In London, the Observer newspaper recently published an interview with Sting, in which he discusses his life and music, and I’m recommending it and a companion video as this week’s Friday Risk Reading.
The parallels between Sting’s childhood and early career and that of Keith Richards (who is My Business Guru) are pretty striking. Sting grew up in a working-class family in Newcastle; Richards in Dartford, East London. Both caught the music bug at an early age, inspired by uncles who led them to the guitar, though Richard’s’ uncle was a more active influence.
In truth, the Observer interview is somewhat shallow and not very illuminating. There’s the usual survey of Sting’s life, early successes with the Police and the longevity of his solo career, but this is about as deep as it goes:
And it is true that no matter how charming Sting can be, there is a definite sense that you only get so far with him and no further. It is not guardedness exactly – in fairness, he answers every question I put to him – but more a sense that you are speaking to him through a layer of glass; that he is more comfortable in his own company, with his own thoughts, than with having to explain them to anyone else. He strikes me as a loner who, by dint of his profession, finds himself spending a lot of time around other people, explaining things he would rather leave unsaid. “I’m not usually happy,” he says, “but at the same time happiness can be thought of as a kind of bovine state – cows are happy; I’m curious.”
The video, however, offers fascinating insights about Sting’s songwriting, and how difficult it often is for him to get the lyrics out. His description of his creative process – part courage, part storytelling – is very interesting:
You have to be brave, in a sense, and just start riffing. My theory being that if you structure music correctly, it already has a narrative, its telling you a story, an abstract story. My job as a songwriter then is to take that abstract story and turn it into something people can understand…. That’s my job. Sometimes it’s surprising what turns up.
See the full video interview here: