Music is life, and life is music. I’ll start with myself. I have been a musician for 35 years, and nothing has trained me in the thrilling, often dreadful and unfulfilling, but ultimately elating ways of human relationships more than playing music. Why? Because bands do generally not form in families or from a group of lifelong friends. More likely, an ad gets put up, then a ‘get to know you’ meeting or two before the actual practices take place, you know, bands begin a lot like relationships do. Even Sting claimed that upon meeting Stewart Copeland for the first time their music mimicked “the sexual rhythms of natural lovers.” So why didn’t they keep going forever? Many marriages and relationships don’t, and they were no different.
The Rolling Stones are one of the worlds longest continually cohesive musical acts. Their existence is analogous to an up and down, though ultimately successful long term marriage. Most other bands, as everyone else knows, do not last even a fraction of this long, nor are they even close to this successful. Now The Police.
There are three types of love, agape, eros, and phileo, and every band starts out in a kind of love with one another. If this marriage had an analogy, it would be a young doctor shacking up with his adoring, less than ideal first wife. The one who paid for med school, cooked all the meals, and bore the first lot of children.
Ever notice that on the last Police album Synchronicity Sting is reading a book on Jung? As was the case when he auditioned for Quadrophenia and waltzed in with The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse, was it an ongoing sophomoric effort to make himself look more intellectual than he was? How about that his solo release was named Dream of the Blue Turtles and that Jung taught dream analysis? Who were those blue turtles anyway?
Let’s start with Stings’ gigantic neurosis. ‘I have a very, very strong ego,’ he told a reporter in response to a question about his character Ace Face in Quadrophenia.
But about his music. Their first hit, Roxanne is a story about a man who can’t quit his prostitute girlfriend. In the excellent biography Waking on the Moon by Chris Campion mentions that Sting witnessed his serially unfaithful mother in an embrace with her lover in their kitchen. Maybe, in his imagination of course, banging out an early version of Roxanne on his kitchen table? All distasteful joking aside, let’s say it left him a traumatized. The trauma worsened by her unplanned abandonment of his father years later.
Not a modern family life, his parents did not divorce but carried on the humiliating charade for years. All of this in a cramped little English town in the shadow of Hadrian wall named Wallsend.
This claustrophobic dynamic ruled the band from day one, with Stewart as a sibling to Gordon (known as Sting due to a striped jersey he wore), and older guitarist Andy, as the cuckold father being older then the rest by ten years. To be fair, Stewart was accompanied in this venture by older brother Miles Copeland, the latter not insignificant in the bands rise to fame. Andy Summers may not have realized when he signed on that the Police more a dysfunctional family destined to fall apart much as Sting’s own family did after his mother ran off with a lover.
If not a characteristic of each member, it’s easy to postulate Sting was a difficult, arrogant guy. Before one of the Police’ first gigs he famously approached the microphone and said ‘Now we’re going to perform some songs most of you won’t understand.’ Were the Police performing in a language other than English? Unfortunately, no. He meant thematically, the songs were too sophisticated for the paying customers.
My older sister and I saw Sting at his first solo concert in Radio City Music Hall, New York, and boy was it an interesting experience. I had listened to him on the radio and HIFI, and liked him, and his hair, but was not thrilled with his personality to be honest. I could not say the same for my sister who was gaga over him, as I learned many teenage girls were at the time, with little consideration for his great music with the Police. There were two points in the show I took notice; one was how declawed and castrated the jazz version of Message in the Bottle sounded. It was as if all the testosterone and male adolescent sexual longing had been removed by some censor or parental type force. Stupidly, the next day I bragged to some girls about seeing him sing it. I would have had more balls to brag about seeing Kiss unmasked. Second, at one point in the show (and this may have actually been before Message in a Bottle started) Sting actually told the audience to be quiet so he could hear himself singing. So, these are two instances of self-aggrandizing behavior, once when he was a nobody, and a second time after he had left his band behind. As Jeff Spicole put it: you dick!
On the bright side oof things, they did reunite in 2007 for a world tour that, despite its musical shortcomings, was a payday for the discarded band members. I’m sure with their team of talented accountants, Stewart Copeland and Andy summers will be able to live out the rest of their lives in comfort. Hopefully not in fear of being stung again.