The following interview with Michele Norris appeared on NPR's All Things Considered show in October 2003...
Sting talks about his career, his music and his life...
MICHELE NORRIS, host: After 25 years of touring in the States, Sting is getting ready to hit the stage again. We visited a New York studio earlier this week where Sting is rehearsing for his world tour to support his 11th solo album called 'Sacred Love'.
STING: 'So, gentlemen, I really - when Joy sings, I really want to hear it, both on stage and out there...'
NORRIS: Ever the perfectionist, Sting is fine-tuning the performance of the first single, "Send Your Love."
STING: (Singing) Send your love into the future. Send your love into the distant dawn. Inside your mind is a relay station, a mission probe into the unknowing. We send a seed to a distant future, then we can watch the galaxies growing. This ain't no time for doubting your power, this ain't no time for hiding your care. You're climbing down from an ivory tower, you've got a stake in the world we ought to share. You see the stars are moving so slowly...
NORRIS: There are few physical clues to his age as he approaches his 52nd birthday. He's tan, trim and fashionable in his wrinkled dress shirt and faded bell-bottom jeans, silver jewelry with Sanskrit writing adorning both wrists. The songs on 'Sacred Love' are about love, both romantic and religious. Those are themes he's explored in the past, but this time Sting says he felt like writing about love presented more of a challenge.
STING: This record began its life - I was thinking about it on the September 12th, 2001, where the entire world was recalibrated for everybody. And so, as an artist, you are not immune to that. It makes you question your purpose, question your validity. You know, I write love songs. What use is that in this new world that's been presented on our doorstep? I thought about it very deeply and seriously. I didn't come up with any quick, easy answers, but I began to realize that what I'd been doing all along, which is expressing the power of love, was actually what I should continue to do.
NORRIS: In the song 'Send Your Love', you take on another one of the big topics. You take on religion. And in the lyrics when you say, 'There is no religion except that of which I sing,' are you concerned at all that you're being a little bit preachy?
STING: I think there's a certain polemic in the lyrics that might shock people, which is the idea. You know, I sing, 'There's no religion but sex and music.' No religion but line and color and the endless ocean and the moon and the stars. It's basically saying religion is just everywhere and all around us. It's a very religious song. Am I being preachy? Yeah. Why not?
NORRIS: You've been around long enough that you can...
STING: I can preach.
NORRIS: One of the songs that I found really interesting was 'Stolen Car'. And the premise of the song - maybe you can help me out with the story. A young man sits behind a wheel of a car.
STING: I think it's the first song ever written about a psychic car thief. And this kid - he steals a car and then he - somehow, by the feel of the steering wheel or the smell in the car, he figures out the life that's been led in this car up till now. He imagines the guy who owns it. He's successful. It's obviously an expensive car. He's maybe a company director, gone to Hawaii, beautiful kids. And then there's some other lingering perfume and it's not the wife's. It's his girlfriend's, his mistress. He says he hears her song in his ear, you know, 'Take Me Dancing'. And he said, 'You take me dancing. You can't. I'm a prisoner of love.' And then it goes to the wife with the kids, and she recognizes somebody else's perfume in the car, and the kids are being noisy in the back. It's a very real situation, you know.
NORRIS: You write a lot about middle-class life, middle-age. As we said, the woman who was driving with the kids in the back who are making a lot of noise, someone who's going through a divorce, someone who realizes that his wife or his lover is gone because he doesn't smell the coffee in the morning - the small things that make up life. When you live the kind of life that you do, sequestered on the road or you live in a castle most of the time, how do you observe everyday life?
STING: Yeah, I do have a rarified life, I admit that. Yes, I live in a 16th century manor house and I have houses all over the world and, you know, a jet-setting life or whatever. But at the same time, I do pride myself on my ordinariness. I walk to work, I have citizen's rights, I don't have bodyguards. I try and lead an ordinary life, and I try and bring my children up as ordinarily as I can.
NORRIS: Is that possible?
STING: Probably not, but the attempt is there. And I think it works. There seems to be some kind of balance in my family life and my career that may not be perfect but it's certainly - you know, it keeps to its compass.
NORRIS: You wrote something that I thought was so interesting. In an interview in 1996, you said that sometimes you'll go to strip clubs to observe life because you can truly be anonymous.
NORRIS: No one's paying attention to you. They're looking at something else.
STING: Yeah. I mean, it's a fantastic environment because, one, nobody's looking at you. They're all looking at the girls; and it's a fantastic psychological circus. There's a story on every face. You know, my job as a writer is to observe people, to observe stories. So it's a great - you can be a fly on the wall and watch these little, you know, psychodramas going on of people's loneliness and people's needs and people's desires. And it's all there. It's fascinating.
NORRIS: Do you find yourself at times frustrated with the critics when they look at your work and say, 'Well, OK, where is he going now? Where is he taking us now?'
STING: I used to be when I was younger but no, I think everybody has a right to an opinion. And, you know, you can't expect to be loved by everybody. I crave respect more than I crave love from the larger demographic.
NORRIS: Define respect.
STING: Understanding of intention, that my intention is to give people pleasure and give people information and give people a sense of a journey being taken. That's all. You don't have to love every note or love every
NORRIS: There are many people who respect you, not just as a musician but also because of your dedication to certain causes, particularly the rain forest. But since you mentioned respect, some might be curious by some of the other decisions that you've made, when they see you in a Jaguar commercial.
NORRIS: You've got an upcoming concert to promote American Express Blue card.
NORRIS: This is the man who's trying to save the rain forest and this is the corporate sponsor. And, you know, they could be forgiven if they're a little bit confused by this.
STING: Yeah. I mean, these are things that I do think about. When I'm offered a Jaguar commercial, I think, 'Well, I do have a certain environmental responsibility.' And yet, if I allow them to use my song, then my song gets heard by millions of people. It's a song that I care passionately about, it's a song - you know, a duet between an Arab singer and a Western singer, and it has a political message, if you like, underneath he musical one. Is this right? I did deliberate for a while, and then I just had 100,000 trees planted on my land. I was told by this group who gave me the trees that my environmental footprint was being rebalanced because of all the air fuel I use and the car fuel or whatever. By planting these trees, I was balancing it out, OK? And so that was my justification. I...
NORRIS: You're saying this with a straight face.
STING: I don't know whether more cars were sold because of my commercial. Maybe more Jaguars were sold, so I don't...
NORRIS: It's curious, though. I mean, as a younger man when you burst into the music scene in the late '70s...
NORRIS: ...if you looked into the crystal ball, I think most would be surprised if...
NORRIS: ...two decades later you were fronting for American Express.
STING: There are contradictions the whole way, and I'm a popular artist. I do these things to get my message across. You know, being in partnership with American Express or whatever is helping me to get my music to - I believe passionately that my music is good and it's good for people. So there's a compromise to make, and I will do it.
NORRIS: If you look ahead, since you do have a birthday coming up, you know, if you pick up the Sunday Times and you look at all the concerts, there are a lot of bands that you would have expected to go into retirement that are still touring. And what was it, The Who, 'I hope I die before I get old?'
NORRIS: Well, that didn't happen. A lot of folks are still on tour and, in some cases, in what seem to be sort of the 401(k) tour, you know, so they're keeping it going. And if you look ahead 10 years from now, do you think you'll still be writing music? Do you think you'll still be performing?
STING: Yeah, I think so. I don't feel, in any way, compromised by my age to do the job that I do. I look like I want to look. I'm not wearing a corset, I'm not wearing a wig, I'm not pretending I'm 25, I'm not singing about issues that I should've grown out of by now. I'm happy and I feel dignified in doing what I do, so there's no reason why that shouldn't carry on for another 10 years or maybe another 20. You know, I don't think there's an alternative. I think you - someone in my position, you sing or you die. I really don't think there's an alternative at all.
NORRIS: It's been wonderful talking to you.
STING: Nice to talk to you, too.
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