The following article by Lydia Martin appeared in a February 2001 issue of The Miami Herald newspaper...
Lunch with Sting...
You're doing lunch at the Tides with Sting, the thinking man's pop star. But he's having a hard time focusing. There's some jazz playing in the background, a cool sax thing nobody else is paying attention to.
Certain Age: Sting, 49, says his career is taking a different turn. He had lunch recently at The Tides on Miami Beach. "I'm finding it very difficult to speak with this going on. For me, music is not something I can ever listen to casually or passively. It's like an obsession."
Which doesn't necessarily mean he likes what's playing.
"People ask me what I listen to relax and I say there is no music I can relax to because I'm always trying to figure it out. I would adopt complete silence if I could, until I wanted to hear something. Then I know what I want to hear. Come upstairs and I'll play Bach. I have this huge collection. I'm against elevator music and mood music. I think it cheapens the whole thing."
If Sting has been about anything, he's been about not cheapening music. He's not into cliché pop formulas. His lyrics go way beyond the Shake Your Bon-Bon genre. He's taken risks with elements of world music that just don't make it on mainstream radio. On the verge of 50, he's still hitting the Top 40, still proving you don't have to dumb it down to make it big.
A day before performing at the Super Bowl, Sting is having a shrimp Caesar, a hefty copy of The Last Samurai at his side, explaining how much harder it is for him these days to land the pop market. Not only did he have to say yes to singing his latest hit, 'Desert Rose', at something as prosaic as a football game, but he even succumbed to a car commercial.
"When I did this record two years ago, I knew it would be difficult getting it on the radio because of who I am - I'm a man of a certain age, I'm 49. Radio stations have their demographics. So we knew we'd have to market the record very aggressively."
Did he have any issues with singing 'Desert Rose' in a Jaguar spot?
"No. I drive a car, we all drive cars. It's a choice I made that perhaps I wouldn't have made 10 years ago. But I don't think the song would have gotten on the radio. I think they would have been very afraid. Now the Top 40 stations say, 'Oh, we love the record, we don't like most things we play.' Which is insane. Your job is based on playing things you don't like? It's intuition and feeling that makes great radio."
He wasn't so sure about singing 'Desert Rose' at the Super Bowl though, but after doing a rehearsal, he was sold.
"There's fireworks and all kinds of crap, pyrotechnics, 500 dancing girls and things I would have never really entertained, but the fact is we did it yesterday and we had a ball. I'm excited to be playing in this extravagant bit of Americana. And maybe some people will hear the song that wouldn't have heard it."
In the end, he makes no excuses. He has infinite respect for the song. The other voice on it belongs to Cheb Mami, the Algerian star of rai music. Their collaboration was intensely organic, something Sting always strives for when he's making his art.
"I played the melody for him and asked him to put some Arabic lyrics to it. I didn't tell him what the song was about. To me, the song is about longing, romantic longing, philosophical longing. He came back a week later and started singing these lyrics I thought were beautiful, from Heaven. I asked, 'What are you singing about?' And he said, Well, I'm singing about longing, because that's what the music is telling me.' It was very gratifying."
World Music?: But don't get Sting started about world music. He experiments with all kinds of sounds, but the concept of a marketable genre called world music makes him crazy.
"My interest in music is very internal. It's almost like a meditation, a religious session which really has nothing whatever to do with current fashions. I don't listen to the radio. I'm in the world and I hear stuff, but that's not my study. I hate this idea of cultural piracy. What isn't world music?"
If there's one type of music he's over, it's rock.
"I get very upset with my colleagues in the rock world who seem to think they know just enough to get by and therefore they offer repetition. It makes rock-and-roll the most conservative music in history. To me, music is about evolution. You can never say you know enough. I don't."
Sting is now in year two of a world tour that after the Super Bowl was taking him to Mexico City, San Juan ("Home of Ricky," he calls it) and London. As gruelling as the travelling is, he's in no hurry for it to end.
"I stay on tour so long so that I don't have to think about the next project. Touring is not a thinking occupation. You just get up, get on the bus, get on the plane, get on stage, do the thing, go back, have a drink, go to bed."
OK, wait - you're not gonna let this one slide. You have to know what Sting actually thinks of Ricky.
Wife loves Ricky: "He's part of a long tradition of song-and-dance men, which we need. I like that tradition. He's a wonderful guy. My wife adores him. She's completely in love with him. I don't mind. My wife is the one who led the charge to the stage at the Grammys a couple of years ago when he played."
Now that you've broached Ricky, you might as well ask about Madonna. She and new husband Guy Ritchie honeymooned at Sting's English castle. Was he, like, there?
"No we moved out," after the ceremony. "Went to Brazil. It was a beautiful wedding. A five-day event that kind of built in intensity. I'm not terribly sentimental, but when she came in this dress I really was, well, I was affected by it."
If there is one thing Sting and Madonna have in common, it's that they've evolved, moved with the times. So many who find the kind of success they've had wind up falling apart. How did Sting avoid the proverbial gutter?
"Fame does that to a lot of people. It can be a very distorting mirror. It makes you seem extremely powerful and extremely beautiful. It moves slightly and you are incredibly dysfunctional. You just can't look in that mirror very often. You have to look within."
Sting learned to do that through yoga, which he practices for two hours each day.
"My first teacher said to me 'Two hours may seem like a lot, but you'll find that the rest of the day will expand.' And that is true. I have more energy and more focus than I have ever possessed."
Has there been a bigger learning?
"I'm not looking for enlightenment. I think enlightenment is something that happens when you die. I just want to be sane, a good friend, a good person."
Before he goes for a massage you ask what's with the shrimp. Sting is supposed to be a strict vegetarian.
"I'm a vegetarian ethically. But about five years ago we built an organic farm in England and started keeping animals. Part of animal husbandry is that they breed. And you can't keep them all. So I started eating meat again, beef, chicken, turkey, everything. But I only eat the animals I raise, other than maybe something like shrimp. I won't eat an animal that comes from a slaughterhouse. That's just disgusting."
© The Miami Herald