Sting in the tail
Behind the tabloid monster and the rainforest-saving saint, Sting is an altogether more down-to-earth character. So, just how did the singer earn the title Mr Five Hours A Night, asks Alastair Mabbott.
or everything, it is said, there is a season. Sexy Sting had his, the blonde, Aryan pop star singing of loneliness while basking in adoration. Sting the Deep Thinker. Sting the New Man. Sting the Jazzer, Saviour of the Rainforests, Country Squire. All these have passed before us, each blurring into the next as the star explored the freedoms offered by fame.
The current model was launched for public consumption at a drunken, manly bonding session with old mucker Bob Geldof, eavesdropped by Q magazine and dropped into the voracious maw of the tabloids . . . put your hands together (but keep them where we can see them) for Mr Five Hours A Night, rubber of limb and unspilling of seed!
‘Five hours? ls that all?’ chuckles the Tantric love god - by now, one presumes, an adept practitioner of the ancient lndian art of delaying ejaculation indefinitely. Calling from Brisbane, he’s two-thirds of the way through a world tour that overshadows all but the lengthiest shagathons with his wife, Trudie Styler. As one who has lived his life so publicly time and again, he has set himself up as a target for ridicule, taken it on the chin and come back for more.
From the beginning, though, he has seemed acutely sussed about the image he projected, and shrewd enough to turn it to his advantage. The question of how far he is able to spin-doctor his persona is one he muses over in most Stingly fashion.
‘Well, i suppose you have to spin doctor to a certain extent, because there are so many signals that go out about you. But, in a way, there’s a sort of freedom about that. If you believe the tabloid version of who i am, then that’s one sort of monster. The opposite isn’t true, either. l’m
somewhere in between Saint Sting and the
tabloid monster, but that actually gives me the freedom to be whoever i want to be.
Life is good. Six times a dad, The Artist Formerly Known As Gordon Sumner may sound sickeningly satisﬁed with his lot, but at least he has the good grace not to moan about his privileged existence.
‘lt’s not entirely unpleasant to be celebrated, l have to say that. Not for me, anyway. I don’t fall into the trap of hiding myself away, for example. i demand a citizen’s rights. It’s my right to go shopping. It’s my right to go to the pub or the betting shop or the football match or just to walk my kids to school. At the same time, I don’t take fame that seriously. There are certain occasions when I play the game. But in normal life I don’t expect any privileges really. I just get on with my life. It’s a much better reward for success than hiding yourself away in
15 The List 15-28 Nov 1996
some hi gh-security prison with bodyguards and a Doberman Pinscher.’
What does he make of the myths that artists create their best work when they’re hungry and dissatisfied?
‘That may be true, but I’m not willing to manufacture pain in order to work. I think it’s perfectly possible to be happy and work. If you ask me for a role model in this, l’m sure Bach was extremely happy. He was a family man, smoked his pipe all day and off he went.’
It’s a very Stingly touch to cite Bach as a model. He has, after all, used classical themes as the basis for hit melodies. and has. in recent years appeared increasingly to view songwriting as a means of exploring formal structure. You won’t find any other megastar albums with as many odd time signatures and stylistic juxtapositions as his most recent Offering, Mercury Falling.
‘Obviously I’ve become a more sophisticated songwriter as l’ve got older,’ he says. ‘Whether that is better or not is moot, i don’t know. it’s more difficult, songwriting,
‘I’m somewhere in between Saint Sting and the tabloid monster, but that actually gives me the freedom to be whoever I want to be.’
now than it used to be. It seemed very natural before that. Almost everything i wrote seemed to be a hit. I thought, “This is dead easy.” But now it’s very difficult, because your standards are higher, the level of scrutiny is higher on what you actually do, but at the same time it’s more satisfying to actually succeed. But it gets more and more difficult.’
Why? Because all the easy, obvious things have already been done?
‘No, l’m less sure of myself in a way. Even though I know more. Maybe that’s what it is, I know more about music and songwriting. Before, itjust sort of poured out of me. Now I’m much more selective. And probably inhibited. But that’s a function of getting old. And it’s not a bad thing. i think you should be more critical as you get older.’
Sting’s well-publicised days of Jungian therapy are behind him now. ‘Songwriting, that’s my analysis now. It’s cheap!’ he says, and for proof of that one need look no further than The Soul Cages, an album that was part of the process of coming to terms with his parents’ death and overcoming a two-year writing block. Songwriting as therapy is one thing, but what can it have been like touring The Soul Cages, opening up such raw wounds every night for public consumption?
‘lt was pretty gruelling. I tried not to think about what i was singing. because sometimes it would get a bit too much for me. So [just sang the words without really taking notice of what i was saying. The words themselves would carry the meaning without me having to live through it. it was a very useful catharsis for me to channel that kind of confusion I felt about my father’s death into an album. That’s one of the great privileges artists have: you can process all this stuff and be rewarded for it ultimately. i would probably say that album is my best work even though it wasn’t received very well. I think it stands up. it has a ready market in the recently-bereaved.’ He laughs, knowing how dreadful that sounds. ‘l’m being flippant. It meant something to me and it means something to people who understand that situation.’
Sting admitted frankly at the time that he was driven by a need to be noticed by his indifferent father. is that still pushing him on?
‘No. l think it was an initial impetus, to have attention, basically, because I’m not naturally extrovert. Quite the opposite, l’m quite introverted, but I forced myself into becoming extrovert. I suppose, to get notice taken of me. That formed me as a young person. But I’m not the same person now. I don’t need to prove myself any more.’
Sting’s eldest, Joe, is twenty this month. ‘Against all my wishes,’ says Sting, ‘he’s a musician himself, a singer-guitarist playing pubs in London under his own name. Very committed, very talented. And I’m no help to him at all, because of who I am. He’s a tough kid. He hasn’t been brought up with a silver spoon in his mouth.’
Still tied to his working-class Geordie roots, Sting was never going to let his offspring turn into nauseating Hollywood kids, living off Daddy and developing drug habits while they’re about it. A proponent of traditional values of fatherhood, he’s always insisted that they’ll have to make their own way in the world. So is the achingly glamorous Sting just a reactionary old fart as far as his kids are concerned?
‘Am i? My kid said to me the other day, “You’ve always been cool, Dad.” it’s a great thing to say, you know? I almost cried. l’m not the perfect father because of my lifestyle, I’m not always there because of my profession. There’ve been advantages and disadvantages and I hope they’ve balanced each other out. My kids are happy. They’re interesting people.’
That devoted family man, Bach, had twenty children, the joke goes, because his organ didn’t have any stops. in the absence of formal family planning, it sounds like he could have learned a thing or two from his latterday pupil.
Sting plays the SEC C, Glasgow on Sat 23 Nov.