MUSIC

The prime of pop’s renaissance man

Brian D. Johnson July 1 1985
MUSIC

The prime of pop’s renaissance man

Brian D. Johnson July 1 1985

The prime of pop’s renaissance man

MUSIC

Brian D. Johnson

The shirtless torso has become almost as famous as the face that goes with it. Bared in the recent film version of Dune and paraded across the pages of Gentleman’s Quarterly and Vogue this month, the lean frame and impish features of British rock star Sting have had relentless exposure. Now, having abandoned his role as lead singer of the stellar pop group The Police, Sting is enjoying the limelight all

by himself: last week he released a jazz album on which he sings and plays guitar, his first solo effort, and later this summer he will star in two major films, with Meryl Streep and Jennifer Beals (Flashdance). Tanning by a Toronto pool recently, dressed in navy sweat pants and a black digital watch, the 33year-old son of a milkman discussed his good fortune. He told Maclean’s, “It dawned on me how lucky I was when I spent an afternoon making love to Meryl Streep—acting, of course. Part of me left my body and looked down and said, ‘You’re getting paid for this, mate.’ ” Born Gordon Sumner, the former schoolteacher became an international star during his nine years with The Police, whose last album, Synchronicity,

sold more than 11 million copies. At the same time, his screen image began to take shape with sinister roles in the black comedy Brimstone and Treacle and the science fiction epic Dune. But this year Sting is emerging as a diversified artist of larger talents. After leaving what he calls the “safe haven” of The Police, he assembled four of America’s leading young jazz musicians and recorded The Dream of the Blue Turtles, which already has advance orders of 100,000 copies in Canada alone.

In August Sting, who now commands a fee of $1 million a picture, will appear with Streep in a film adaptation of the Broadway play Plenty and with Beals in a romantic Frankenstein spinoff, The Bride. As well, director Michael Apted (Coalminer’sDaughter) has made a documentary of Sting’s new work. Said The Bride’s director, Franc Roddam: “He is the perfect multitalented Renaissance figure—a combination of the thinking man and the beautiful body.”

In The Dream of the Blue Turtles, an insistent tone of social concern galvanizes Sting’s lyrics. On Russians, a Slavic-styled dirge, he asks, “How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer’s deadly toy?” The lyric refers to American scientist Robert Oppenheimer’s atomic

bomb and to Sting’s own four children: two by his first wife, actress Frances Tomelty, and two by girlfriend Trudie Styler, with whom he lives in north London. The album strays far from pop, and its musicians, including saxophonist Branford Marsalis (brother of acclaimed trumpeter Wynton), have created an eclectic, moody backdrop for the urgency of Sting’s throaty tenor.

The title itself refers to a dream in which four blue turtles tore up his back garden. According to Sting, the turtles represented his new band destroying the pop music formula he had developed with The Police. Said American rock critic Fred Schruers: “Sting’s intelligence is thoroughly evident in the lyrics of his new songs. He is a gifted writer of melodies and deserves credit for taking a risky foray into jazz.”

Sting has also managed to develop a reputation as a respectable actor. Although he is a veteran of nine films and has worked with such seasoned professionals as actress Joan Plowright (Brimstone and Treacle) and producer Dino De Laurentiis (Dune), he says that he is still learning the acting profession. In Plenty he plays Mick, the workingclass lover of the character played by Streep. Working opposite her, said Sting, “is like playing tennis with somebody who is brilliant. You can’t help but learn.” Fred Schepisi, director of Plenty, said that because Sting comes from a similar background to Mick’s there was an easy identification. Added Schepisi: “He has an honest emotion and heartfelt intensity that is quite genuine.”

Clearly, Sting is anxious to be taken seriously as both a diligent actor and an intelligent singer. He also manages to escape most of the strictures of stardom. He takes his role as a father seriously, devoting regular time to his children. As well, he pursues his interest in Jungian psychology and has made a booking on an expedition to climb Mount Everest in 1994. Still, the image that propels his career forward both at the box office and in record stores has as much to do with glamor as with artistry.

Photographs portraying him as a high-fashion, half-clothed Adonis clearly illustrate his physical appeal. “It sells,” acknowledged Sting, “and to a certain extent I enjoy getting away with it. I hope when I’m not getting away with it I won’t do it anymore.” For the moment, there is little doubt that Sting is enjoying the luxury of having his way.

With Ann Walmsley.

Ann Walmsley