New Again: Sting
In New Again, we highlight a piece from Interview’s past that resonates with the present.
This weekend, the 30th MTV Video Music Awards will take place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Yes, 29 years have passed since Madonna rolled around on the floor in a wedding gown while singing “Like A Virgin,” and 10 years have passed since she performed the song again with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Glancing at this year’s list of nominees—from Bruno Mars to Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus—we’re getting a little nostalgic for that first ever award ceremony in 1984, when the most nominated video was The Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” the most nominated artist was Cyndi Lauper, and Better Midler and Dan Aykroyd acted as hosts. In the spirit of early MTV in its early ’80s glory, we decided to revisit the below interview between Sting, Bianca Jagger, and Andy Warhol form our January 1983 issue. —Emma Brown
Sting: the Chief of the Police raids the screen in Brimstone & Treacle
By Bianca Jagger and Andy Warhol
Friday, November 12, 1982, The Factory boardroom, 2:00 P.M. Bianca Jagger and Andy Warhol are lunching with Sting, the lead singer/songwriter of The Police, one of the world’s hottest rock-‘n’-roll bands. Sting is currently starring as Martin Taylor in the Sherwood Productions/ United Artists Classics Release thriller, Brimstone & Treacle.
BIANCA JAGGER: Can you tell us anything about your new film?
STING: I can tell you a lot of things about my new film. It’s called Brimstone & Treacle. It’s about a young man who is very confused, very ambiguous, very disturbed, and very disturbing. It’s written by Dennis Potter. He’s probably one of England’s most controversial playwrights. The film was made for BBC 10 years ago, without me in it, of course. It was subsequently banned, they said it was disgusting, immoral and all of those other things, and now it’s been made into a feature movie and I’m rather proud of it.
JAGGER: Do you identify with the character you’re playing?
STING: Yes, I felt very strongly that the ambiguity which the Martin Taylor character exhibits is similar to my own ambivalent morality and image.
JAGGER: I heard you wrote a script as well.
STING: I’ve written a script entitled Gormenghast which is an adaptation of the trilogy of books by Mervyn Peake. He’s a little known English novelist whom I love. I bought the rights to the book and I hope to make it into a film next year if I can get the money.
JAGGER: Where does the name “Sting” come from?
STING: It’s a nickname I’ve had since I was very young. 17.
JAGGER: Is it because you used to wear a striped jersey, like a bee?
STING: That’s one of the reasons why I’m called Sting.
JAGGER: Is there anything else about it?
STING: Well, if you define what a sting is, the name suits me. A sting is a little bit of pain, it’s a con trick, it’s the back end of the wasp.
JAGGER: Do you know what I find very strange? You were born in Newcastle and you had a group called The Police and yet you were a teacher. How do you coincide the two factors?
STING: Well, as I said before, Martin Taylor, from Brimstone & Treacle, has an extraordinary ambivalence in his life and there I was a backwater schoolteacher, very straight, from England, basically, and now, here I am in New York with the film with good reviews and famous, and, I suppose, I’m rich. So my life has taken an extraordinary turn; it’s suddenly completely the opposite of what it was.
JAGGER: Does your band still exist?
JAGGER: So all the rumors that you’ve broken up are not true?
STING: The rumors are mainly put about by the band itself. The truth is bands are temporary, they’re not forever, they can’t be. Everything is temporary. You have to point out that this can end one day, and should end.
JAGGER: Is it very difficult for a musician to become an actor?
STING: Yes. For a start, most actors have had a lot of time to train, to find out the skills of acting in relative privacy, whereas musicians spend all of their formative years learning to play an instrument. Suddenly, you’re offered a chance to be in a movie and you have to learn almost overnight how to act and also you have to do that in the glaring spotlight, on screen, in my case. It actually has its bonuses because the pressure is good for me. You have to learn—it’s sink or swim, basically.
JAGGER: You, unlike many other musicians, were an actor from very early on.
STING: That’s not true.
JAGGER: But early on you did Quadrophenia and Radio On.
STING: They were cameos, which is a euphemistic form of walk-on. I was lucky to get those things, but I wouldn’t say I was an actor by any stretch.
JAGGER: You were married to somebody who was an actress.
STING: I was married to an actress, yes.
JAGGER: Are you still married?
JAGGER: What do you remember about your early years in Newcastle?
STING: I was brought up on a street of terraced houses and at the bottom of the street was a shipyard where they built tankers. And every year they built up this ship and at the end of the street were these enormous great bows of a ship. I’ll always remember that as being a primary image in my mind. The ship would go away and they’d be build it up again.
JAGGER: Do you feel that everything is temporary?
STING: Yes and that makes me happy. I can’t stand the idea of permanence.
JAGGER: Why is that a lot of English musicians feel that the idea of forever is very painful, or anything that makes them feel that they’re settled is very painful? Do you feel the same thing?
STING: I feel a very strong pull towards freedom as opposed to responsibilities.
JAGGER: How do you manage to feel that and at the same time I know you have two kids?
STING: That’s a dilemma. On one side I want to be a father and I want to be a husband and I want to have a good family life; on the other side I want to be out.
JAGGER: Tell me something about your two children.
STING: They’re probably the finest achievement of the last six years that I’ve added my energy to.
JAGGER: What are their names?
STING: My son Joseph is six and my daughter Catherine is seven months.
JAGGER: Do they live with you?
JAGGER: Do you travel around with them?
STING: I take them to nice parts of my work. I take them to Montserrat, for example.
JAGGER: I find it very hard to take my children on tour. Do you take them on tour?
STING: My son was born in a trunk, to coin the old phrase. He travelled with us from the instant he was born. He had to because we had to move. It’s made him very gregarious and very independent and very wise.
JAGGER: Do you think you belong to a generation in England that revolutionized in some way, not only music, but some kind of social behavior as well?
STING: I find it very difficult to associate myself with a generation because I don’t feel I belong to one. I’m 31 years old which means that I was too young [or too old] to belong to any of the recognized cult groups like the Mods or the Rockers or the hippies or punks. I was right in between the mass movements of fashion and style. Therefore, I feel privileged because I don’t belong to any of those identifiable groups; I can look objectively and remain outside of them. I wouldn’t want to belong.
JAGGER: What’s your real name?
STING: My real name is Sting. The name I was given when I was born was Gordon Matthew Sumner, but I had no choice in that matter. I did have a choice in Sting, therefore, I think my real name is Sting.
JAGGER: It’s a good name, Sting.
STING: It’s great for autographs. Can you imagine signing Gordon Matthew Sumner 30 times a day? Sting is graphic and short.
BIANCE: Do you think people like you more here or in England?
STING: I think it’s pretty much the same everywhere. They adore us. I don’t know why. It’s sort of blanket adoration.
JAGGER: How do you feel about that?
STING: If people like you and they demonstrate that they like you, then I feel that we’ve done our job properly. I mean, the whole business of putting your records out and having your photograph taken, being interviewed—the only way you can judge how effectively that works is whether people like you or not.
JAGGER: Whether people like you or not has nothing to do with it, really. You might do a great job and people might hate you.
STING: Well, I think some people do hate us, hate me. I’m sure that what creates like in one person creates dislike in another; that’s just human nature. It balances out. I’m sure people loathe us as much as people love us. That must makes sense to me as an equation.
JAGGER: Which bands did you like the most when you were growing up?
STING: I think the blueprint of my life was due to the Beatles, being that they were form an industrial northern town and they wrote their own music and they conquered the world with that music.
JAGGER: Do you ever feel, when you’re on stage, when you do whatever you have to do to create the image you have decided to create, that you’re much too intelligent to be doing whatever you’re doing on stage; that you feel like you’re clowning and that you feel like a fool?
STING: I never feel like a fool.
STING: No, I feel that what I do is, at the moment, dignified and natural for me.
JAGGER: Are you scared to be doing the same thing when you’re older?
STING: I don’t want to do it when I’m older. There’s a time in your life when you can’t do it, when it’s not dignified, when it doesn’t feel natural. I hope the day that’s true I will wake up and realize that. At the moment, I feel perfectly natural being on stage, I don’t feel foolish. I’m not doing it for the money, I do it because I love it and because I’m good at it.
JAGGER: Do you find that musicians are intelligent people?
STING: I think that some of the best rock and roll was made by people who weren’t clever and weren’t intelligent. They just had a good feel, they were just born with it.
JAGGER: Do you ever feel that you don’t fit there?
STING: I don’t have much in common with rock and rollers. I don’t have many friends in rock and roll.
JAGGER: I see you as a complete outsider.
STING: I don’t think it’s necessary to belong to rock and roll to be a good player. I think I’m an introvert who’s an extrovert on stage.
JAGGER: Do you feel the same when the camera is running as you do on stage?
STING:Yes. The discipline in front of the camera is to create the adrenalin that 15,000 people give you.
JAGGER: When do you feel more turned-on?
STING: It’s more natural to feel inspired to perform in front of a lot of people. The discipline is to do it with just the director or a cameraman. That’s very skillful to do that.
JAGGER: What do you really want people to know about you?
STING: Enough to make them want to know more about me but no more. I don’t want to give everything away because there’s a private me which I want to remain private.
JAGGER: Is that what you’re doing today while I’m interviewing you?
STING: I’m not giving you my soul, why should I?
JAGGER: I wish you would.
STING: I’ll give enough to keep people’s interest. If you give everything people will get bored with you. I also lie a lot.
JAGGER: You do? Tell me what you said that wasn’t true today.
STING: No, I shan’t tell you. I can’t remember now. The truth is so confused now with the lies I’ve told I’m not sure what I lied about.
JAGGER: Do you know what a mythomaniac is?
JAGGER: It’s somebody who creates myths and then ends up believing in the myth. They don’t know the difference between the truth and the lie.
STING: It’s probably me.
JAGGER: It’s something to do with childhood. Sometimes the truth is so disturbing and so unhappy for a child that he decides he wants to create a whole new world and he talks about that new world and in the end it becomes his world. Is that what you do?
STING: I think that’s what most personalities or famous people do. To a certain extent we have to create a myth. I don’t know where I fall but I do like distorting what I consider to be the truth, but then again I don’t know what the truth is anyway.
JAGGER: I want to repeat a lie that I know you told me. I know you split from your wife and when I asked you, are you still living with your kids, you said yes. So tell me the truth now.
STING: The truth is I’m still living with my kids.
JAGGER: And your wife went away and you kept them? Is that the truth?
STING: My life is flexible.
(Andy Warhol arrives)
JAGGER: Andy, why are you so late?
ANDY WARHOL: Hi. I’m scared of Sting. He was so frightening in the movie.
STING: I’m trying to be charming.
JAGGER: Sting, say whatever comes into your head and believe it when I say these words: Clean.
WARHOL: See, I would have said pickles.
STING: We were having a very deep existential argument when you came in and said, “pickles.”
WARHOL: Are you making another movie?
STING: I have plans to do another one.
WARHOL: I really enjoyed your movie a lot. It was so peculiar. The name of the movie is peculiar, too.
JAGGER: It’s very difficult for Americans to know that “brimstone & treacle” is a drink for orphans…
STING: It’s a laxative.
JAGGER: Treacle is something that resembles honey.
JAGGER: Brimstone is something that resembles sulfur, so it’s a mixture of sweet and bitter.
STING: Sweet and medicinal. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. But it gives you something to talk about. They said you can’t have it in America because the kids don’t know what it’s about, but you can tell them.
JAGGER: You were educated by priests in a convent.
STING: I taught in a convent, I was educated in a school that was run by priests.
JAGGER: Are you Catholic?
STING: I was brought up Catholic, now I’m a devout musician.
JAGGER: As a Catholic I believe that once a Catholic always a Catholic. Are you still a Catholic somewhere against your own will?
STING: I think everyone who went to my school reacted to the reactionary regime that was down on us. In effect, I’m grateful for it because everybody became a little quirky, a little revolutionary; they wanted to fight against it. I’m not against reactionary education, strict education.
JAGGER: Do you feel guilt about this or that?
STING: Yes. I mean there are demons inside me but I manage to use them for my furtherance.
WARHOL: I grew up a Catholic and I don’t feel any demons.
JAGGER: Andy, do you feel any guilt?
WARHOL: No. About what? I go to church, it’s so pretty. I never understood it because everything was always in Latin.
STING: It’s not in Latin anymore.
JAGGER: I prefer mass in Latin to English.
WARHOL: I do, too.
STING: Me too, the mystery in it. So, I will tell you about my next film. It’s set in a big castle, like Kafka, an enormous castle that’s been there forever and ever, so long that nobody can remember when it was bought. And the castle is run by ritual which cannot be moved. They have to do the same things every day from time immemorial. And the story is about a kitchen boy, he’s very clever and he works his way through the hierarchy till he’s almost in control of the whole place. And it’s about his eventual destruction through his pride and his sense of evil. He’s very like the character in Brimstone & Treacle. He’s clever but tainted by the devil.
WARHOL: Do you have parts in there for us?
STING: I think so.
WARHOL: Great. You’re going to give us the lead parts?
STING: Not the lead part. I figure I could have the lead.
WARHOL: Oh, okay…
STING: Alphabetically, you’d probably be last.
THIS INTERVIEW ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE JANUARY 1983 ISSUE OF INTERVIEW.
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