Rock and roll may be dead, but Sting’s having a good fucking time dancing on its grave.

Sting — King of Pain

Item: On June 6, 1961, while working on the manuscript of his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, notes Swiss psychologist, psychiatrist, and occult philosopher C.J. Jung died at the age of eighty-five at his alpine home in the town of Kusnacht. A longtime associate of Sigmund Freud’s, he spent his long and distinguished career researching novel scientific concepts as the relationships between psychology, alchemy, and psychic phenomena, and fashioned a theory he dubbed “synchronicity” to attempt to explain the noncausal relationship between the prophetic dreams he’d had throughout his life and their actual fulfilment. N the afternoon of Jung’s passing, there was a fierce thunderstorm, and lightning struck his favorite tree in his garden.

Item: On March 3, 1983, Scotland Yard revealed that the bodies of prominent Hungarian novelist, intellectual, and social activist Arthur Koestler, seventy-seven, and his wife, Cynthia, fifty-five, were found seated in chairs in an upstairs room of their elegant flat in the Knightsbridge section of London. Both were dead from a barbiturates overdose in an apparent suicide pact. Koestler had been the author of such acclaimed books as the Roots of Coincidence, the anti-totalitarian novel Darkness at Noon, and Ghost in the Machine, which suggested a chemical solution for the divided houses of faith and reason in the human brain. He was also vice-president of Exit, a British organization dedicated to voluntary euthanasia, or “self-deliverance,” as he termed it in a how-to pamphlet he’d written for Exit. The New York Times reported that the Koestlers were initially discovered by their maid, who had promptly obeyed the note near the corpses, instructing her to phone the police.

Item: In 1981, a band called the Police, led by a coolly charismatic blond British singer-songwriter called Sting, released a chilling· rock album, about the loose transistors and unsoldered circuits in the nerve boxes of humankind, entitled Ghost . in the Machine. The platinum-selling record and sold-out world tour supporting it established the three-man group as one of the biggest and most important pop acts on the planet. In 1983, following rumors that the Police might break up, the group re-emerged with another collection of chiefly Sting-authored songs in an album called Synchronicity. Thematically, the new album and its first single, “Every Breath You Take” (both of which simultaneously topped the charts internationally), put forth the concept that the most significant task of any individual is to achieve harmony between the conscious and the unconscious, i.e., the only antidote to evil is self-knowledge, because our dreams can literally invoke monsters.

“‘Every Breath You Take’ is evil and insidious,” Sting cackles. “People don’t know what they’re hearing! It’s absolute poison!”’

“When the Ghost in the Machine album came out, I was in touch with Koestler,” says Sting, chatting somberly after a bracing round of tennis on the Police’s sprawling, rented Long Island estate; it’s only two days since his band played to a record-breaking, rabid 70,000 rain-drenched fans at New York’s Shea Stadium, but he shrugs at the mere mention of it, his thoughts elsewhere.

“You know, the news of Koestler’s suicide didn’t surprise me in the least. I wasn’t outraged or shocked at all, because the circumstances were perfectly reasonable: The man was sick with leukemia and Parkinson’s disease, he was in pain, he was very old. He made arrangements that would cause the least amount of fuss, and his wife’s decision may have been her own. Throughout his life Arthur Koestler said, ‘If you have to go, do it with dignity,’ and he did.

“Strange that Koestler should take his life so soon after my discovery of his work,” Sting continues, courtly and comfortable in angelic tennis whites and woollen sweater. “And for a songwriter, that idea of Jung’s that two events can be linked not causally or logically but symbolically is very important — that’s what artists have been doing for years! They use symbols to maximum effect!”

And what, Sting was asked, would be the operative symbols in, say, a song like “Every Breath You Take”?

“Well, it’s funny you ask. People say to me, ‘Ah, it’s a really nice love song,’ but that’s not how I see it. The I’ll-be-watching-you motif is quite frightening. Perhaps the song was a synchronistic prophesy, because as a people we’ve all gotten to Orwell’s 1984 a year early — the book is no longer science fiction but a sublime aggregate of the world’s current atrocities. As for the song, I think it’s shadowy, evil, and insidious, and the fact that it’s been at the top of the American record charts proves the point.

“People don’t know what they’re hearing!” he cackles exuberantly. “My God! It’s absolute poison!”

Beware, good pop-music fans, of the steely, centered soul who knows no ambiguities. Mark well the rock and roll cyno-sure who is so intently focused on his chosen path that to impede him ever so slightly in his personal mission would seem to constitute a most grievous assault, deserving the darkest of retaliations. Such a person is a beast, a machine, an agent of malevolence.

Rock and roll has long been accused of breeding such demi-demons like rabbits. Consider Mick Jagger, lanky fast-lane Lucifer in the minds of many, as he sidles into Sting’s dressing room backstage at the Hartford Civic Center, where the Police are holding forth for two mid-August shows on their interminable global road trip.

Minutes before, the atmosphere had been slack and unfocused. Tall, raw-boned Police drummer Stewart Copeland rhapsodizes for the benefit of friends and roadies about the soundtrack he’s composed for Francis Coppola’s film Rumble Fish. “Coppola calls me out of the blue — and you gotta call Coppola back, right? Boy, he made me realize writing a film score is a craft, an art….” Genial, moppish lead guitarist Andy Summers poses for pictures with master jazz percussionist Jack DeJohnette and his wife and daughters (“Such lovely ladies! Who could decline such ravishing visitors?”). Over in the corner, Sting had been filling the last of his pre-show free time by nuzzling with golden-haired Trudie Styler, who is several months pregnant with Sting’s child.

But all the casual, half-assed backstage ease evaporates as Mick crosses the threshold, looking like unmade bedlam, attired in a ragged pair of black paratrooper pants that could have been two duffle bags sewn together during the limo ride up from Manhattan, the matching jacket tres cheap, the shirt under it a sublimely shapeless complement to the whole sad-sack ensemble. Jerri Hall brings up the rear, a raven-eyed mannequin on fire in severe designer playclothes, with the teenage and darkly beautiful Jade Jagger in blue jeans and meek pursuit.

The air begins to snap and crackle, jagged electricity coursing around the cramped quarters. The suddenly sheepish Sting is sufficiently off-balance to opt for a momentary retreat, slipping into the shower to don his stage clothes. Jagger is flashing his crinkly squint and fleshy smile in a slow, deliberate pan, taking in the ten-odd mere mortals frozen in his midst, when tonight’s featured attraction returns in an artfully rent peasant outfit that could pass for Martin Guerre’s pajamas. There is a quietly bald brand of duel in the offing here, the young and sprung new-rock rooster testing the storied cock of the walk to see if he still trusts his footing in the barnyard.

Jagger deflects Sting’s funky, sinewy display by launching into a giddy soliloquy about tours gone by — an impromptu history lesson that reduces everyone to hungry spectator status, and which he concludes with a devastating anecdote about the time James Brown dared to stand up the Stones as an opening act.

“We offered him a fair price, a fair price,” says the mock-broody Jagger, suddenly twisting his hurt-little-boy scowl into a triumphant leer — “but ’e never fuckin’ showed up!”

A bountiful guffaw ricochets off the concrete walls, camaraderie solidly established, and Stewart Copland decides to try for a smart-alecky dig: “Hey Jagger,” he inquires confidently as he tapes up his fingers for the night’s work, “Do you know the words to all of our songs?”

Big laugh, from Jagger especially: two points to the beanstalk with the drumsticks.

Sting begins to bounce on the balls of his feet as the roar grows outside, and the near poetry of his finely tuned athleticism pulls all eyes back to him.

But Andy Summers, an elfin wiseass who’s seen such ploys before, ogles Sting’s mangy macho getup, indicates the trousers, and says, in a superbly timed stage whisper, “Er, Mick, didn’t you wear those on your last tour?”

A furiously grinning Sting leaps at Summers with feline suddenness, lunging for his neck at the instant the call “Showtime!” is barked in from the corridor. The startlingly raw power and grace of Sting’s reflexes loom as the last word in the cutting match as his attack propels the Police through the open door, out into the arena, and on up to the rock-and-roll altar.

Jagger, eclipsed, stands blank-faced. He had ruled the roost, but Sting wound up owning the moment. And there’s nothing like a rampaging ego feeding on tens of thousands of ravenous, paying customers to tip the scales — dangerously — in any power game.

The stirringly high-pitched lead singer of the Police knows this, being an intent student of Arthur Koestler’s and C. J. Jung’s unusual theories about the human brain and the horrific potential in the dark side of all of us. Problem is, he also feels it, being protagonist as well as pupil.

In the last five years, we’ve all been treated to increasingly heavy doses of Sting’s stunning Aryan-Adonis persona, observing a savvy, vaguely sinister rock ringmaster who pushes our adulation and sex-drive buttons with a flourish and a chilling smirk. Persona, you know, is a Jungian term. Originally, the word referred to the mask worn by an actor, but it gradually re-entered the vernacular sporting the shrewd Swiss doctor’s new definition: “The persona … is the individual’s system of adaption to, or the manner he assumes in dealing with, the world. Every calling or profession, for example, has its own characteristic persona. But the danger is that [people] become identical with their personas — the professor with his textbook, the tenor with his voice. One could say, with a little exaggeration, that the persona, is that which in reality one is not, but which oneself, as well as others, think one is.”

Thanks, professor. We don’t want this to deteriorate into Rock Psych Ill, but Jung’s point here was that you can’t deny the dark side of yourself — your “shadow,” as he termed it, which “personifies everything the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself.” If you do, you become whatever it is you’re resisting — a Milque-toast … or a monster.

However, if you don’t resist and find out a way to, say, act out your shadow without being engulfed by it, you just might survive the icy-cold, nihilistic, exquisitely metallic side of your nature and avoid programming yourself for vengeful self-annihilation.

Think about it: Up to this point, in all of Sting’s film roles — Radio On, Quadrophenia, Artemis ’81, Brimstone and Treacle, and now director David (Elephant Man) Lynch’s screen adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune — he’s played a snot, an arrogant punk, a determined malcontent, a suburban fiend, respectively; and lastly, a celestial prince of evil named Feyd-Ravtha.

“Feyd-Ravtha is an heir to the Harkonnen’s feudal system,” he says of his sci-fi alter ego in Dune. “His is a family of really bad, just rancid people, and they live on this really sick planet and they have terrible diseases with huge boils of pus and are wicked. I got very partisan on the movie set — you’re either a Harkonnen or an Atreides, who were the good guys. I hated the Atreides actors, and we had separate dressing-room wings. If you had to do a scene in which you were angry at Atreides, you spent half an hour before-hand telling them to fuck off!”

You see, this is a race with the Devil that goes beyond the Method, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Having showed up at various junctures, over the last two years, to observe one man’s spirited fight to save himself from the ever fluttering impulse to

‘Sometimes I get very angry and violent, particularly if things have gone wrong … in which case I really feel like I want to kill … just go for the jugular!’

play the fatal wild card, it’d be best to let the story tell itself. Suffice it to say that Sting has had a shuddersome glimpse or two at his own faulty wiring, the ominous shadow switch that could all too easily be thrown should he permit his delicate fuses to become overloaded. Sorry to have to draw you all into this messy business, but, hell, Sting was really the one who started it all.

In 1977, Sting, aka Gordon Sumner, the tenor sax-like jazz vocalist and bassist with a faltering British band called Last Exit, quit that nowhere gig to become part of a London-based rock quartet called the Police. The group had been recently founded by drummer Stewart Copeland, third son of an ex-CIA agent. Soon afterward, Corsican rhythm guitarist Henry Padovani was fired and the Police became a threesome, with classically trained Andy Summers, late of Eric Burden’s Animals and the Soft Machine, on lead guitar. With a loan of £800 they recorded and pressed their own record, a single called “Fall Out.” It would eventually sell 70,000 copies.

Three years later, the Police found they had risen above embattled Britain’s punk upheaval on the strength of Sting’s haunting, reggae-fired songs of loveless prostitutes, mass alienation, and the specter of apocalypse to become one of the most popular mainstream rock bands in the world. Yet Sting, a young, handsome, rich, outlandishly successful chap with a pretty wife and a kindergarten-age son, now found himself full of the foulest sort of contempt for life itself.

“I was catatonically sullen for a full twelve months,” he says. “Very difficult to be with. Very aggressive. Impossible. I knew I was just treading water artistically, and behind that knowledge was an awesome feeling of negativity and a detesting of everything. In a sense, my son Joseph, who’s now six years old, created my nihilistic period in that I felt that if I died tomorrow, I’d had a good life with a lot of vivid experiences — but my child was entering a world that was increasingly small, increasingly polluted, increasingly violent, increasingly meaningless. Especially if we were all going to be blown up next week by a tactical nuclear device. I felt he was being cheated out of a full life, and so what was the fucking point?”

As the soaring voice, pop theorist, and popular focal point for the Police, Sting found himself turning out razor-edge compositions with titles like· “Bombs Away,” “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” “Shadows in the Rain,” “Driven to. Tears,” and ‘When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around.” Zenyatta Mondatta, the album on which these songs appeared, was a huge commercial success, easily selling over a million copies in America in the penny-pinching winter of 1981 and spawning two singles that ruled the Top Ten charts for months.

Sting, however, now feels that the record was “a failure — a very, very poor record.” Describing the intense bleakness of his outlook during that period, he conjures up visions of a charred, smoldering mental landscape, riddled with fantastic rubble and cramped pockets of chaos, nightmarish scenes from which there seemed to be no avenue of escape. He almost relishes the recollection that he could have allowed himself to skid that close to the brink. And the only thing that pulled him back, he is sure, was a mere book. One he had first chanced upon many years before but in his callowness had not grasped and appreciated. Yet, on second reading he was more prepared to heed its urgent message. Or so he offers, with the soft-spoken serenity of one who assumes he is in control of all things tangible, a tentative convert to the mysterious, solitary religion of self-love. That’s why he urged the other Police men to abandon the silly, annoyingly exotic titles (Outlandos d’Amour, Regatta de Blanc, etc.) they’d been giving to their albums, and name their fourth and best effort after the controversial treatise on behavioral psychology that Sting sincerely believes may have been the literary work that saved his mortal ass, Arthur Koestler’s Ghost in the Machine.

“Through the book, I became more spiritual in a very scientific way,” he says, sipping from a steaming cup of tea in his anonymous suite at the Parker Meridien Hotel, in Manhattan. He is wearing blue sweatpants and a VICTOR MATURE LIVES! T-shirt that depicts Mature as Tarzan thinking “I wish I was deep instead of just macho!”

At this juncture, the Police were halfway through an extensive 1981 American tour to support Ghost in the Machine (in early spring the No. 1 album in the nation), and the transformation the book brought about in Sting was still very much on his mind. “Rereading it, it spoke to me, and in a logical way it ended my lazy grip on logic,” he says, his blue eyes burning out from the lean, vulpine face with an intensity that seems almost predatory. “Prior to that, I was very much a robot. Let me explain one of Koestler’s theories: When the rail-way train — the renowned iron horse — first reached the Plains Indians in America, the Indians examined it, searching for the spirit in the steam locomotive, wondering where it resided in the machine.

“Seems ridiculous, right? But, in fact, modern nuclear physics has brought us to the point where the simplistic Newtonian universe has fallen apart. The atom’s been split once, twice, and then geometrically, with new, smaller particles being discovered within it every day. And the particles being discovered aren’t hard little pellets but rather things like quarks, which exist outside of normal time and space and are a form of magic.

“Consider this!” he barks, bending over to rap sharply the shiny surface of a glass coffee table as he slowly stalks about the room flexing and stretching his slim, sinewy frame. “If you get down deep enough inside the atomic structure of that glass, the particles become magical in their structure, in their properties, in their very selves. Therefore, the idea of a hard, mechanistic universe is ludicrous. Therefore, we are not machines either!”

He leaps, catlike, to the open window and bellows down into the park stretched out far below his aerie, “We are spirits in the material world!”

Sting is all sharp angles that catch the light in often dazzling ways — somehow making you glad you’re not in his position. He shakes your hand, and as he stares you down, you think you might be gripping a velvet glove with only skeleton fingers underneath. His piercing gaze finds that queer fear and blinks it back at you with a slight snigger. And then he’s just this agitated, hyperactive guy again, hopping or mooching around the room, bright but ungenerous about it, arrogant yet likable, friendly although utterly self-absorbed. A lanky, thirty-one-year-old, bleached-blond bass plunker slouching in dirty track shoes. But creepy. St

Turning suddenly, a Satyr’s smirk on his face, Sting jumps over a low couch and goes to a cluttered desk in the messy, musical-equipment-crammed living room. He picks up several books, brandishing them as he speaks.

“After rediscovering Koestler, I started to read Carl Jung and the/ Ching, and I got very interested in tarot cards. I met a clairvoyant, who’s now a great friend of mine. He’s not some end-of-the-pier entertainer but rather a clever, well-read, and intelligent man. He told me that I was indeed a machine in terms of my behavior, one with no heart, emotionless, and that I would have to work to alter this. But he said the fact that I could write songs, play music, and be creative showed that I had at least the· potential to become a larger person than I was at the time.”

He sets the books down and picks up a deck of tarot cards, their backs illustrated with the cross of the ancient order of the Knights Templar.

“These cards were designed in the 1940s under the supervision of Aleister Crowley. They’re quite stunning. Crowley’ was known in his lifetime as ‘the evilest man on earth’ and ‘the great beast.’ Maybe he was; I don’t know that much about him. I think he was a man of insight and considerable psychic knowledge and power who, unfortunately, became quite perverse, his wisdom decaying into something distasteful.

“My favorite tarot card is Death,” he adds, turning the top card over. “Oh!” he says, mildly startled. “Here it is! How strange Death should be right on top. Anyhow, I find it extraordinary how strong are the feelings this card inspires in me. Death symbolizes ultimate change and the end of illusion.”

Has his clairvoyant friend ever predicted the hour of Sting’s own death?

“No, he isn’t like that, but someone else has told me that information — and more than that I’m not going to say.”

And what, if anything, does all this have to do with rock and roll and the current pre-eminence of the Police?

“Well,” he says, showing a chilling smile as he holds up the Grim Reaper card. “I think that rock and roll is dead, but the Police are having a fucking good time dancing on its grave!”

Their sound owes little to the British punk pandemonium of the late seventies, but the Police earned the lasting disdain of most punk rockers in the United Kingdom when they bleached their hair blond early in their careers in order to portray arnhetypal members of the safety-pin-through-the-nose set for a Wrigley’s gum television commercial. It was Sting who drew the rest of the group into the acting stint, since he had been making ends meet during that period by modeling and appearing in TV ads, a move suggested by wife Francis Tomelty, a well-known actress on the British stage. For Sting, the gum ad seemed like a step up from TV clips hawking gold chains and Triumph bras (“I was an extra· in the background, not the featured attraction”), but most of London’s snotty scions of the Sex Pistols immediately regarded the Police as something new to sneer at.

Ironically, the Police was one of the bands to initiate the punk-populist practice of issuing homemade records. “Fall Out,” written by Stewart Copeland, was released in 1977 on Illegal Records, a label founded by Stewart’s older brother Miles. And while the band eschewed the three-chord, three-minute head-splitting hubris of their contemporaries, they had other innovative approaches to the business of rock and roll that the punks would have done well to have emulated.

Sting, Copeland, and Summers were hungry for an income when they became a trio. Sting (he got the nickname from wearing a ratty black-and-yellow striped jersey while playing with a traditional jazz band called Phoenix) was married, unemployed, and had a month-old baby; Stewart was down on his luck after having quit college in California to join a now defunct band called Curved Air; and Andy had tried everything from gigging with Zoot Money to backing up Neil Sedaka for a live LP. Everyone was moonlighting, with meager returns, in the wake of the release of “Fall Out,” so Stewart went to brother Miles, a prosperous music entrepreneur-manager and record executive, asking for seed money to finance an album demo. Although given to dumping on the group, Miles came up with the cash, and they began cutting what would become Outlandos d’Amour in January of 1978 in the sixteen-track Surrey Sound Studios, located in a seedy section of London. Miles would drop by on the odd sleepless night to listen and reaffirm his belief that the Police were a bust. That is, until the evening he heard Sting and company run through the reggae-propelled “Roxanne,” a plea to a hapless Parisian hooker from her lover for her speedy retirement. Seems Sting had gotten the idea while strolling through a red-light district.

The band, which had been getting into reggae jams at rehearsals, was reluctant at first to play the new song for Miles because it wasn’t aligned with the strident New Wave cants that were then cresting commercially. As Miles listened, his cynicism evaporated, and he pronounced the song a “classic.” He offered to take the track to A&M Records, which was doing quite well with another of his acts, Squeeze. He returned to the studio the following night to announce that A&M had agreed to release “Roxanne” as a one-shot single. When it appeared, in the late spring of 1978, the Police were touring in Germany and Miles, who had become their manager, was in the States on business, so the single didn’t get the corporate push it might have. Worse, the BBC didn’t like the idea of programming a serenade to a French whore. Adieu, “Roxanne.” A&M agreed to float a second reggae-flavored Sting single called “Can’t Stand Losing You,” but it also stiffed, suffering from radio censorship because the lyric concerned a spurned lover threatening suicide.

At this point, the trio was drifting apart. Stewart took some of his own songs into. the studio and cut them under the pseudonym Klark Kent. Sting, on a tip from his wife’s agent, was considering auditioning for a film about the mid-sixties clashes in Britain between the mods and the rockers. It was to be based on the Who’s concept album Quadrophenia.

“I didn’t think there was a hope in hell of getting the part,” says Sting, referring to the role of Ace Face, the icy-cool, mod lady-killer, “so I strolled into the Who’s office on Wardour Street in filthy overalls, looking like a garage mechanic. I was carrying a copy of Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, and Frank Rodham, Quadrophenia’s director, asked me about the book. We got on like a house on fire — it turned out he was a poor Newcastle grammar-school boy like me, and finally, without even auditioning me, he said, ‘Okay, you’ve got the part.’ I kept thinking, ‘Jeeze, I’m in a major motion picture!’ “Although well received critically and a big box-office draw in England, the film had only a limited release here. But it established Sting as a solid screen presence, a fact reaffirmed in his other movie experiences: The Rock and Rock Swindle, Radio On, The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball, and Brimstone and Treacle.”

Suddenly Sting was a cult hero, Stewart Copeland was enjoying his own cult status as the elusive Klark Kent, and A&M realized it might be the ideal moment to exercise their album option on the Police. Outlandos d’Amour was hurriedly released to strongly favorable reviews.

Especially surprising about the sudden shift in fortunes was the care with which the band indemnified itself against future reversals. The Police decided to decline the standard huge advance, which a hot new group gets when signing for a major label, knowing that the giddiness that accompanies the receipt of .such a lavish cash outlay is followed almost inevitably by the painful payback when profits begin to trickle in. Instead, the members shrewdly opted for an unusually substantial royalty rate. The next matter was the organizing of the all-important initial American tour. After further deliberations, the band shunned all pop-star pretense and the road-trip pageantry of private jets and limos. They got themselves a van, were their own roadies, rented any other hardware they required along the way from local outlets, and stayed in fleabag motels. Lastly, they played their hearts out, and the critics’ and public’s response was such that their record company was virtually compelled to give “Roxanne” a second chance on American Top Forty radio. It hit, but the band continued to keep its collective head — and overhead — down, quietly recording their second album for a mere $6,000 (only twice as much as the first!). The third was done for $40,000 and Ghost in the Machine for a more conventional, but still relatively modest, $100,000. By December of 1982, the Police were shuttling between the tropical hedonism of Air Studios, in Montserrat, and the baronial splendor of Le Studio, in Quebec, signing the checks for major-league-rockstar bills.

But what’s most amazing about the Police is the fact that they were able to stay together long enough to get anywhere at all. To say that there are long-standing tensions within the ranks is an exercise in understatement on a par with the assertion that George Burns wears a bad toupee.

A standard impromptu appraisal of Sting from all-American hard-ass Stewart Copeland: “Not only does he hate humanity, but every human within the species, except for his family …. If Sting, because people say he is in the driver’s seat, wants to throw his weight around and take over, no way am I going to let him do that and no way Andy is going to let him do that. Nobody is going to push me around! If Sting felt that he was going to try and push me around and commanded me to do something, saying, ‘Look, fuckhead, I wrote “Roxanne,” so you do this,’ then I would tell him to piss off.”

A standard conciliatory remark from Blackpool-born Andy Summers, whose muse is tempered by four years of classical study at San Fernando State College: “As Picasso, I think, once said, beauty is convulsive.”

Sting, reflecting on the dialectic: “Bullshit!”

Onstage, the brittle alliance somehow works, the band playing with a die-cut interdependency while discreetly gazing off in three very different directions. Sting overtly milks the crowd, his short bursts of ebullient bouncing giving way to a rolling, sensual sway as he whips his solid body along the lip of the stage in a suggestive tango; and when the inflamed female population hugging the guardrails begins to squeal at the roughhouse pantomime, he curtly cuts them off and wins back the macho fellas with a flash of his muscular, spacious bass phrasing and his spooky “Ayo-yo-yo!” incantations. Spacy Andy satisfies the guitar-hero worshipfulness simmering in any loyal rock-and-roll throng by shooting out a frighteningly brisk barrage of clipped harmonic chords — artfully raw riffs that merge sinuously into a humming whole. And self-absorbed Stewart supplies the percussive pyrotechnics that advance the performance, with his latest gripe, his everbruised ego, and his fierce flair for rumbling a· perfect millisecond ahead of the assaultive reggae time signatures all coming together like the reverberant chop! of a hundred synchronized guillotines.

Live, the Police’s sound is an uncanny orchestration of fiery explosion and foreboding emptiness, the audience filling in the intervals with an exhaltation that is alarming in its mutual manipulativeness; but it’s arguably the best arena-rock dialogue since the heyday of the Who. Very thrilling in its forward thrust. Very potent in its mystic ritualism. And often disturbing for the obvious separateness of the musicians, with Sting, high priest and sly necromancer, displaying an ultimate aloofness that reeks of secret treaties and arcane plots.

Backstage after a recent show, they are just three rumpled characters in search of a better offer. Fresh from a two-encore stand in Boston Garden, Summers is chatting amiably in the dressing room with spidery fan Ric Ocasek of the Cars, and Copeland is fretting over some smoldering issue with the sound crew while Sting, dressed in a sweat-sodden white jumpsuit, is curled up on a couch in a remote corner, one hand over his eyes, obviously not receiving visitors.

Still, it seems a good time to force a few issues with the star of the show.

“I tell you, one in ten shows is transcendent, and the others are unfulfilling,” he offers, not looking up. “Tonight was average. I can feel pumped up or released afterward, but sometimes I get very angry and violent, particularly if things have gone wrong out there, in which case I really feel like I want to kill. Really. Just go for the jugular.”

He sighs. Squints upward. Smiles. “I work best when I’m in a trance state, when I’m not thinking and I’m not entirely in control, lost, groping through my on-the-spot emotions. And the latter looks better for the paying customers,” he interjects impishly. “Audiences love it.”

Are such post-concert soliloquies commonplace?

“Well, one of my problems, because I’m so devious, is that I think too much,” he says with a low chuckle. “The only times I really stop thinking are the times I’m fucking brilliant onstage. Most of the time it’s a talent I haven’t got. The process of forgetting myself and clearing my mind goes against my nature; I was conditioned by the oppressiveness of British culture to plan, to plot, to scheme, to worry, to adapt. I’d rather fool people, and have them behave how I want them to because of my trickery rather than my honesty. And that’s me being honest, but I’m only being honest because I’m devious — and I’m telling you all of this because in hearing it you might think better of me!”

It’s becoming apparent why Sting rattles and enrages his co-workers. The next day, when I catch him alone, he seems remarkably candid on the subject.

“The· things the band have said and would be likely to say have more to do with them than with me,” he states evenly. “I think that Andy likes me more than he used to, because I’ve changed. He disliked my machinery, my cold side. That side was necessary for me at the time but hard for others to deal with. He likes the now-more-flexible me.

“As for Stewart, he’s less and less close to me, knows me less and less. He tends to talk a lot about me in interviews, but the things I’ve read have all been untrue. It’s not that he’s lying, it’s that his impressions of me are distorted by his image of himself. He, too, is a machine, but far more rigid than me, and the gap between us is widening daily. Not in some stupid, petty way but in a profound, sad, inevitable way. We’re growing away from each other, and it impairs what’s good between us, which is our music. Our egos get in the way because of the intense differences in the way we behave, and because I’m moving faster than either of my colleagues in every sense. It is Stewart who is most aware of that fact.

“It’s hard when friends outgrow each other, and we’re more than friends — we’re locked together in a dance. The things that made us all good together in the first place are still there, but they’re more difficult to sustain.”

Is rock and roll truly dead, then, or merely suffering through its final throes in Sting’s head and heart?

“I think it’s important that rock and roll change, but the Death card, speaking tarot-wise, has been dealt for rock and roll, meaning that it either changes soon or it’s buried. In its present form, I’d like to see it buried. For the most part, it’s stagnant and inane, having only to do with partying and passing the time. Whereas at this juncture in history, it should be about coming to grips with the worldwide reality of social turmoil, finite possibilities, the looming likelihood of atomic destruction, and the pervasive climate of human desperation.”

And perhaps Sting’s own continual need for change may eventually distance him from an instrument that could help bring it about, the Police?

“Movement causes waves,” he says. “People get stretched, and if you’ re a rocket, personality-wise, bystanders get burned by your exhaust. But that doesn’t mean I have to stop.”

Indeed, it seems that nothing could be further from his itinerary as he moves from divorce proceedings with wife Francis Tomelty to light housekeeping with children Joseph, seven, Kate, eighteen months, and the expectant Trudie Styler, and a projected solo album.

“I’ll keep going,” says Sting, “until the fuel runs out — fssssssssst!” He throws his head back and out comes the familiar, chilling cackle.

As a boy growing up alongside the Tyne River in the northern England city of Newcastle, Gordon Sumner, the eldest of Ernest and Audrey Sumner’s four children (two boys, two girls), felt an aching sense of isolation from his family, his school-mates, and the world at large, which in the last case consisted, until his twenties, of the Newcastle area. Once a thriving port whose economy was based on shipbuilding, coal mining, and heavy industry, it was hard hit by a recession in the thirties and never bounced back. Gordon’s mother supplemented the salary from his father’s milk route with work as a hair-dresser, and in later years Ernest Sumner would come to own the dairy. But during Gordon’s adolescence, times were tough in the household.

“Rock and roll either changes soon or it’s buried. For the most part, it’s stagnant and inane, having only to do with partying and passing the time.”

Appealing role models were few, since his work-impassioned father was a frustrated, taciturn man who resented the narrow slot that stratified British society had handed him, and his mother was a quiet, stoic homemaker. Raised a Catholic in a Protestant country, he was made to feel like an outsider in the community. Within the walls of St. Cuthbert’s Boys Grammar School, the nuns and priests seemed determined to break his spirit and conscript him into the fold. The conspicuous school uniforms — scarlet blazers with matching ties and hot, itchy gray flannel trousers — made him an easy mark for ridicule on the outside, and inside the school the severe beatings resulting from minor infractions were almost unendurable.

Gordon was so repulsed by the school environment that he couldn’t bear to have St. Cuthbert’s code of deportment in his head, much less adhere to it. Seven times in a single year he found himself in the office of the dour dean of discipline, receiving six of the best, square on the buttocks, administered with a thin, cutting, wooden cane.

“His was a chore straight out of Tom Brown’s School Days,” says Sting of the fifty-year-old punisher. “You bent over a chair and the man flailed you on the ass with all his might. You didn’t want to cry, but after three whacks you always broke down, because there was an involuntary welling up of pain and mortification. It was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life,” he recalls.

Equally perverse was the fact that entrance to St. Cuthbert’s was something that Gordon, a diligent student, had earned through scholastic aptitude, since only 10 percent of those who apply to such English institutions are admitted. A star athlete in his mid-teens, he was ranked third in the country in the 100- and 200-meter sprints. Realizing that the achievement meant little to him, he quit the track team.

“A working-class boy in England can make it through soccer, through rock music, and, to a certain extent, through the educational system,” says Sting, stretched out one overcast afternoon in yet another Manhattan hotel room. “But as far as education goes, you can hardly become the foreign secretary, good schooling or not, under a Conservative government. There is a caste system in England, with the impoverished aristocracy sitting on top, and the well born MPs serving them. Back in the thirties, when my father was born, you didn’t have a Labour government. His place was decided for him early on, and it stuck. But when I was born we had the National Health, some open schools, and a degree of social mobility. My father must go bats when he hears I’m making a record in Montserrat or living in a grand suite of hotel rooms in New York City. He’s a reserved man, not a sage-like type, and the only advice he ever gave me was to leave home and join the navy, to get out of the system.”

At seventeen, Gordon applied for a seaman’s card and signed on with Princess Cruises as a bass player in a shipboard dance band, the Ronnie Pierson Trio. He spent the summer sailing around the Mediterranean. He didn’t care for the cruise ship life-style but remains grateful to his father for making him realize that he had the means, through music., to flee.

“I came upon music entirely by accident,” he says, “and I developed it entirely on my own, even though my mother played piano. As far as I was concerned, music was just another barrier to shut the world out; what bothered me most as an adolescent was the sensation that I didn’t know if I had any place whatsoever in it. As a boy, I always regarded myself as a perfect freak, and spent a lot of time trying to fit in. The effort always ended in failure, because I was different. I felt I was cleverer than the people who roamed together in gangs, but I made the mistake of thinking that it was important to get them to recognize and respect that. I wouldn’t be where I am if I didn’t have the feeling of ‘apartness’ that allows me to express myself in a very exhibitionist and noisy way.

“I knew I would never be a part of normal society,” he says solemnly, almost to himself, “but if I didn’t find some freedom, considering the life that likelihood seemed to have planned for me in my teens, I think that eventually madness would have interceded.”

After the working vacation on the cruise ship, Gordon, who had passed his three A-Levels (the British equivalent of college boards), enrolled at Warwick University but quit after one term out of “numbing boredom.” He went to work digging ditches for a construction crew, and then found a job as a tax clerk in the Inland Revenue branch of the civil service. For six months, he abused the post, arriving late, leaving early, taking four-hour lunches, and rereading James Joyce’s Ulysses, his favorite book, on the job. After almost being fired (“It’s nearly impossible to get sacked in the civil service, so that was an early badge of honor”), he went back to college — a teacher’s training school — for three years. Then, after graduation, he “slogged” back to Newcastle to both teach English and coach the soccer team at St. Catherine’s Convent School. During a side gig as a bassist for a theater troupe, he me this Belfast-reared wife and got married at twenty-four. Stewart Copeland showed up, scouting talent for the Police, and Sting moved to London, where he and his family slept on the floor of a friend’s flat.

Among the things he left behind “for what I promised myself to be the absolute last time,” were the depressions of Newcastle and any attachments to Catholicism or the Church of England.

“Protestantism is based on Cartesian philosophy and Newtonian physics, which have largely been discredited,” he says. “It’s a very clean, scientific religion with no mysticism in it. The Catholic Church is full of blood sacrifice and magic, which is probably its attraction. If it were not murky and full of ghostly presences, if it were clinical, like Protestantism, it would now be virtually dead. Its appeal lies in its unsettling symbols, its blood-drenched dogmas, and its rule of fear. I’ve rejected the Catholic religion, but I’m grateful to it for firing my imagination.”

Apparently, he has the same conflicting feelings about his homeland, but has decided to continue living in London.

“England today is a melting pot of raw emotions — mostly shattered pride and agony. Musically, it’s very vital because of its current pain, and I’m grateful for it. That’s very selfish, I suppose, like saying, ‘I enjoyed the Second World War; it made a man out of me and gave me a few book ideas.’ But that’s how I feel about the current hard times. I’m becoming increasingly aware of how self-motivated and self-interested I am. Everybody is, really, but the people who are fucked up are those who won’t admit this.”

He goes on to say that his marriage and the raising of a son have engendered in him a new, but restricted sense of responsibility toward loved ones. Viewing life as a process in which people reach maturity by accepting the inevitability of risk, danger, failure, and the nearness of despair, he regards his chief parental duty to be supportiveness — not sustainment. He has already made a judgment on the parameters of the help he intends to extend to his child.

“I’m very aware that everything I say to him has to go through the father-son filtering process, which means that he has to reject almost everything I stand for. In order to become himself, my son must in fact destroy me. Therefore, anything I really care about I’m very chary to discuss with him. I’d rather he find out on his own. I intend to leave him to his own devices a lot.”

Which includes, Sting volunteers, a firm resolve on his part not to leave his son any of his accumulated wealth.

“I don’t intend to leave him any money,” he declares. “I don’t intend to give him a nest egg or a head start. He has no right to expect any privileges. If, for example, at the age of twelve I had been given a million dollars, it would have harmed me greatly. I’ve seen people who, assured at an early age of receiving great sums of money, then turned into vegetables. I think my son is capable of a lot, but it’s not for me to sweeten the pot or lighten the load for him. I’m his father and that’s it.

“There needs to be danger for the young. I am, for all intents and purposes, fairly safe in the material world, but if I need to create new dangers for myself in order to remain creative I will — absolutely. I feel that responsibility toward myself.”

“And I will not,” he vows, his voice rising, “create a cocoon for another human being.”

Arthur Koestler, guru to the dehumanized and the damned, feels that the human race is hurtling itself past a last-ditch opportunity for redemption. He asserts that the unconscious mind has its own clock, and its own way of digesting what the conscious mind has rejected as indigestible. The leaders of the French Revolution were well aware of this fact, so to hasten the process of assimilation, they introduced a new calendar, which began on the day of the proclamation of the Republic. September 22, 1792, became day one of the year one.

“It would perhaps not be a bad idea,” Koestler writes in Ghost in the Machine, “if we all kept a second calendar, at least in our minds, starting with the year when the new star of Bethlehem rose over Hiroshima.”

Koestler — and Sting — are asking us to mark the day from which we received the ultimate sign to start-over or else. Indications of impending holocaust are everywhere, they warn.

Well, maybe so. Pick up the New York Times on a sunny summer day in 1982 and one can read a headline like: PENTAGON DRAWS UP FIRST STRATEGY FOR FIGHTING A LONG NUCLEAR WAR. A dress rehearsal for mass suicide?

Mind you, when Sting arcs his bass high over his bottle-blond head and the Police kick into “Shadows in the Rain,” he’s singing about Ground Zero and its aftermath. And when the arena suddenly goes pitch black, and skin-tingling synthesizer strains rise from center stage as Sting begins to shriek the lyrics to “Secret Journey,” he is railing about the slim odds that we will heed Koestler’s desperate suggestion to undertake global research studies to find a psychopharmacological “vaccination” to restore the integrity of the split hierarchy of the human brain — the divided house of faith and reason — and rescue the species from the tragic paranoia implanted by evolutionary mutation.

That’s a lot of theory for a Coors-and-cocaine-wired kid in the rear orchestra to digest, of course, but it’s what’s on the singer’s mind, and he feels it deeply. Otherwise, he intones, we reap the nuclear supernova ….

Until the day when science divines a “cure” for human folly (and enough of us are willing to submit to it), we are left to our own devices, individual experiments, and attempts to make sense out of nonsense.

For his part, Sting has become increasingly interested in moral ambiguities, and his film acting has reflected this — most of his characters being manifestly sinister people who are nonetheless catalysts for good.

“I want to learn the craft at my own speed, in peace. The Royal Shakespeare Company has asked me to play Ariel in The Tempest, but I’m more excited at the prospect of doing the part of Caliban, the deformed, loathsome slave. There’s a character you can get something out of.”

On one of our last afternoons together, shortly before he is to finish up the last few dates on the Police’s 1983 tour, Sting proudly hands me a typewritten draft of a film script he had finished writing the previous evening. He says he wrote most of it on a battered, old portable typewriter, on airplanes and in hotel rooms.

The script, called Gormenghast, is adapted from two books of the famous Gormenghast fantasy-trilogy by the late British novelist-poet-illustrator Mervyn Peake. Titus Groan, the first book, from which most of Sting’s script is drawn (he’s already bought the screen rights to the series) appeared in 1946, coming at a time when Britons were suffering through the last cruel days of the war and the start of the peace. They had their noses buried in novels like Brideshead Revisited, The Loved One, Animal Farm — and Titus Groan. Combining elements of Gothic romance and horror and the inventive mythic genealogy and Anglo-Saxon scholarship of Lord of the Rings, the Titus Groan installment of the Gormenghast trilogy was immediately hailed as a modern classic.

“It’s a real arcane allegory for the change that happened in England after the war,” Sting bubbles excitedly, “when the old empire had decayed, and the working class had a new consciousness and began to rise, destroying the old order. Gormenghast is an ancient castle as vast as the city of New York. It exists in many eras simultaneously, outside of normal history and normal human progress. The script is about a particular force in the castle — an evil one — that alters things for the better. The evil is embodied in a person who comes from the lower caste within the castle — the kitchen — who by his own innate wit and cunning ends up in a position of enormous power. Which he, of course, abuses.”

Who plays the evil force?

“Me, naturally!” he says, beaming. “The catalyst! The upstart from the lower depths! In many ways, the story is like a fairy tale.” There’s a parallel with Star Wars in that it seeks to create an autonomous world. In fighting against his evil foe, Titus Groan realizes he can escape Gormenghast for good, and he eventually does.

“All that actors do when they aren’t working is sit and wait for the phone to ring with the perfect job. You might as well wait to win the fucking lottery! I think you have to decide what the perfect job for you is and then go and create it. Whether or not you succeed is beside the point.”

So what happens next for Sting?

“I go home to London to try to sell the script to people with $20 million to waste!” he exclaims as he begins loading his canvas carryall bag with gear for the night’s concert. “Between now and Christmas, I’m just going to peddle Gormenghast, weigh a host of other film offers, think about the solo record, and maybe spend more time with the scientists funded by the Koestler-sponsored KIB Foundation who are experimenting with parapsychology and phenomena like levitation.”

What about the Police? When will he find time to write material for the next album?

“I’ve stopped writing songs right now. I’m going through a period of intake. I used to call it writer’s block; now I just regard it as a tight shit.

“We’re free to make our own timetable for the next LP. We’re not ruled by medieval puppet masters, and don’t have to make another album until 1984.”

But will there still be a Police in 1984?

He stops packing, considering the question.

“I suppose, but in terms of the competition there’s nothing that comes close to the band. It’s all so easy I’m bored with it, not interested anymore. The game is won. My ambitions are wide, which is why I’m interested in film — another game, with still more chaos.

“You know,” he says, stuffing the last of his things inside the bag. “Aging is not so bad. It’s illness, staticness, imprisonment, and decay that scare me. I think I’m coming to terms with death more and more. I feel like the man on the highest tightrope in the circus tent.”

He pauses, sealing his satchel with a violent zzzzzip! The vulpine eyes gleam.

“You see, the spectators want to see me fall….” Out comes that wild, eerie cackle. “Or fly!”

Sting, of course, now tours on his own — and has since 1985 — and continues to demonstrate his keen intelligence and early-adopter strategy as he owns the definitive URL (web address) for his persona. Not only would this mean he registerred very, very early, but he has obviously been able to ward off other designs on the domain. Who wants to piss off beekeepers, after all?

Have Something to Add?