Interview: THE ADVERTISER (1991)

February 01, 1991

The following article by David Sly appeared in a February 1991 issue of the Australian newspaper The Advertiser...

Sting in the tale.

Sting says his songwriting is cathartic, yet he could not compose a single verse for three years after his parents died. The reason, he says, is that he refused to confront the stark reality of death.

Sting, or Gordon Matthew Sumner as his parents christened him 39 years ago, was jolted by the death of his mother, Audrey, to cancer in early 1987 and his father, Ernest, to the same disease later that year.

As the father of four children, Sting became painfully aware of his own mortality. He tried to cope with the crisis by not thinking about it.

"I figured I would deal with these deaths in a very modern way, that I would just go to work the next day and try to pretend it didn't happen,'' Sting said.

He plunged into an exhausting 16-month concert tour to promote his second solo studio album 'Nothing Like the Sun', which went to South America, Britain, Europe, the United States and Australia. He was fully occupied but less than satisfied.

"What I was doing was running away from a situation trying to pretend it wasn't quite so enormous and that it was just death," Sting said. "If you do that, it comes back to kick you in the teeth and bite you in the leg."

Sting suspected that his method of coping with death was not so effective when he developed a close friendship with Raoni, chief of the Amazon Kayapo tribe in Brazil's rainforest. Sting lived with the Kayapo tribe in 1989, practised their rituals and learnt their customs, one of which was to mourn a death in the family.

"What I've learnt from the so-called primitive societies, in the time I've spent with them, is that they deal with death very seriously," he said. "It is not something they take lightly, going through a lengthy and intense period of mourning. In modern society we tend to disregard this important feature. "At some stage in your adult life you have to contemplate death and I didn't."

Sting wasn't forced to address his problem until January last year, when he tried to write songs again after a three-year hiatus.

"I couldn't write songs and had to figure out why. Either I had nothing to say or I did but was afraid to. That is very scary. You have to really face yourself and dig deep," Sting said. He booked recording time at the Guillaume Tell studios in Paris and hired a trio of backing musicians - Kenny Kirkland on keyboards, Manu Katche on drums and Dominic Miller on guitar - but his songs wouldn't come together until he came to terms with the death of his parents.

"It was like unblocking myself. It seemed so difficult at first but it became so easy almost cleansing."

The resulting album, 'The Soul Cages', is a deeply moody and reflective work. As Sting explained coldly, it is not a party album. Sting isn't about to make excuses if some sentiments on the album seem jumbled and confusing. He is simply relieved to have catalogued some of his darkest contemplations in song.

"The theme of the album is essentially about dealing with death. For me, at my age, it's an important subject," Sting said. "I don't kid myself that my experience is unique but I have a way of expressing things through songs that may be useful to someone else some sort of therapy. They're still rather overwhelming for me."

Sting will support the album with a tour. He has already performed a few shows in New York, will soon start dates in Britain, tour across the US and possibly Australia. It will be the first time Sting has graced the concert stage since he did a few shows in Chile and Uruguay early last year for Amnesty International. He said those shows, which drew international attention to Amnesty, as a "success story that I'm proud to have been associated with."

But the tour had its tense moments. Sting, labelled a subversive by Chilean authorities because of the song 'They Dance Alone', which criticised the Pinochet regime, was confronted by political strongmen.

"I reflected on that record being banned in Chile and thought that if I didn't go there I'd be a coward and I'm certainly not a coward," he said. "Let's not over-dramatise this. I'm only a singer. I'm not that important. All of us in life have to face a few things, look at something and say this is wrong and be prepared to stand up and say so, regardless of how dangerous it is."

Another issue Sting has taken to his bosom is ensuring the preservation of Brazil's Amazon rainforests. He was media spokesman for the Rainforest Foundation and toured the world with Chief Raoni in 1989, talking with world leaders and mustering donations for relief projects to help the Kayapos.

"We are making slow, painful progress because we must be cautious about how we help these people," Sting said, explaining that the foundation had established medical and educational programs based on the Kayapo culture. "These people don't need charity, they need an infrastructure which protects their integrity and independence. They don't need an organisation to give them handouts. Money for them can often be worse than poison."

Despite his strong stand on global political issues, Sting said it was not necessary for musicians to be political. "I think for me it's just a function of the age I'm at. I want to say what's happening, to express my opinion," he said. "It's not my job to think I'm particularly special as a human being. I'm a citizen, sociable, an average bloke. I suppose press reports confuse people's opinion of me but they're writing about some other Sting. It's amazing how much stuff I didn't do, what I didn't say and who I didn't make love to. I only wish I had."

© The Advertiser (Australia)


Jan 4, 1991

Star with a wandering attention: Rock stars with misgivings about the ''star'' bit have become a modern cliche. Sting by contrast and despite some routine disclaimers has always seemed pretty comfortable with the fame, the fans, the Wogans and all the other high-profile privations that come with being a star. What Sting doesn't like so much is the rock part. And while in the past and notably in The Police a certain ambivalence towards the hand that feeds may have produced a useful creative tension, on his third solo album, 'The Soul Cages', the strain is definitely beginning to show...

Jan 2, 1991

A time of healing - Sting's 'Soul Cages' confronts grief over his parents' deaths: Sting is the pop idol adults can admire. His infallible instinct for hooks made the Police one of the world's biggest bands, but his ventures into jazz-inflected rock on 'The Dream of the Blue Turtles', 'Bring on the Night' and 'Nothing Like the Sun' made him an acceptable figure even to the most recalcitrant members of a thirtysomething generation. He is an active and highly visible supporter of Amnesty International and the preservation of the Brazilian rain forest. Now 39, he is handsome, but no pretty boy, and his movie roles and his appearance on Broadway last year as Macheath in a production of Bertolt Brecht's 'Threepenny Opera' attest to a range of talents that is increasingly rare in what often seems the increasingly one-dimensional world of pop culture...