NEW MUSICAL EXPRESSDecember 01, 1983
The following interview with Richard Cook appeared in a December 1983 issue of New Musical Express magazine...
Princes of the City. There's nothing like an American stadium show to make you feel small and alone.
As one of 17,000 participants in at the Police's Atlanta show, in the Omni Arena, I drift around the higher blocks of the auditorium. With the precisely vigorous gestures that typify an American crowd, the audience is gorging itself on the bright flood of sound from the stage and the squishy barrels of popcorn and the meek frothy beer and the florid stench of an occasional reefer.
They will do it for a couple of hours, soaking in a glittering run of songs wrapped and punctured by personal sorrows, and then they'll drive home - all of them - blam-blamming their hands on their steering wheels to another Police song on the radio.
They have just been watching the biggest group in the world, a unit of three deeply private men who lead the most public of lives, and they've been treated to a showmanship of great skill and ingenuity that they'll probably remember a little longer than they will the last AC/DC or Loverboy razzle.
"We are unassailable. There's almost nothing that can touch us".
Loneliness, isolation, a personal misery behind a public bravado: these are the ancient constituents of superstardom.
The Police have tasted them for five years and instead of agonising over the problems they have used them like currency. Their 'loneliness' is their secret.
A long performance fingers through the songs that make up Synchronicity, flickers around a catalogue ripe with Greatest Hits: the ritual of these gigantic shows is deflated by the sour despondency of the songs, rekindled by the dextrous exuberance of the delivery. It's a perfect balance. Sting treads the catwalk of this duplicit stance - SO LONELY! BUT DON'T STAND SO CLOSE TO ME! - with a machiavellian enjoyment.
He looks gorgeous. Like a waxed Atahualpa: robed in a jacket like a raffia rainbow, his hair quilled into a gold headdress.
On the first night I sit by the mixing desk and stare, at his small eyes, wrinkling with the effort of singing - the voice already a trifle coarse, and there's a long way to go yet - but as cool and distant as you'd expect from a man who is a master of performance. Aside from the obvious rhetoric it's hard to tell when Sting is playing and when he's toying.
"You want some more?" he asks at the close, and the answer is the loudest collective shriek I've ever heard. It must pierce him too for a moment, for his chuckle is a momentary chink, closed again in an instant.
At this moment The Police can bounce America like a balloon. 'Synchronicity' has racked up 17 consecutive weeks at the head of the US LP charts and it's impetus shows no sign of flagging. America is obsessively soaking them up. Their videos - from, cheap, two-colour 'Roxanne' to the expensive junkyard illusion of 'Synchronicity II' - punctuate all 24 hours of MTV. Every track from the record is indelibly impressed on every car radio. A five minute biography of Sting is blipped between movies on cable television.
Miles Copeland is delighted. He has the amenable manner of a compulsive speedo conversationalist, but it conceals a maniacal business mind. Although his management of the group has remained surprisingly humane there comes a merit when lie has to blink at the size of the monster and - "I'm Mister No.1 spend all day saying it to people."
Pretty soon, I imagine, The Police will be saying no to very nearly everything.
They are on the brink of a stardom so overpowering and exclusive that like Jackson - their only real peer - they may have to invent a world of their own to live in. To permit a journalist to come as close to them as I did over three days in the American fall is a luxury they now neither need nor particularly want: it is the last legacy of Copeland's early days of a scuffling indie set-up, hungry for publicity.
There are many curiosities about their fame, but the especially delicious irony is how their success has grown even as their music has become more diverse, reclusive, even impenetrable.
The Police seemed to peak in England with 'Don't Stand So Close To Me' - when Sting whipped his shirt off it was his back he meant to show us - and the global trail they followed scared them into a dark corner. As they became public property their rock took on the fears of the introvert.
'Ghost In The Machine' was the first Police LP of any consequence. Its bits wore bleak, disquieting messages - 'Spirits In The Material World', 'Invisible Sun' - even 'Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic', a jolly affair, was given a verse line that vibrates like a bell of doom. The second side is hardly familiar at all, a long spiral that appropriately ends in 'Darkness'. 'One World (Not Three)', an anthemic mainstay of their live show, sounds abstract on the record: it resembles an epitaph that bleeps obliviously across a world utterly in ruins.
Throughout, Sting's voice is mixed so far down that he has to take his place among the instruments - a ghost, indeed, in the machine. But if that record was difficult, 'Synchronicity' is like Chinese algebra. Its relentless exposure refuses to obscure that 'Synchronicity' is a deep, complex collection, as profound an achievement as rock is going to throw up.
Where 'Ghost In The Machine' took an English perspective out to the world, 'Synchronicity' is the world's answer. 'Every Breath You Take' is its party piece, a classical reduction of pop: 'Walking In Your Footsteps' is humanism through a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of effect. 'Synchronicity II' is the best metal pop you could imagine, and the way a burnished vastness is caught on 'Tea In The Sahara' is bewitching.
That The Police should make a record of such sophisticated, demonic energy is fine enough; that they should do so in this blinding glare of expectancy and have it soar effortlessly through the idiot environs of chartland...
The Police have made themselves at home in this never-never realm. They have fashioned their own grand domain and it's the only place where they feel comfortable. They're not even sure if they're playing pop music any more: for them, there is only Police music, and that it happens to have some fairly shrewd pop tricks in the closet is by the way.
There are, of course, only a handful of seats in this zone of plenty. The price of this prize is the most intense isolation. 'Ghost In The Machine' and 'Synchronicity' explore a spiritual bereavement in the midst of a rich, overspilling world that is at these privileged fingertips: Sting, in his splendid isolation, is looking out as a citizen of a world he can't return to. In his masterpiece, 'King Of Pain', his soul - his last private possession - is suspended over the globe.
It's a tragedy which they are all rather enjoying.
The Guitar Player
Andy Summers has lived through his time as the fall guy for The Police. Too old, small, technical, generally encrusted with an uncool tradition: Summers seems to have absorbed it all, and if there are a lot of lines around his eyes his presence is still chuckly, impish.
His role in the group is constant. Physically and otherwise he distances and softens the extremes of Sting's cool misdemeanours and Stewart Copeland's fuming energy. His even Englishman's voice is like a relic of a Brit-rock past, similar to his stage movements - a gentle dip at the hips and a thoughtful, tactile touch on the guitar.
Summers has cultivated a photographer's eye. He scrutinises everything - faces, figures, furniture. A couple of times I catch him staring at me with his lids on F6. He occasionally curses with tremendous venom in a loud voice. I think he's quite a decent bloke.
"I try to come to everything differently, but it gets hard," he says. "It's like playing the same song over and over. We do the set onstage and then you get the interview set where you get the questions. It's hard to stay interested in playing, sometimes. You can't come up with something new every night, but the best nights are when you've played something over and over and it unconsciously presents itself in a new way. We're getting better at playing the Synchronicity material and finding nuances. People expect the hits, but there's always a chance of them falling apart."
Summers' gift to The Police is his playing. His voice is a bit mousy, his songs have difficult chords and second-rate hooks - but his guitar playing is the rainbow that streams from Sting's pot-of-gold looks. His years of classical study have left him not with the disease of over-accomplishment but a genuine zeal to be interested. At soundchecks he scratches at the detail of himself; in a performance, where there are no keyboards, horns or overdubs to support him, he lights fireworks that could comfortably smoke McGeoch or Smith. A sound like Hendrix rinsed in the shining clarity of Ralph Towner.
"I think some of the more creative and intelligent people in the world now go into rock music, rather than other mediums," he continues. "It has its moments now, when I don't think that was always the case."
Talking in the quiet comfort of his Hyatt room, Summers ruminates on The Police's work methods. They approach songs in different moods, he says, different times, different attitudes.
But doesn't the artificiality of recording wipe out the inconsistencies of temperament?
"Yeah, that's true. But an album documents so many emotional points over a long period. To keep the original charge in a song is one thing I think The Police are good at. A lot of groups in the'70s would record the shit out of something until it was like a piece of dried fruit, no juice left, nothing. Polished the life out of it. We felt we'd taken a slight dip with the third album and we went through a slightly strange period where we felt we really wanted to pull one off. Then with 'Synchronicity' it was hard again because the last one was so successful. It was always going to be difficult to beat."
Is an inactivity brought on by the scale of Police operations - the endless tours and promotions - which dries up new work?
"Well, we all have other things to do... but the situation changes anyway. You can't make your filth or sixth album with the spontaneity of the first one, which is like just banging away. You consider everything more."
Does he consider his audience too? Is he particularly bothered at who is out there listening - popsters, rockers, music lovers?
"I'd prefer to think our audience wasn't a lot of beer-swilling numbskulls, and I don't think they are. I'm just glad we've got an audience at all. And surprised."
"Because I don't think what we play is all that commercial. I should've thought that a lot of heavy metal groups would attract a lot more people than we do. I suppose we cover a lot of ground but it all comes out like The Police."
His one pen contribution to 'Synchronicity' is 'Mother', which is Psycho meets Oedipus in the chains of Ozzy Osbourne. Does he want to write for The Police?
"Sting's the singer and you have to write songs for him to sing. I think I could write better and more freely elsewhere, but mostly it's time."
Andy clams up for a moment and then goes on with a smile.
"People ask that sort of thing a lot, as if it were an issue. It might have been five years ago but it isn't now. Sting writes songs that are good to play."
Perhaps the acute focus on Sting is actually good for Summers. It could let him off a lot of potential hooks.
"Yeah. Being as high profile as he is gives him a lot of problems that sometimes I'm glad I don't have. I can go off and... There's enough media attention an us anyway, especially over here. Whatever we do will be noticed. It's a platform that you can use to prove yourself an interesting person or not - you can get up or fall flat on your face very quickly. We're as successful as we are because we were individual. Not because we toed the line or anything. We've all been eclectic in our tastes to the point where it's been a problem. If the mainstream now is Duran Duran then we're a million miles from the mainstream. They are what I'd call a pop group. One thing we wanted to do was to exist and fill concert halls without relying on a chart single - to have an identity that was The Police and didn't belong to something."
Has he grown used to the size of that identity?
"To be honest," he says with a fine bewilderment, I don't notice. When we started out this summer I read in a paper in Toronto that there were 75 people with us on the road, and I couldn't believe it. I thought it was about 15 people still. But, I suppose, it's like when we play the circus comes to town...
Andy grins; a professional clown. In his book of photo graphs called 'Throb' that circus is guyroped to images shuttered in hotel corridors, by swimming pools, at continental breakfast tables: a rich man's circular movement, girdling the globe.
"The qualities in photography I like are mystical ones. The main thing that pulled me in was looking at images by certain people that moved me in some way, some elliptical way, and I wanted to see if I could take pictures like that. I learnt the technical stuff and took it from there."
How good a photographer are you, Andy?
"That's a (cough) nasty question, Richard. You want me to answer that? I don't know. I wouldn't have done the book if I didn't think I was good. It would be naive of me to deny that some people will pick the book up because I'm a member of The Police. But I hope to cross the line."
Has the rock star life Throb peeps at changed since the aged heyday of excess?
"For us, certainly. We have a minimum of excess on the road now. Touring is hard, and over months and months... I've heard about some groups and the state they get into to live up to a wild image. Getting through it all and doing the gigs is hard enough. A certain amount is alright but, well, there comes a time when you have to draw the curtains."
Are you a solitary sort of chap?
"I like being on my own, yeah." He tries thinking this one over. "I like having friends, but I don't have many. I'm fairly gregarious but I only have a hard core of real friends. I have no problems with spending time alone."
Corbijn and I, clad in leather against Atlanta's November heat, are making our way on foot to the Omni. A few cab drivers look at us askance. This is a respectable neighbourhood. Suddenly we're regaled by a bellow from a kerb crawler: "Hey! Either of you two fags wanna ride?"
It is Stewart Copeland. Copeland is the lion, the attack in The Police. When they play he flails crazily at the drums - for him it's a sprint, not a marathon. His gangling limbs whip around cymbals and rims as if they wore about to fly free of their sockets. On 'Walking In Your Footsteps' he leaps up to a weird assortment of percussives and tinkles at them alchemically. Offstage he is quiet, identifiable only through his height in a crowd of Police-type people. Usually he can be found engrossed in a book. Disturb him and his long violin face will rise and a fleshy pair of eyes will make the intruder apologetic. When they began it was always his intense rivalry with Sting - "We were all young and big-headed once" - which seemed to surface in Police talk. These expensive days Copeland seems content to be part of a trio.
"I think we all change roles a lot," he says. His plangent American voice sound ferocious compared with his companions.
"At different times it's, uh, I feel like I'm the only one who cares about the group and the other two are just interested in their own things, and then Sting'll be interested and I'll be pissed off... we trade positions as morale leader. Our cycle of work is a lot slower than it was because we don't have to tour the radio stations any more. A lot of the hassle's been taken out of the travel and the stuff that goes around what we do. All we have to worry about is being on stage now. I think the pace of our actual work is about the same, though."
Is he tempted to overplay by the tour circuit of huge venues and uncountable numbers?
"I'm tempted to overplay anyway. Regardless. Because I like to play and keep moving. It's a balance between the joy of muscular activity and the taste requirement. Taste is usually dominant... so I normally play a supportive role. The real stake is The Police. What gets the audience charged up isn't how great the drummer is but the gestalt, the way the whole group sounds. That's what makes the audience shout louder and what makes me feel better than if I'd played a million great licks and all the drum fans were impressed by how terrific I am. I suppose we made the loudest noise and got ail the credit," he reflects, thinking of the old tag of how The Police sold the new wave to America. "The only thing we could claim is that we were the first group that was new wave as opposed to punk."
Like Summers, Copeland contributes only one song to 'Synchronicity'. 'Miss Gradenko' is an opaque little vignette that sounds phoned in from another session. It's probably the most obscure song on the record.
"Really? Jesus Christ! Up against 'King Of Pain'? Actually, you're right, the other songs seem obscure but are really fairly specific. But so is 'Miss Gradenko'. It's about relationships in a place where relationships are forbidden. I don't know if such a place exists but it's an amusing thought. I suppose even KGB agents have love affairs.
"I'm aware of the fact that my lifestyle doesn't contribute much in the way of material for songs about the issues that most people are moved by."
I am all innocence. Why's that?
"Because I live in this ivory tower. I live in hotel rooms and spend my time going from city to city. I have a different set of relationships because of the work I do. I feel more like an anthropologist than a participant. And it's actually a bit of problem."
It never bothered Gissing, but then he liked to starve. Copeland is a shrewd observer of media tactics, a subject he studied for years. Does he find coverage of his group interesting?
"Yeah, I do. I don't think we've had any special treatment or anything. The media can't hurt us, only help us - they can hurt you personally, but they can't really hurt your career. For the sake of privacy I wish I we could get out of the tabloids, though. I think we ought to get back into the trades. I enjoy gonzo journalism! They could use some of that in America."
Stewart takes a giant bite out of a takeaway taco. They eat great, this group.
"The Hunter S. Thompson technique. In Smash Hits and No.1 they just write exclusively about the character and the journalist has no identity. I like entertainment. I mean, it's pointless to analyse the music for readers because if they've heard it they'll judge by their own ears. The only thing the journalist can provide is an interesting story about the guys making the music. I tried being a journalist myself once and I discovered how hard it is. I was lousy. I edited Record Mirror one week for a scam - made up all the news stories and everything - and I went out one night to do some live reviews and found all the groups were awful... what could I say?
"I think there's a trend which glorifies pop success - getting on TOTP is the hippest thing to do - the same thing that was going on in 1976. There's such an obsession with everything being neat and good for the radio that nothing comes out of the new groups. There's one of Miles' groups, Yip Yip Coyote - I heard a demo by them which sounded fantastic, a band kicking out a tune - and then I heard the produced version and they sounded like all the other groups. All the individuality had been pruned off. Too bad."
Stewart crunches into a fresh taco as I sip a coffee. It's disgusting. What will a fresh backlash do?
"It's the groups in the middle that'll get struck off. Like in'76 it was the Caravans, the Curved Airs, the Renaissances - they were all wiped out. But Zeppelin and the Stones hung on. I like to be in the thick of things, but we're... outside it."
Copeland is the one member of the group who admits to being "gregarious". He was asked by Francis Ford Coppola to advise on the music for the director's film Rumble Fish, and before Coppola could turn round he'd done the whole score.
"I get a lot of shitty offers. I got offered the lead acting role in a western, thought great! Then I got three pages into the script and I realised the only reason they'd asked me was they couldn't get a decent actor and the next best thing was a pop star.
"When I went to Britain and started fraternising with country Brits, playing polo and so on, I felt like a social climber out there. There are a few interesting people. It doesn't have much to do with music. It just depends on how good I am at it. No way do I feel I've arrived. There's much more I wanna do yet."
He licks his fingers, bites into a third taco. In fact, Stewart, you seem like a very voracious man.
"Voracious! Now we're talking! Voracious! Cool.
In the company of The Police, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme (their video directors), I watch part of the recording of the second concert as its audience is heading home. Five state-of-the-art screens pinpoint Sting microscopically. Molecule by molecule, he is framed against a billowing crimson smoke. His image looks Herculean. Beside me, the genuine article groans at the hoarseness of the singing.
Sting makes himself known to you in levels.
At first he seems severe and intimidating; then you sense that you can warm to him, after all: then you see that you can get no closer. Like Bowie, he appears extraordinarily frank and articulate in a way that defuses the pressure on him - while simultaneously stopping short of the kernel of revelation. As though he were talking to himself instead of a confessor. Like all accredited superstars, he appears slightly unreal in the flesh. Strangers double-take on catching sight of him - shouldn't he be taller? smaller? prettier? weightier? - and they think they might run over and clasp him, except he always looks a little too tired. I don't know whether he affects it or not, but his obvious charisma is tempered by an add frowning reserve that suggests he might buckle at a touch. And sometimes a shot from those clear blue eyes withers a gush of adoration.
Anyway. Mid-term fatigue is something he must have learned to live with. After watching a little video he suggests we return to his hotel for a formal talk. With only a hefty black bodyguard for company we walk out to the waiting limo.
It's only a small crowd, outside, he says, but their tenacity is appalling. We have to move only a few yards to the car. At first these admirers settle with thrusting paper in front of him. He signs them randomly, a characterless 'Sting', like an illiterate scrawling an X on a document. As they sense their time is almost up they grow frantic. They claw at him. The guard holds a semi-circular arm like steel to hold them off. They push harder.
At his heels, l am almost similarly engulfed. Somehow the door is opened. When I finally
scramble after him, into the huge interior of the car, I find I am shaking uncontrollably. I turn frightened eyes on him. He looks calm, almost trancelike. American kids squash against the car like locusts.
"Yeah, I want to f*** you too," he says with cruel sweetness in answer to the inaudible mouthings of girls we can glimpse through the shatterproof glass. The car glides off.
"You know, people will wait hours just to do that. They'll stand and wait for hours. This wasn't a bad crowd. Sometimes they've almost pulled my clothes off by the time I've got in the car."
It never stops. As we enter the hotel elevator, a young couple inside gawp in amazement at their catch.
I wondered if you were tired of being asked about the pressures of fame. But It seems as
If they're not tired of you.
"Well, I am tired of the pressures of fame. You can say in the press, oh yeah, it's really a drag being famous, and the man in the street says, yeah, what a wanker! (Laughs) All that money and f*** all them women! But it's a very hard job. There's a great deal of physical effort in it. I do a job of work which not many people could do."
Does this degree of success allow you more freedom to do what you want?
"In as much as when this tour is I finished I could never play again, I could actually walk out of this group - that's the kind of freedom that interests me. I'd have the satisfaction of knowing that we'd achieved what we set out to do and more. The only reason we'd stay together is if there's a further challenge for us as a group. I find it a little difficult to think of something at this particular moment. Our LP is a phenomenal success - we could regurgitate the same thing and be big stars for years and years. America is like that, it's so reactionary and slow. Once you reach a level you stay there. It kind of bores me."
Do you find you have to introduce pressures into the group or are they easily enough created for you?
"It's important to maintain a kind of dialectic in the group. Because of the strong personalities there's always a tension, a good tension. When it's not there it gets worse. When we were making Synchronicity there were terrible terrible fights, and I think that's our best work."
Do you expect a lot from your audiences?
"Yes. I expect more than I got tonight. When an audience works hard I feel better. When they're just 'an audience' I regard it as something of a failure. I don't like just to be watched. You can feel a rapport instantly, a feeling of joining up. It's exciting playing places where rock groups don't ever play because you get a real sense of something happening."
It might be just a state of the performer's mind.
"I'm sure it's fairly subjective. But I can see an audience moving and I can hear them getting back."
Is it necessary to talk down and simplify?
"There's a line between patronising and encouraging them to join in. It induces a certain amount of plain speaking and it might come out as patronising. I don't really care if they understand the songs or not, you know. I write the songs and sing them for my own amusement. I'm not a proselytiser or a Preacher. There's a message there, if you like, but I think it's communicated to an audience without necessarily being understood."
The danger would be to simplify down to a point of cliché that's easily expelled.
"Mmm. I think in America you're always close to cliché, which they respond to so readily. You've got to be ambiguous about it. I think I am a lot of the time... and I can be quite cynical with an audience. I say, This is a song about the cynical manipulation of large numbers of people, and we do 'Murder By Numbers', which is about politicians killing people but it's also about the manipulation of an audience, and I don't think they see that. (Chuckles)
I found that choice of song quite interesting. There's a streak of violence in and in a song called 'Demolition Man' which, in context, could be quite vicarious.
"I'm always aware of how dangerous the whole business is, You know? You get 20 or 60,000 in a whole stadium and exhort them to enjoy themselves and sing or whatever. It would be just as easy to say, Okay, I want you to raise your right hand and hit the person next to you! It's ridiculous, but in a sense that's what Hitler did, the same charismatic sense of let's do something together, and in his case it was let's kill the Jewish people. I think you have to be aware of what it is you're doing. The audience should be informed, subtly, that they're being manipulated."
You're already in a kind of greatest hits situation...
Do you want to revise or just replay your past work?
"An idea I've had for awhile is instead of releasing a greatest hits album is to rerecord them to improve them or make them more contemporary: especially our hits, which were rather good. Our numbers do tend to evolve because we're not a tight band. That's why we can be terrible. We hate rehearsing. I think our skills have become more refined, but whether it ends up as pop music is another matter. It's only pop music by accident, as far as I'm concerned. It's a happy accident that this stuff happens to sell. Synchronicity is a very indulgent piece of work. We did what we liked."
In that case it's fortunate that you like good pop tunes.
"Well, I do! I enjoy playing the charts. But it won't happen in four years' time so I'll enjoying it while it does. Most pop is a placebo for factory girls and shop assistants. It's socially redeeming factor - especially in England - is it kind of unifies society. Everyone knows the number one hit, the window cleaners whistle it and the taxi drivers know it. It's good for a society to have a folk art. But most of it's awful.
"On the positive side is the way it's a wonderful mongrel of different musical styles. It will find out about, say, Brazilian or Indian music and they're suddenly integrated. Because it can bastardise any form it should be lively and growing - it becomes sanitised and watered down, of course, but at its best¬Ö English pop, especially, because there are so many integrated racial groups there. Here it's not as interesting because it's so sectarian between black and white. As bad as Top Of The Pops is you can have toing and froing between different forms."
Is there anything you regret in becoming an international citizen over being an Englishman?
"No. That's one of the plusses about my life. I've ceased to be English and parochial. I consider myself a citizen of the world and I'm lucky enough to go anywhere and feel at home. My heart doesn't fill with pride at seeing a Union Jack. Nor am I particularly proud of being a Geordie."
If 'Every Breath You Take' is a song of personal sadness to you¬Ö
"I don't think it's a sad song. I think it's a nasty little song, really rather evil. It's about jealousy and surveillance and ownership."
How does that quality survive in its transmission through a massively exposed record and these concerts?
"I think the ambiguity is intrinsic in the song however you treat it because the words are so sadistic. On one level, it's a nice long song with the classic relative minor chords, and underneath there's this distasteful character talking about watching every move. I enjoy that ambiguity. I watched Andy Gibb singing it with some girl on TV a couple of weeks ago, very loving, and totally misinterpreting it. (Laughter) I could still hear the words, which aren't about love at all."
I expect you took some pleasure In that.
"Great pleasure. I pissed myself laughing.
Synchronicity is a kind of spreading out. Would you ever return to the specific lyric areas of, say, 'Invisible Sun' or 'Rehumanize Yourself'?
"I suppose I was more into wider social issues at the time. Seeing society as a whole and trying to write about it as such. 'Synchronicity' is really more autobiographical. It's about my mental breakdown and the putting back together of that personality. I'd hope that once I am mended (chuckle) my ideas would be more objective.
"I'm in a strange situation. When I was a schoolteacher, or on the dole, I wrote a lot of songs and I felt that I was writing for the man next to me in the dole queue. And now because I'm who I am I lead a rarefied kind of life that's unique to me and a few other people and the man in the street won't be interested in what I want to tell him. I write from experience, but it's not one that'll ring bells anywhere else. The 'on the road' songs have all been done, so¬Ö I write about my own psychological state hoping that someone will sympathise. It's weird, as a writer, which I primarily regard myself as."
Do you find that makes you write entirely about the present and the future? Pop writers tend to tackle the past - the nostalgic past or last night's affair. You seem to be lodged in the here and now, worrying about the future.
"I tend to write about ideas, or at least the subtext of my most of my songs is an idea, It has a lot to do with my reading. The past doesn't really interest me."
Are you too manly to be a pop idol now?
"It's not something I'll lose too much sleep over. (Smiles) If I'm not, because I'm not going to wearing a dress or braids at Christmas, that's fine. It doesn't bother me, because I can stop. If I couldn't I'd be going completely batty. I don't want to be a pop star all my life."
In some ways the sex content of pop has never been more explicit, with the contributions of people like Boy George and Marc Almond; yet the sound of the pop mainstream has become much more asexual. The physicality of R&B and primordial rock'n'roll has almost disappeared.
"Mmm. I don't find any of it threatening. Boy George has a nice personality but it's the same kind of vibe that Liberace has: harmless; festive, as I like to call it. I don't feel intimidated or upset by the new sexual politics of pop. It's all a bit fey, really. A threatening quality is useful to have, you know. To be nice as pie one minute and give them an edge the next - so they're not quite sure. There lies freedom. To keep in area of yourself that's potentially volatile."
Turning to film - what is it about 'Gormenghast' (the Mervyn Peake novel that Sting is attempting to finance for a film) that attracts you?
"It's a book I've loved ever since I was a student. I bought the rights to the trilogy ('Titus Groan'/'Gormenghast'/'Titus Alone') about two years ago, and it's the first two that interest me. My adaptation is from them. The problem is that you take a project like this to Hollywood to finance and all they're interested in this year is making 'Flashdance'. They read the script and go, Sting! You're a genius! It ain't 'Flashdance', though. Thing is, we want you to write 'Flashdance'. And the year before everybody wanted to make ET again. They're so afraid of spending money on something that isn't a proven success. So I'm looking into oblique strategies to get the movie made. One of them is to present it in a more palatable form to the powers that be. The BBC are interested in doing it as a radio play. I'm trying to get it storyboarded and do a soundtrack. Hopefully all that will convince some people. It'll cost $15 million, which is more than I've got. But I've just been in a movie that cost $50 million, so..."
How has 'Dune' (David Lynch's new SF movie in which Sting plays a homosexual villain) turned out?
"It has to be some kind of event, good or bad. It could be appalling. It could also be brilliant. I did it because of David Lynch - if anyone could pull it off it's this maniac director. He looks like a bank clerk from the mid-west but ... 'Eraserhead' is about him, so you can imagine! He says things like "peachy keen". I have high hopes for it."
What film will you do next?
"I've just got a wonderful offer from Martin Scorsese, to play Pontius Pilate in 'The Last Temptation Of Christ'. I screen tested for it last week and they offered me the part. I hope I can do it - it's a matter of dates. We'd have to move a Police tour. But I'd give my eye-teeth to work with Scorsese."
If you find your success so rarefied, have you ever thought of using It In the way that a pop artisan like Paul Weller has used his?
"I think he has a lot more time than I do. I never stop working. I don't know much about him. From what I know he seems a well-meaning bloke."
Then could you ever attempt what Elvis Costello has done in his recent work - use the methods and mannerisms of basic pop to fashion music that operates both as a critique and in its own right?
"I find Costello atavistic in a way. He uses old pop styles very cleverly but I've never really heard him fashion one himself. I find it alarming that a great songwriter like him doesn't have a musical style. One minute he's Buddy Holly, the next he's Otis Redding... I could go through his last three albums and name the archetype that his song is based on, because I have a fairly good knowledge of soul music too. I find it a bit perverse."
In a sense he's doing a variation on what you're doing. You've surrounded yourself with Sting-ness and he's guarded by his library of licks.
"Except that they're not really his. They're Wilson Pickett's or whoever's. I don't think there's a historical precedent for the way The Police sound now. I think it's unique to us. On 'Synchronicity' we don't sound like any band from the past. Apart from 'Every Breath You Take', which is what Costello does. It's an old Freddie King number. Or a Carole King song. I'll make no bones about it. But Costello raises the standard of pop music, and very few people are doing that. There's a way of reaching a mass of people without being Gary Glitter or The Brotherhood Of Man. People who are making good pop, something against the cynical type of factory pop, should be encouraged."
What kind of media scrutiny do you take seriously?
"It's hard to take the music press seriously. It might sound vain, but in many ways we're unassailable, no matter what people say about us. It used to be very hurtful to get a bad review, but having survived that, I certainly don't take Fleet Street seriously. They're a bunch of stupid idiot liars as far as I'm concerned. The Sun is written by buffoons for buffoons. The classic was just before I left. I'd talked about having taken drugs in a Rolling Stone interview, and I said I didn't believe in them, I've been taking drugs since I was 12 and I can take anything attitude. This went into Woman and then the Mirror ran it with the headline "I've been taking drugs since I was 12 - Sting". We told them I was extremely angry and they said they'd retract - and the next day was a headline "Sting On Drugs" (!) and it said about "what Sting meant to say was" as if it was my mistake! I think I will sue them. They're the scum of the earth."
Why haven't you joined the ranks of rock's anguished Catholics?
"Haven't I? I thought I was the head of the department! (laughter) I think Catholicism is a wonderful upbringing for someone who makes a living out of angst. You're brought up with images of hell and people being tormented on crosses - this primitive, violent symbolism to play with - and you never lose it. It's something I don't regret even though I'm now against any organised religion."
The legacy, however much you disavow it, is the idea of sin always being in the back of your mind.
"It's an important one to have, that we're all sinners. My theory about evil is that those people who deny in themselves the potential to do evil are the ones in danger of committing it. Someone who admits that they could do wrong has a better chance of doing good because they can control it. It's wonderful for me to express it on stage or by playing characters on film who are naughty. That's why I enjoyed 'Brimstone And Treacle' so much. A lot of people were disappointed with it, but I'm very proud of it."
Are you interested in the paranormal?
"Greatly, in a rather silly way. I don't belong to a cabal or anything. I'm quite good at reading cards. I can do things like draw up horoscopes."
Can you read this? (Cook extends palm)
"No, I can't read palms. If you gave me your date and place of birth I could do your horoscope. A tool for communication really, but I seem to have a talent for it."
Would you say man is by nature solitary?
(Pause) "Yes. Man at his finest is solitary and alone. Man at his worst is a gregarious, sheep-like thing that needs to belong to a political party or a social group that gives him security. I think aloneness is a great quality. A man who can be on his own and not be frightened by it is a worthy person."
What do you think?
I think The Police are alone in the most select bracket of rock stars. The qualities they bring to their very particular field are the ones these Olympians are supposed to have forsaken - sensuality, intelligence, dissatisfaction, ambiguity - even an unalloyed, starry thrill. It forgives them their arrogance.
What else is offered to me here? The vapid masque of 'Let's Dance'? A toothless row of potboilers called 'Undercover'? The silkspun patchwork of real music and cheap perfume that is 'Thriller'? Gentlemen, you cheat me.
Midway through the second night in Atlanta, I wander out to the foyer and absently procure a barrel of popcorn. It sticks disconsolately to my fingers. I saunter towards a rotund cop, face that would shame Ernest Borgnine into retirement, giant revolver tight on his ample hips. As I slow up he catches my eye and I proffer the barrel. He chews a pawful, and shakes his head silently at the din inside; but I look down, and see a giant foot methodically tapping.
© New Musical Express