The following article by Gary Graff appeared in an August 1996 issue of The San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper...
Sting's journey to happiness. One time King Of Pain rolls out the red carpet to wisdom, acceptance...
It's noisy in the backstage office of the Elbuser arena in Dresden, Germany, where Sting is trying to conduct an interview. "Tell them to shut up in this room," he says to no one in particular. "Can you all not talk?"
The Stingatollah - as "Saturday Night Live" once referred to him - has spoken. And the volume doesn't decrease. "They're ignoring me," he grumbles. "People ignore me."
Not really. Since his old band, the Police, broke up at the height of its popularity in 1984, Sting has only increased activities - and his fame. He's an immensely successful solo artist, with mega-million albums sold. He acts in film ('Dune', the new 'The Grotesque') and i.e. Broadway stage ('Threepenny Opera'). He's also an activist who has toured for Amnesty International and these days concentrates on the preservation of the Brazilian rain forest.
Sting is also a man of wealth and taste, with a 30 room manor in the English countryside that was featured on the cover of Architectural Digest, as well as in London, New York and Malibu. Not bad for a man who once proclaimed he'd "always be King of Pain."
"Getting to 40 and realising I'm happier, healthier and more together than I've been was a great revelation to me," the former Gordon Sumner, a for schoolteacher who has six children including 9-month-old Giacomo - from his two marriages. "That continues; I'm 44, and I feel very content. I know where my happiness is now. Happiness and success aren't necessarily the same thing; sometimes they're diametrically opposite. I remember that the most successful period in my life was in the Police, but that was also one of my most unhappy times. Now things are much more level, and I can deal with it."
That state of mind is certainly reflected on Sting's last couple of albums, including his latest, 'Mercury Falling'. It's not necessarily a collection of cheery pop songs. Throughout the album there are images of death, despair and loss. But there's a soothing and settled feel to the songs, and almost spiritual quietude as well as a soul influence that hails from the smooth styles forged at Memphis labels such as Stax and Hi.
"You can't get the impression that my album is about being happy; it's not, but it comes from happiness," Sting says. It's basically a function of getting older; whether you want to or not, you get a certain wisdom, a certain acceptance of life in general. I'm more accepting of the vagaries of life than I used to be. I used to fight against anything that was uncomfortable or that would make me feel strange."
"The main thing is the idea of getting older and mortality - that's the big one, the only important one," he says. "Once you sort that out in your head, that you will die and are getting older, it's fine. It becomes much less frightening and oppressive." There is, however, the notion that a little angst is good for creativity, Sting certainly used it to his advantage. Hits such as the Police's sinister 'Every Breath You Take' and his own 'Fortress Around Your Heart' certainly came from a darker side of his psyche.
I used to subscribe to the notion that you needed to be in pain to be creative - almost to the extent that I could manufacture crises in my life to be creative," he says. "Now I don't want to do that "I think music, rock music, is a very good way of processing certain emotions of anger, of fear, anxiety, aggression. I understand music that comes from that because I did it myself. But when you don't feel that, you have to find something that's... deeper and stronger and ultimately more meaningful.
"That's the journey I'm on."
Sting also remains on a distinctive and individual musical trip, something that's sometimes obscured when he makes off-the-cuff remarks about his sexual prowess - as he did recently in Rolling Stone - or voices his feelings about how drugs such as Ecstasy should be legalised. While in the Police, he blended reggae and World Music rhythms with more traditional pop conventions.
On his own, he's gone even further, incorporating jazz and touches of country and ambient styles - in addition to the R&B influences on 'Mercury Falling'. "Sting is a music freak," says saxophonist Branford Marsalis, who worked in Sting's first solo band and plays on the new album. "That's what I've always loved about him. When other rock stars came backstage to talk to Sting, they never talked about music; it was always about property or sports or how many records did you sell. And he always wanted to talk about music."
Sting calls his style-blending "just a game I play," but it's clear he enjoys making his own rules. As an admirer Lenny Kravitz says: "Sting just goes whatever he wants, man. He goes for it."
"I like the impurity of taking one genre and twisting it into something else," Sting says. I'm not terribly respectful of genres. I tend to pervert them when I get a hold of them. My interest is not to create pure country or pure rock'n'roll or pure jazz or pure anything. That's even more true onstage, where Sting and his band - keyboardist Kenny Kirkland, guitarist Dominic Miller and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta - are prone to bastardise further the careful arrangements they've crafted on record.
"I think making a record and doing a live show are two entirely different things," Sting says. "My job is not to reproduce the album onstage. I think the album is the beginning point, hopefully the springboard to do something better, so the songs are allowed to evolve - not out of all recognition, but certainly to keep the songs exciting and keep the musicians committed to them. "When by accident we'll hear the we'll usually go, 'Oh, it doesn't sound anything like that anymore,' which I like."
© The San Diego Union-Tribune