Interview: CBS 60 MINUTES (1990)

December 02, 1990

The following transcript is from an interview in December 1990 on CBS 60 Minutes show...

Sting, musician, activist, takes on the Brazilian rainforest...

Ed Bradley, co-host: Over the years, we've done stories about a lot of stings, but none quite like this one. That's because this Sting is a person. If the name fools some of you, perhaps this music will strike a chord.

Bradley: Sting's song, 'Every Breath You Take', sold more than 15 million copies world-wide, and Sting's sales stand at more than 50 million albums. By any standard, he is a phenomenon. But we found him to be a lot more than just a singer-songwriter and rock superstar. This Sting was christened Gordon Sumner back in Newcastle, England, so who gave him the name Sting? When he was 18 years old playing in a local jazz band, the older guys in the band gave him the name. It had to do with his style. Sting: I used to wear a sweater that was black and yellow. I thought it was really cool. They thought it was a joke. They thought I looked like a wasp, and they started to call me Sting, and the name stayed with me.

Bradley: Has anyone said, With a name like Sting, how can someone take you seriously?'

Sting: Exactly. How can they?

Bradley: Because he's become serious about a lot more than rock'n'roll. Twice he starred on Amnesty International tours, which used music to focus on human rights abuses. And then he went a step further, away from music and deep into the Brazilian rain forest with the Kayapo Indians. Hehad met their chief on the Amnesty tour, and Raoni took him to meet the tribe. When Sting saw that the rain forest and its people were threatened with extinction, he had something to do with his fame.

I sense some connection that you have between you and the people there.

Sting: You know, I know these people very well now. Some of them have become my friends.

Bradley: I mean, it's something that goes beyond a cause.

Sting: It's kind of personal now for me. I want - I want to - to help this man I got to know.

Bradley: He did just that, bringing Raoni to the West and lending him his time and celebrity. With Sting as the drawing card, their grueling three-month world press tour put the rain forest and the Kayapo Indians on the map.

Sting: Hi, I'm Sting.

Phil Donahue: Yes, you are. We're glad you're here. How are you doing?

Glad you're here. You won't be defensive or upset if occasionally somebody wants to know, you know, your next record and when you're going to appear and all that?

Sting: No, I won't be upset at all.

Donahue: Fine. Very good. And then we'll try to make sense with this thing as well, all right?

Bradley: Would it be easier just to play a few concerts and send them the money?

Sting: They're not used to dealing with money. It could have tragic consequences if you did that.

We're here to raise funds for a demarcation of a park in Brazil. It will be the largest natural reserve in the world.

Unidentified Woman: All right. Thank you very much. That definitely...

Bradley: Sting's rain forest foundation has raised $ 2 1/2 million. With him throughout the tour was Trudie Styler, who is an actress and an executive in his foundation. It's Trudie who jump-starts Sting when his batteries run down.

Trudie Styler: He's like a sponge - Sting. He'll try something, and he'll become very good at it. He's a great learner of life and different things in life. He - he took up tennis, like, three years ago, and he's - he's a very good player now. It sort of irks him sometimes.

Bradley: Beat you, does he?

Styler: Yeah, sometimes. Usually, actually.

Bradley: You - you don't like that.

Styler: I suppose my most feminine side really - really appreciates it, and then the side of me that is competition with him finds it a pain in the ass.

Bradley: They have a family, a boy, a girl and a new baby daughter, and although Trudie and Sting aren't legally married, he calls her his wife. It's Trudie who helps the family live a reasonable life as they follow their nomadic father around the world, stopping at homes in London, Malibu and one on Central Park in New York.

Sting: Well, let's see if you can stop it.

She is the one person I will listen to very seriously about what I do, particularly in my line of work. If you're surrounded by yes men, then you end up in a hole.

Bradley: And his family keeps him grounded. For Sting, success is not just the string of hit records, it's the kids, and Trudie says he is patient and a great teacher, but she also says he's not around enough.

Sting: What did I tell you about playing the piano when somebody's playing the piano?

Jake: Don't talk. Don't even laugh.

Sting: I'm not laughing, I'm not talking.

I'm not sure how good a father I am, but I don't ever want to say to my kids, Look, I gave up the best years of my life for you,' because I haven't. If I've done anything for the kids, I've given them an example. I enjoy my work. You go and do the same.'

Bradley: If it looks like Sting's got his life together, well, it hasn't always been that way.

Bradley: At 26, he became the lead singer and songwriter in the band Police, one of the biggest rock 'n' roll group of the '80s. But as his fame soared out of control, so did his personal life. His failed first marriage made him a prime target of British tabloids, and he developed a reputation of chasing women and doing drugs.

Sting: Thank God I wasn't 18. If I was 18, I'd be dead. I wouldn't be alive today. Still, being an adult, that level of success is very destructive, and it's hard to deal with. It's hard to maintain your integrity, your soul.

Bradley: Six years ago Sting left the Police and that punk look behind, searching for a style that would put more of that integrity and his soul into his music. What emerged were songs like this tribute to Chilean mothers and their martyred men.

Bradley: Now after a three-year break, Sting has recorded a new album. When we went to Paris last summer to watch him work, I found a man full of confidence. He's already sold 50 million albums, so he can afford to take his time between recordings.

In the studio, he was on a mission, working long hours with a new band for six weeks. He feels there really hasn't been much new in rock'n'roll since the Beatles.

Sting: There's a serious crisis in popular music. To get played on the radio, you need to have a song that starts in a certain way. You need to get to a hook in a certain number of bars. You could go through the charts today. You could say, Well, that's based on this James Brown riff here, this Percy Sledge song here.'

Sorry. Sorry, I made a mistake. This one's going to go in here.

Bradley: Sting is an experimenter. He mixes jazz, reggae, even a Gregorian chant with the basics of rock 'n' roll.

Sting: Try it again, one more time.

Bradley: He's a lyricist, collecting words like some many precious jewels, writing them in a book that was a gift from his kids, who on the front page said, "Dear Daddy, write us some songs."

Your music seems to be moving away from love songs.

Sting: There's only so much you can write about love.

Bradley: Love's ongoing. Love moves the world.

Sting: Yes, it does, but, you know, when you're 38, it's less important than it was when you were 16 or 25.

Bradley: You really think so?

Sting: I think romantic love kind of is a less interesting subject for me than it was 10 years ago.

Bradley: What gets his attention today is taking a risk, which is just what he did, when he took on Broadway, playing Mack the Knife in the classic "Threepenny Opera."

Unidentified Man: As you stop, you breathe and go right up.

Sting: I'm tensing up. I just can't find a space to take even the slightest breath.

Man: I felt it was part of the total - you started - you were giving me there...

Sting: No, I wasn't acting, Maestro. I was dying out there.

Bradley: The maestro spent weeks in rehearsals molding his voice, but the play flopped, closing in two months, and the critics were brutal, calling him a wizard stripped of his curtain.

Man: Trust yourself. You'll make it. Promise.

Bradley: And the critics? They bother you?

Sting: No.

Bradley: Sure, they do.

Sting: No, they don't.

Bradley: Sting, they bother you. I mean, you can't have someone say, He was dancing, and he looked like he was counting his steps.'

Sting: I was counting my steps.

Bradley: I mean, you're supposed to dance, and people aren't supposed to say, Hey, he's up there counting his steps.' You're supposed to know it. It's supposed to be fluid.

Sting: Ed, I mean, if you took - if you took notice of what the critics say, you'd never come out of the house.

Bradley: Some people lost money. For you, it was a success.

Sting: Yeah.

Bradley: What's the difference?

Sting: If I'd learned absolutely nothing and had a rotten time, that would have been a failure for me. I didn't go in it to make money. No, it - it was a cut in wages for me.

Bradley: Sting is a wealthy man and could afford a pay cut. He's also...

Sting: Yes. Guilty.

Bradley: Arrogant?

Sting: What's the second one? Arrogant?

Bradley: Arrogant?

Sting: Guilty.

Bradley: Generous?

Sting: Guilty.

Bradley: Contrary?

Sting: Absolutely true.

Styler: He's a bit of a nut case, really.

Bradley: How so?

Styler: He's just eccentric. He's a real eccentric Englishman.

Sting: A bit of a nut case. She said that? She said that?

Bradley: She said that.

Sting: She thinks I'm eccentric.

Bradley: Well?

Sting: I think I'm getting that way, actually, as I get older.

Bradley: Another adjective, smart?

Sting: I am smart.

Bradley: Smart enough to know that no matter how many things he tries with his life, he can't get too far from his roots.

Sting: Music is a - it's a constant, you know, breathing. I can't live without it.

Bradley: Back in that Paris studio, still experimenting, Sting urges his musicians to stretch. Things start to happen.

Bradley: On this album, there's a new instrument for the band, a bagpipe. It's an import from his hometown and a key to the secret of what the album is about.

Sting: My father died about 18 months ago. That's really what I'm writing about - is my relationship with my father.

Bradley: Did you have a good relationship with your father?

Sting: Not particularly, no.

Bradley: He says his best writing is born of pain, and there's plenty here. He never remembers seeing his father happy.

Bradley: He heard compliments from his father only once, when his father was dying.

Sting: His hands are the same as mine, exactly the same hands. I said, You know, we've got the same hands.' He said, Yeah, but you use yours better than I did mine.'

Bradley: You have spent a lot of your celebrity currency on the rainforest tour, "Threepenny Opera." Do you feel under some pressure now as you're working on this new album?

Sting: No, I think it's important that, between records, you live some kind of life that is outside of music. Otherwise, you end up like Elvis, God bless him, you know, the greatest rock 'n' roll star with no brain at the end of the day, you know, full of steroids and ice cream.

© CBS '60 Minutes'



Nov 2, 1989

The Weill Thing: Sting puts the bite back on Broadway with Brecht and Weill's 'The Threepenny Opera'. "I want to talk about the core of the play," Sting says, narrowing his eyes and peering, un-rockstar-like, across the desk in his manager's office, surrounded by the framed platinum disks that attest to his triumph with the Police and, more recently, as a solo rocker. He's referring to Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's 'Threepenny Opera'...

Nov 1, 1989

Sting not stung by poor '3 Penny' reviews. I feel like I'm going inside to view the body... you know, like in a wake," Janis Margolin said, giggling nervously as she stood in line outside the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on 46th Street. The Long Island receptionist had been looking forward for weeks to seeing rock singer Sting make his Broadway debut in a new production of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's biting musical '3 Penny Opera', but she and her three friends were now apprehensive...