68. Gordon Sumner (“Sting”)

Sting is a bassist and singer/songwriter from Newcastle Upon Tyne, England. Together with American drummer Stewart Copeland and English guitarist Andy Summers , he achieved great success as lead singer and principal songwriter for The Police, a pop trio influenced by the Jamaican ska and reggae rhythms popular in England at the time. The Police produced five albums of music in their short career, reaching the pinnacle of success in 1983 with the blockbuster Synchronicity, featuring the #1 single “Every Breath You Take”. The band disbanded in acrimony only a few months later. Since then, he has composed and performed as a solo artist, producing a significant body of work that fit neatly into the easy listening radio format. The Police were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 2003.

FOR SUNDAY PULSE  The Police perform on stage, New York, 1980, L-R Sting, Stewart Copeland, Andy Summers. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Wikipedia Biography of The Police

Gordon Sumner (b. 1951), better known as “Sting”, bass, singer, primary songwriter
Stewart Copeland (b. 1952), drums
Andy Summers (b. 1942), guitar

Solo Career (1984 – present)

Embarking on a solo career, Sting chose some to collaborate with some of America’s finest young jazz musicians. This was not without controversy; it created a rift between saxophonist Branford Marsalis and his family, especially his famous brother, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. This article details the familial rift:

People Magazine Article: “Branford Marsalis Blows His Own Horn”

But Branford has not pleased everyone. When he returned from making Bring On The Night with Sting in mid-1985, he found he had been fired as the saxophonist in Wynton’s band. In interviews, Wynton made his low opinion of pop music—and jazz musicians who stoop to playing it—witheringly clear. Soon the press was picturing the two as a latter-day Cain and Abel, a notion Branford stoutly denies. “It was just business,” he says. “It wasn’t a feud.” Whatever it was, it couldn’t have been pleasant. “The whole concept of a white person getting a band of Negroes together I never approved of,” says brother Delfeayo, 22, a trombonist and record producer. “My whole family gave Branford a rough time about it. But Branford always wanted to do stuff like [play pop music] anyway.”

— Eric Levin

Sting’s first solo album, Dream Of The Blue Turtles, might be his best; I’m not qualified to make that judgement. I bought that album, and it received significant attention on my record player. But I lost interest in Sting’s solo career, and never purchased another Sting record, except for a cassette single of the lovely “Fields Of Gold”, during a brief period when individual songs were unavailable on vinyl records or compact disk format. Do you remember cassette singles?

Sting’s best songs tend to be love songs. Here he performs “Fields Of Gold” as a duet on lute:

Despite assembling first-rate talent, Sting’s solo work is not as compelling as his work with The Police. By the mid-eighties, music production had effectively eliminated imperfection out of recorded performances, and though the young jazzmen provide subtle touches of class, these tend to be lost deep within the antiseptic presentation. Besides, Sting’s music and vision does not leave significant space for jazz improvisation. The mid-eighties establish a demarcation point, where a lot of bland music is created by some very talented singers and musicians. Major radio stations exist where every song sounds sort of similar. I’ve always wished Whitney Houston had eschewed her popular ambitions, and played traditional vocal jazz with a small combo. She’s a great singer, and might have enjoyed a longer life, and left a more memorable legacy.

As he matured, Sting addressed more political and philosophical subjects, with mixed results. At times they seem pompous or condescending, though I’m certain he had the best of intentions.

Mitch Schiewe and Ron Migliori

I first heard about the Police as a second year college student. Mitch Schiewe was the roommate of Ron Migliori, an engineer and starting forward on the basketball team. Ron and I became good friends during his two years there. Mitch was his best friend, an animal science major from Hemet, California. He wanted to be a veterinarian, U.C. Davis being a premier school for that discipline. I remember him mentioning the Police while holding a copy of Reggatta De Blanc one day; I didn’t take his recommendation seriously. It was a couple of years before I took notice.

I looked up Mitch Schiewe online to see if I could fine him, and it was easy. It’s Dr. Schiewe now, and he is a celebrated specialist in the field of human reproduction and fertility. As an undergrad, he gave the commencement speech for the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences for his graduating class. Looking back at those whose paths I crossed in college, that’s how it often goes. I met nice, smart people, but rarely gave a second thought to their intelligence or potential. When I check back decades later, I find great success stories.

Ron Migliori started both years for the basketball team, tall and slender, with a fine shooting touch and a simple, efficient offensive game. A civil and structural engineer who always received top grades, Ron graduated, married and settled in a Sacramento suburb. He joined a Sacramento architecture firm out of school, and does exactly what he was trained to do: design large buildings.

Me? I write essays on old bands that a couple dozen friends read. It’s humbling. One other curious coincidence is worth sharing. One of my closest friends here in Oregon is Mitch Scheele (pronounced SHEE-lee), which rhymes with Schiewe (SHEE-wee).

Sting and Stewart Copeland

The Police had a unique sound, a punky, white man’s reggae, propelled by their outstanding drummer Stewart Copeland, ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as the fifth best rock drummer of all time. By their fourth album Ghost In The Machine, Sting and Copeland did not get along.

MSNBC Article Discusses Relationship Between Stewart Copeland and Sting

Copeland is a visceral musician, one who sees music as a spontaneous exercise of joy and who loves the creative process. Copeland views Sting as a musical genius, but one sure of his ideas and not really interested in collaboration. Now that Copeland has spent several years composing film music, hiring musicians to play exactly the notes he wrote, he can understand why he drives Sting nuts.

“When he exercises his right to have it the way he imagined it, it’s a problem for both him and me,” he said. “I just can’t do it. I can’t remember it. I have my own ideas. I’m incorrigible.”

Let’s watch the Police in action, starting with “Roxanne”, their first hit record:

If I had to choose one Police record, it would be their third album, Zenyatta Mondatta, especially the consecutive trio “Driven To Tears”, “When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What’s Still Around” (longest song title in the collection?) and “Canary In A Coalmine”.

By 1983, the Police are big stars, all gussied up (except for Copeland), playing big venues with big sound systems. Listen to the great drummer cut loose on “Walking On The Moon”.

Every Breath You Take

“Every Breath You Take” played a major role in my life. The famous breakup song coincided with the demise of my relationship with Andrea, my college sweetheart. We spent six and a half years together. During five years of college, I never dated anyone else. I sometimes regret that, but she was such a fine, happy companion. She was short and voluptuous, with facial figures that vaguely suggested the Native American descendant in her family tree. Thoughtful and intelligent, loyal and easy to please, Andrea was a happy person who laughed a lot, and we had lots of fun together.

It was my first true love, and I didn’t know what a great girlfriend I had. After college, we moved to a one bedroom apartment in East Palo Alto. I found a job and started working the day after my 23rd birthday. She looked for a job while cooking the meals and taking care of me. My problems controlling cocaine and alcohol use were beginning to take their toll — the last two years of college were a disaster, and I still sought opportunities to use. She grew weary of the grind, and after defying her ultimatum one May morning, we broke up.

The summer of 1983 went by in a haze and work, basketball and alcohol. She moved out, we each dated a bit, but as the summer wore on, we began to see each other regularly again. But I met Katarina, a stunning Swedish girl working at the local toy store where I bought sneakers, and fell head over heels for her. This ended our relationship. Andrea married the first man she dated, and they are still married and living in Marin County.

Around that time, there was a new radio station that played the top ten hits over and over each morning and evening during rush hour. KITS (105.3 FM), which became the Bay Area’s premier alternative rock station, began its career with this narrow format. During that summer, I was glued to that station on my morning and evening commute, hoping to hear “Every Breath You Take”, and receiving my wish more often than not. Curiously, I don’t remember drawing a direct connection with my relationship, and mourning my loss through the song. I just loved it and wanted to hear it.

One’s musical tastes are clearly biased by songs heard in adolescence. I experienced a second musical “peak” at age twenty-four, and for many years argued that 1983 was a high point for pop music. Madonna and Michael Jackson were emerging into prominence, and MTV was new and very influential at introducing new artists into our homes. Over time I grew less keen on early eighties pop and its highly synthesized sound. Here is the famous video of “Every Breath You Take”, which spent eight weeks at #1 in the summer of 1983, when MTV was king and I was adrift. Note that the song is slightly truncated at the end, losing about twenty seconds of the critical fade portion of the song.

The Ultimate Stalker Song

“It was also one of the most difficult ones to record on the group’s Synchronicity album, guitarist Andy Summers informed Christopher Connelly in a 1984 Rolling Stone article. An elaborate synthesizer section had been discarded so as not to distract from the song’s simplicity. Sting told Connelly that it was not intended to be the sweet love song that many people believed it was. “I consider it a fairly nasty song,” he said. “It’s about surveillance and ownership and jealousy.”

— Fred Bronson, “The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (revised and enlarged edition)”

By Fred Bronson’s Book at Amazon.com

I interpreted the song as a poignant love song, and I adored it. The stalking aspect had to be pointed out to me, an inability or unwillingness to see my obsessive and possessive nature. I don’t let go of women I’ve loved well at all. I talked to Andrea every year or so until about five years ago; we ended on relatively good terms. Every few years I use to lower myself and attempt to contact Katarina, who ignores all communications, and rightly so. It was a bad match, and I was terrible to her. I feel compelled to stay in touch, to follow their lives, and make sure that they are alright.

The breakup impacted my view of romance. After feeling satisfied the first few years with Andrea, I began to wonder what other people were like, and my curiosity disintegrated the romance. I’ve been in love a precious few times since, and fortunate to have known wonderful women — all attractive, smart, nice and devoted. I’ve been so lucky in love. They were each different, with various strengths and weaknesses, with their own past and their own demons. I never recovered from that initial wanderlust. I often struggle with commitment, though I’ve been married for nineteen years. Sometimes I wonder what is wrong with me; did I meet the right person? Perhaps they were all excellent mates, and with each a different reality, a different life together. But first love is special and sacred; sometimes I wonder if I would have been happiest if I settled in with my first love. I never quite found the magic experienced within that bond. Youth might be a factor. But it may have to do with opening Pandora’s box, and acknowledging the spectrum of possibilities, and subsequently never being able to fully embrace one person.

I listened to “Every Breath You Take” fifteen or twenty more times while preparing the profile, and rediscovered what moved me all those years ago. Such an unusual song, beautifully constructed, with edgy lyrics and a hypnotic sound. The alternative definition of a five star song is a personal favorite; when I was young and full of fire this one blew me away. As I drove the ten miles to and from work each day in the summer of 1983, I waited in anxious anticipation to hear my favorite song. I listened to each and every sound in wonderment, and waited anxiously for the closing mantra:

(I’ll be watching you)

1. Every breath you take, every move you make, every bond you break, every claim you stake…
(I’ll be watching you)
2. Every single day, every word you say, every game you play, every night you stay…
(I’ll be watching you)

(repeat for phrases 3-4, 5-6, and 7-8)

I’d relish the squeak of the bass strings in the third iteration, Sting’s “ooooooo” the fourth time. And if I was lucky, the radio would play the song all the way to the seventh phrase, when Sting’s voice rises a bit, to say:

I’ll be waaaaa-tching you.

Police Songs:

Every Breath You Take, The Police ✭✭✭✭✭

Walking On The Moon, The Police ✭✭✭
Roxanne, The Police ✭✭✭
When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What’s Still Around, The Police ✭✭✭
Spirits In The Material World, The Police ✭✭✭

Driven To Tears, The Police ✭✭
Message In A Bottle, The Police ✭✭
Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic, The Police ✭✭
Don’t Stand So Close To Me, The Police ✭✭
De Doo Doo De Da Da Da, The Police ✭✭
Tea In The Sahara, The Police ✭✭
Murder By Numbers, The Police ✭✭
Can’t Stand Losing You, The Police ✭✭
Canary In A Coalmine, The Police ✭✭

The Bed’s Too Big Without You, The Police
Bring On The Night, The Police
Reggatta De Blanc, The Police
Wrapped Around Your Finger, The Police
Rehumanise Yourself, The Police
Invisible Sun, The Police

Sting Songs:

Fields Of Gold, Sting ✭✭✭

Brand New Day, Sting ✭✭
Consider Me Gone, Sting ✭✭
Epilogue (Nothing ‘Bout Me), Sting ✭✭

All This Time, Sting
Love Is The Seventh Wave, Sting
If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free, Sting

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