The following article by Elysa Gardner appeared in a November 2001 issue of the USA Today
Sting's live album recording echoes U.S. tragedy.
"Irony doesn't translate into print, so I'm never ironic on tape," says the rock star to the cassette recorder. Getting no response, he leans closer and shouts. "Ever!"
OK, so Sting is acting a little punch-drunk this afternoon. "I haven't slept in three days," he explains, sitting in the den of his handsome apartment overlooking Central Park.
But he quickly sobers when discussion turns to his new CD, '...All This Time', which came out last week. Sting's first live album in 15 years, it showcases songs spanning his career, from the early Police hit Roxanne to tunes from his most recent solo effort, 1999's multiplatinum 'Brand New Day'.
The tracks - which offer new arrangements and canny twists on chord progressions, reconfirming the singer/songwriter's yen for jazz nuances - were recorded during a concert he staged for about 200 people, most of them contest winners or fan-club members, at his home in Tuscany.
"I didn't want to put out a tape of a show in some big, rah-rah stadium, which is what most live albums are," Sting says. "I wanted to create something much more personal and intimate - more like a love letter than a noisy concert. And I knew I could invite 200 strangers from all over the world to my home, because I know how respectful my fans are."
The performance - also the focus of a three-hour TV special, Sting in Tuscany '...All This Time', which premiered on A&E on Saturday and encores Dec. 16 at 5 p.m. ET/PT - also was intended as a post-tour party for Sting and his band, who had been on the road for two years. "It was the culmination of a week of joy, of being in Tuscany drinking wine and eating great food, and having fun rearranging the songs."
But unbeknownst to him or anyone else, Sting had chosen the wrong date for such a celebration: Sept. 11.
"We were all having lunch when the news came in that this appalling massacre had happened," he recalls. "Everybody's mood changed completely. Did I feel like singing? No way. I wanted to sit down somewhere and cry. But we had a band meeting, because we're a democratic outfit, and they all said, 'We have to play. This is what we do - we're musicians. And you have all these people coming from all over. You have to deal with it.' "
So Sting settled on a compromise: They would play one song - the elegiac Fragile, which he deemed appropriate under the circumstances - then shut down an international Webcast of the show out of respect and observe a moment of silence.
"I heard at least two members of my band weeping, and more weeping in the audience," Sting says. "I said, 'OK, the Webcast is done; it's just us here in this beautiful courtyard on this terrible day. What should we do?' And I heard this groundswell of people going, 'Give us some music.' It was my job to provide that sort of instant therapy. I began tentatively, but as the night progressed, the mood changed to one of healing, then defiance, then genuine joy. We realized we had the right to express ourselves, which is something terrorism tries to destroy."
The tragedy did affect Sting's song list. "Certainly, I didn't want to sing 'Englishman in New York' - it seemed too happy and frivolous. 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic' also didn't seem correct. And the way we played was changed. I'm normally pretty detached emotionally from what I'm singing, because I feel that if you've written the melody and lyrics, they already transmit emotion. But here, I was really overcome a lot of the time, and you can hear it in my voice. And the band played out of their skins. We all felt confused and frightened and angry, in varying proportions."
Afterward, Sting cancelled other gigs in Italy, as well as a pre-birthday bash - he turned 50 on Oct. 2 - in Marrakesh. "I just wanted to hibernate for a while." He returned to Manhattan in late October, giving a free concert in Bryant Park. "I wanted to finish the Webcast, which Microsoft let me do, and to show my solidarity. New York has given me a lot of inspiration, and I have friends here and a life here, so I feel very connected to what happened, and to the recovery."
Sting would prefer that '...All This Time', which is dedicated to victims of the attack, lacked such a connection. "I wish it had just been a normal album. But it wasn't." He adds, "I think it will take a while for people in rock 'n' roll to really get their bearings. The whole creative process has been altered. I know, just from singing old songs, how their meaning has been altered. And what new stuff is written will certainly be affected.
"That doesn't mean we should all go into a miserable, depressed state. We have a right to be joyous. One of the terrible things about the Taliban is that they don't like music - or women. That's not a regime I would choose to live under. It's important to go on with your life - live, laugh and love."
© USA Today