Interview: KURIR (1996)

June 09, 1996

The following article by Gábor Bochkor appeared in a June 1996 issue of the Hungarian newspaper Kurír;r. The article was very kindly translated by Dávid Buzás...

His weapon: Intelligence

Sting! It is pretty difficult to point out one period of your career. You can't call any of them more important than the others. Do you have a period in your musical career that you appreciate less or that you don't value at all?

No. I think my whole career creates a unity. After all I've been in this business for almost twenty years. A lot of time... Yet, it seems like everything would be the result of one moment. Nevertheless I think I live the most important period of my life now.

It is always the present which is the most important?

Yes. I live my whole life having the present as the most important.

But if you look back, do you make a comparison between your periods?

Not really. I don't look back too often. I am not a nostalgic type of person. I don't listen to my old records, neither do I watch myself on TV.

Still, you had some big changes: from Last Exit to the Police, from the Police to the "Turtles" Band or from one record to another. What makes you to do this? Do you only make experiments or are you fed up with your last period?

You can't explain these changes logically. It's rather about a kind of instinct. You feel you must do that and hopefully those, who buy your records, will accept it. Simply you have to trust your instincts. That's all. There's no logic or argument in it. That's like: "OK, I'll try this now". Just like when you play.

And is it important for you that the audience accept the outcome?

That's a good thing if the audience accept what I do. In this respect I have been lucky throughout my career since what I've done is the same what the audience like. But here and now I have to prepare for those times when I will play music which won't be accepted by the audience. It's in the game. Still, I will always play the music what I like.

The experiments - whether they are chemical or physical - always have some results. And the result certainly means the end of something. Don't you expect a result some day when you will say: 'OK, I've reached the limit of my skills.'?

I'm not really searching for results. (laughs) In my opinion, the business of play and creativity is not about results, but rather about the process of creativity and the enjoyment of it. My chemists are those five musicians with whom I work in a room; I settle the parameters. And the team-work among us is very exciting. And whether we make a record or a song of it is completely marginal. The magic is that "we do it".

When did social and environmental issues first appear in your lyrics?

I don't often write about these subjects. Yet, people believe I do. However in my entire career I only wrote three or four songs about political or social subjects. One of these is 'They Dance Alone' which is about Chile, while the other is 'Fragile' what I wrote about Nicaragua. But in addition it rarely comes to me...

Well, I know some others...

Really? Tell me.

'Driven To Tears'?

OK... Right. That's three. (laughs)

'History Will Teach Us Nothing'?

'History Will Teach Us Nothing...' maybe. Maybe... OK. Four.

Hmm. That's it.

So let's say four out of a hundred. (laughs) That's not typical of me. Many believe I write political songs, but in fact it's very rare. I only deal with these subjects when I find a metaphor through which I can express myself. After all if you write about politics without metaphors, that's really journalism or propaganda. And in metaphors the nice thing is that they include a truth against which you cannot argue. It's exactly what I'm searching for. If I don't find a proper metaphor for it I won't even start with the subject. I would never sing about ecology. That would be too sophisticated.

But apart from music... Would you state, it was worth to take part in the campaign of Amnesty International or in the campaign of Rainforest Foundation? Can you tell about yourself that "Yes, I stirred up people and politicians" or do you think you failed in certain cases?

Well, the Amnesty Tour came to Budapest as well in 1988. (smiles) Beside me there was Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel and Tracy Chapman. Wherever we went we were asked if we thought politicians were listening to us or not. I was the only one saying that no, of course they aren't listening to us. Their children and grandchildren. The children of the political class are listening to us.

So you think about the next generation.

Yes, maybe. If we have done anything at all, that was no more than planting seeds in the thinking of the young. This may bear fruit in only 20-30 years. Bur I'm not able to have effect on Pinochet, Ceausescu or the likes of them. They don't care about me.

Still, your record was suppressed in Chile, wasn't it?

Yes, the record was suppressed but I don't think it would damage Pinochet in any way. On the other hand what we achieved was that the women, the mothers - who had lost their relatives - knew that others too knew what had happened. I think, for them, for the mothers this was particularly important. When I was in Chile I met them too. This was one of the most memorable moment of my life.

We too saw on TV when you were on stage with these women during the Human Rights Tour. In my opinion your records mostly reflect your current mood. The 'Soul Cages' is a gloomy record, mainly if I compare it with 'Ten Summoner's Tales'. Why do you think it's important that you share your private emotions with the audience?

That's my job, you know. On the stage I tell my own story. The songs are my own story. Of course it's not the way that it is my job know and some day I will be fired. That's in a symbolic, artistic way. On the stage tonight I will tell the story of my life, my emotions, my memories, my dreams, my hopes, my fears. My story ... nothing else.

And the 'Soul Cages', what I mentioned?

I wrote 'Soul Cages' after the death of my father. And my mother had died one year before. Basically I tried to treat this terrible thing. A terrible thing which frightened and made me sad. I express myself this way. I meditate this way. I write songs. I'm not religious. The music is my religion and I use it to express my emotions.

There was another case when you shared your emotions with the audience. I liked it but many didn't. I'm thinking about the birth of your son which can be seen in the 'Bring On the Night' video.

It was strange because I didn't want to include it in the film. By chance we were working with a film crew just before childbirth. As they were shooting a documentary they insisted to record it. I said " No, you won't do this". They said "Look, you will decide whether to use it or not but we will record it". So we recorded it. Some liked it, some not. They said it was disgusting which is funny because what can be more beautiful than the birth of a baby. (laughs) It was important for me to share this moment with a few people.

Do you watch this video sometimes?

No. No.

Really it is beautiful.

That son of mine who was born there will be eleven tomorrow. Time is running.

You call yourself a "pop-artist" but as far as I know you hate the expression "pop-star".

No, I accept this "tag". I'm not upset with it. But after all I'm a musician.

It's just what I want to know. In your opinion what is the difference between a "pop-star" and a musician like you? I'm sure there is a difference.

In my opinion too there is a difference. I think one can be a "pop-star" without being able to write songs, without being able to play an instrument. Even without being able to sing. (laughs) Well, I think I am able to do these things. So I'm a "pop-star" but at the same time a musician as well.

And when you gathered the great musicians of the "Turtles" Band - Omar Hakim, Kenny Kirkland and Branford Marsalis -, didn't they receive you in the beginning as a British "pop-guy"? Wasn't there a tension between the British pop-singer who earns a lot and the not so well-known but still excellent jazz-musicians?

I think these musicians, who are very good friends of mines - and what is more, Kenny Kirkland plays in my present band as well - at first have respected the musician in me.

From the first moment?

Yes, and I was very successful by then. They knew I was a musician and they knew I was able to write songs. It's included in my job that I write songs which enforce the ability and talent of these musicians. If it wasn't at a high standard, they wouldn't be interested in it. So it is my task that these musicians can do their job according to their ability. I think I'm doing it reasonably well.

Once - I think it was back in the Police-era - you said that you were using your intelligence as a weapon. Of course it sounds good, but has it ever happened that your intelligence protected you in a dangerous situation; when you put it into action and this way you could protect yourself?

I think it is justified that one can use his or her intelligence as a weapon - aggressively. If I only think about chess-players - they are very aggressive. The whole game is very aggressive but at the same time intellectual. There is another kind of intelligence - what I'm just trying to explore - and it is the emotional intelligence. I believe that this can only be learnt with a certain age.

Do you think about a kind of wisdom?

Yes, I think wisdom and kindness. The highest level of intelligence is kindness and understanding ... and love.

Talking about intelligence it comes to my mind when you were shouting with a police superintendent in Cairo and you were almost put under arrest. Or the other case when you accepted the invitation to a party from Kashoggi, the gun-runner. How to say? - That's strange, isn't it?

Yes. You know a public figure frequently finds himself in situations which are not experienced by others. I've got many strange invitations , I've been to many strange places and I've met many strange people. You may say I shouldn't have done so, I shouldn't have met these people. Then again I was amazed because I'm an author. I chase experiences, I treat them and then I write them. I won't reject the possibility to see things which couldn't be seen by others. I'm very curious, that's because I go to many places I shouldn't. Because I have a need to do so, because I can't live in an ivory tower, in a cell, in a protected place.

Very often you quote from yourself. Certain lines appear years later in another song. In such a case you are charmed by your own lines?

By what?

The lines written by you.

Somehow I find it funny to take a line from its context and put it into another. In this way songs become a puzzle and then I confess that the whole thing is only one song. (laughs) Take a part from here and put it there. I found it funny, it amused me. I think those, who know my records, enjoy it too. They already wait that in a song they find an allusion to the past. The thing is fun.

Let's talk about your experimenting side again. Namely the movies you acted in or Brecht's 'Threepenny Opera', in which you acted in Broadway. Now it looks as if you had stopped acting...

That's not true. We just shot a film last year, it is called 'The Grotesque', and it will be premiered this year. I have to admit that acting is not my obsession. My obsession is music. I got in touch with movies by chance and from then I made about a dozen films. I have always made it for fun - to learn something of it. It's again a possibility I tried. If somebody offers me a job possibility I accept it because I might learn something of it. I've never had ambitions as an actor, I still don't have, however I'm able to do it. This is also something which releases me from my ivory tower. Through music you can only connect with your musicians, your producer, your manager and your bookkeeper - that's all. The film forces you to meet others too, to settle relationships with the directors, the writers and the actors - and it is good for my creative ego.

And do you collect new materials of these experiences?

Surely yes, but I couldn't tell you what exactly. It's my different life which feeds my creativity.

I know your family, your children are very important for you. How many children do you have? I stopped counting at four.

I have six children.

What type of husband and father are you? I tell you some examples: the social democrat, the dictator or the communist in the meaning that everybody is equal.

The anarchist. (laughs) I don't think I can make you believe that I'm an ordinary father. I travel a lot, I'm rarely at home. At the same time I hope it has some advantages as well to be my child. Or my children will be able to balance or avoid the disadvantages of it. My children have good attitude, they are experienced concerning their world-view and upbringing. I'm doing my best but maybe you should ask them in 10-20 years' time how do they feel. My eldest son is twenty now, so already a man. By the way he is a musician and it seems like everything is all right.

Do you bring up your children in a way that they should know: their father is in a privileged situation, other fathers and the outside world are not the same as what they know?

Often they think that the fathers of other kids are also famous and that they live the same life but very quickly they realise that it isn't so. In this way they know very well what fame and privilege mean. Even they know that there is a huge difference between our living standards and other people's living standards. This has given them a certain sense of responsibility. I don't think my kids are spoilt. They are fully aware of everything. They are very good human beings.

You told that one of your sons will be eleven tomorrow.


Is he here?

No. He's at school.

Will you give him a call tomorrow?

I've already given him a call last night.

'I'm So Happy That I Can't Stop Crying' is a very sad song, but in my opinion, slightly cynic and ironic as well. Was this song written about your own experiences?

It isn't about me and my experiences but the knowledge what I know about this situation - the breaking up of a family. However the characters are different. The song is interesting because it starts ironically, the goes through an emotional process after which the singer is able to handle his pain, his sorrow. I the end he accepts, he tolerates his own situation because he's not able to change it. From this - that he accepted his situation - he takes courage. In my opinion this is why this song is important. Being able to accept something - this is one thing I have learnt recently.

So you agree that I've found this song cynical?

Yes. Of course it starts cynically. I wanted to be so. "I'm so happy that I can't stop crying" - that's a very cynical sentence. Still, at the end of the song the singer not only sings it, but means it as well. After all, happiness and sadness are separated by a very narrow margin only.

© Kurír (Hungary)


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