Interview: THE DENVER POST (2001)

December 17, 2001

The following article by G Brown appeared in a December 2001 issue of The Denver Post newspaper...

Moment in history - Sting discusses impact of his 9/11 concert

The live album Sting planned to release last month was to be unlike most other in-concert discs.

...All This Time' would be recorded at a private villa in Tuscany, Italy. A five-camera crew would capture the rehearsal period and show, and a simultaneous international webcast was announced. With his long-time band and several guest musicians, Sting would reconstruct arrangements of his best-known songs. The small audience would consist of 200 friends, family members and a few contest winners from around the world. He hoped the result would be a personal, intimate performance.

But as it turned out, '...All This Time' also captured a moment in history - it was recorded on Sept. 11, just hours after terrorists attacked the United States. 'Which created a huge shadow over the whole enterprise,' Sting told The Denver Post recently. 'My first instinct was to stop, to cancel it, to just say, 'Look, I'm too devastated to even think about wanting to sing tonight '

'I was convinced by the other members of the band - a lot of them from New York, who couldn't even reach their families at that point - that we should play, because we had a duty to play; that's what musicians do. And I was told I had a responsibility to the audience, which had travelled thousands of miles and turned up to see us.'

Ultimately, it was decided that while an entire webcast would be inappropriate in light of the day's events, Sting would perform 'Fragile' for the world, then shut the webcast down 'and ask for a minute's silence, and then it would be up to the audience as to what happened next - a democratic decision. And I was perfectly willing to lay down the guitar and go to bed.

'Well, the minute's silence was very heartfelt and devotional. And I could hear some people in the audience weeping, even some people in the band weeping.'

Sting then polled the crowd on whether to proceed with the rest of the concert. The response was an overwhelming 'yes,' and Sting and his band proceeded to play 18 more songs, 14 of which are on '...All This Time'.

'Although we began very tentatively, as the evening progressed, it became therapy, if you like, for everybody - me, the band, the audience. It ended up with a joyful, healing celebration.

'I wish the context hadn't been this at all. It's not the concert or the mood we'd prepared. But it was us basically thinking on our feet.

'We cancelled some shows immediately after that - I was paralysed. But I thought it was right, on that day, that we were compelled to just go forward and do it with the deepest respect for the people who died or are suffering as a result of that tragedy.

'It wasn't something I would have relished. But now that it's there, I think it's a fitting memorial to that day. I hope people appreciate that.'

In support of '...All This Time', Sting will perform Sunday at the World Arena in Colorado Springs and Monday at Ritchie Center on the University of Denver campus.

Sting's first live album in 15 years features new adaptations of Police classics ('Every Breath You Take') and solo material ('If You Love Somebody Set Them Free') as well as one new track, 'Dienda'.

'It was strange - throughout the evening, the songs kept surprising me with how appropriate they were, or how close they were to the situation we were in,' Sting said. 'In the second song I sang, 'A Thousand Years', there's an image of 'towers of souls' rising into space. That was a little too close, and I apologized to the audience that this was happening. But each of the songs recalibrated itself in the moment.'

The moving rendition of 'Fragile', originally on 1987's 'Nothing Like The Sun', has been released as a single.

'The idea (for the song) came after John Lennon's death in New York - just how fragile humanity is when faced with bullets, how easily we are taken. It's appalling that someone as important and wonderful as Lennon can be stolen from us by an act of stupidity. The song gleans meaning as it gets older and moves on. I think Sept. 11 is one of those things that's added to the context of it.'

Sting turned 50 on Oct. 2. The father of six took it in stride, but he's not coping as well with the recent death of another Beatle, George Harrison.

'I'm terribly sad,' Sting said. 'He was very young, 58 - he's our generation. It's one of those events that affects you. We are mortal, and we have to use the time.

'The Beatles were the reason I became a musician in the first place, and a songwriter second. They gave me the vague notion that you could make a living out of playing music, so I owe all the Beatles a huge debt.'

Never one to play it safe - for his solo albums, he's embraced phases of jazz, classical and world music - Sting reinvented his songs, which his band had been playing on stages across the globe for the last two years.

'The genesis of the project was from the record company. They said, 'Look, you've played to 2.7 million people, a successful tour by anyone's standards. Commercially, a live album is what you should do.' Well, normally, you just stick the tapes on for a particular show and just put it out; it's very easy. I wasn't terribly keen on that, because I think it's lazy.

'So I wanted to give the fans some sort of value added - take that band that had played together for so long, and rearrange every song with the knowledge we'd acquired about them on tour, and give them an extra level of fun. And also add a few new people that hadn't played with me before, like Christian McBride on the acoustic bass or Jacques Morelenbaum on the cello. 'Just a few elements that would make everybody play 'up.'

'(Being a bandleader) is a skill that you learn. It's really about people-handling. And you end up as father-confessor to a group of guys on the road for years at a time - their ups and downs, their domestic problems, their problems with each other, their problems with me. So it's like being a captain of a ship in a way - you've got to keep everybody well-balanced and doing their job. Because, in the end, when we're happy, then the audience is happy.

'So it's more than just being a musician, knowing what everybody should play. It's how you actually get there. I've had some of the greatest bands in the past 16 years, extraordinary musicians. Love them all. They're still family.'

That's why Sting hosted his band for the recording of '...All This Time' at his farmhouse in Tuscany. The moonlit courtyard was a bucolic setting for their easy camaraderie.

'It's between Siena and Florence, in the Chianti hills. It's a 16th-century house - it's got an incredible view (that) looks like the background of a Da Vinci painting. We've lived in it for five years; we'd looked for 10 before that. It was one of those missions.

'We have a vineyard and olive grove. We grow our own vegetables; we're self-sufficient. The kids have school in England, though, so we don't really land anywhere. We never unpack our cases.'

The concert was filmed for a DVD companion to the album, which was released on Tuesday. The event was also featured on the television special Sting in Tuscany All This Time, which premiered two weeks ago on A&E and encores Dec. 16.

'I haven't seen the special, but what people have said about it is that it was so human to see us having to react under the circumstances. I suppose they see themselves on that day, because all of us in the world went through an alteration, completely. We'd been attacked.

'For me, it threw up interesting questions about what is music, what is entertainment, what purpose does it serve in this context?

'It reminds me of the first time I was the comedy host on 'Saturday Night Live' - that was the day that we bombed Baghdad with cruise missiles. My timing is not what it should be!'

In the wake of Sept. 11, Sting said, 'We're all still a bit confused about what our function is.

'I was asked to write a song for a movie, this lovely light romantic comedy with Meg Ryan. I watched this film in October - the bombing had started in Afghanistan, and the anthrax stuff It was looking grim. I thought, 'This film is what we need.' So I wrote a very romantic love song for the end of it.

'I don't know - it's the antithesis of what's going on, so that's one way of approaching it. I wouldn't write a song head-on about this event - I think that would be crass.

'But certainly the way that the creative process works is very unconscious and underground. It will be interesting to see how it alters because of this current situation. Because surely it must.

© The Denver Post



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