years playing 'Don't Stand So Close To Me'.

"What's fun for me is to pervert things a little, to twist them and make them work," he says. "There's a tyranny to 4/4. If I can make music that isn't in 4/4 and still have a groove to it that pleases me, it's like an interesting little puzzle I set for myself."

The bottom line: Sting can do what he damn well likes. Fortunately, his audience is usually happy to indulge him.

"Largely, popular taste and what has pleased me have coincided," he says. "But I'm perfectly prepared one day to make an album that people really don't get."

That's still hard to imagine. Even 'Blue Turtles' yielded chart hits like 'If You Love Someone Set Them Free', but then Sting is capable of surprises. You wouldn't expect this high-profile environmentalist to be relaxed about fox hunting - "I'm dispassionate about the whole thing" - or to offer his latest work to advertise the car manufacturer Jaguar. As Entertainment Week put it: "Why is Mr Integrity doing car commercials?"

Sting is no stranger to advertising. In August 1999 he began striking yoga poses for Compaq in a deal believed to be worth $38.5 million. His pact with Jaguar has proved more controversial. The brain-child of his manager Miles Copeland - brother of Police drummer Stewart - it required the car company to bankroll the video for the single 'Desert Rose' which shows Sting being whisked through the desert in a gleaming Jaguar S-Type. In return, Jaguar got a commercial in which Sting is whisked through the desert in a gleaming S-Type. The line between art and commerce has seldom seemed so thin.

Sting admits the deal was "unprecedented". But distasteful? Not at all - just part of marketing adult music in a Britney-centric world. "I'm a committed environmentalist, but I own a car [several actually, including two Jags] and so does every other committed environmentalist," he says. "There was a time when winning two Grammys meant you could sit back and watch record sales build up. But the market is different now. We decided we would market this record as aggressively as possible."

And it worked. 'Brand New Day' was largely overlooked when it was released in the US in September, 1999. The Jaguar commercial hit American living rooms in March and, bingo, the album roared into the Billboard Top 10.

Sting wins again. He's won so many times, in fact, he's never had to resort to that nice little earner, The Police reunion tour. "No way!" he laughs. "What's the point? Maybe it would be an exercise in nostalgia and you could make some money. But I don't need the money and I'm not particularly nostalgic."

© The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
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