Sting conquers all... (and stays semi-detached)...
Sting, the leader of the Police and face of 1982, is holding court in a seedily exotic New York night spot called The Underground. Next to him a marshmallow-breasted blonde is whispering of the things she could do if only he would let her. Though Sting doesn't appear to be listening, she looks furious when her burblings are momentarily interrupted by a fat man, sweat dripping from his face on to his solid polyester suit, who muscles in to tell the singer of the new film he wants him to star in.
"It's made for you... made for you...", he splutters.
Close by, like a vulture hovering is a cross-eyed drug dealer waiting his moment to try to offer the star the little envelope of cocaine crystals he holds in his hand. And every few seconds a fresh, nervous supplicant arrives to plead an autograph, a picture, or simply a gawp. To the victor, truly, belongs the spoils.
Hours earlier, 20,000 fans had stamped, clapped and cheered their approbation when the Police had played one of the most triumphant shows of their career at Madison Square Garden. After conquering Britain, the Police are hell bent on taking on the world. They have just been voted band of the year in Rolling Stone, America's only important rock magazine and Sting tied with Mick Jagger for the title of best singer. All of their last three albums have achieved platinum status in the States, all the singles have made the upper reaches of the charts.
Not since the sixties has any British band galvanised America's young people, so shaken up the business who pull the music industry's strings. Small wonder then that the screams from the audience when the band steps on to the stage at Madison Square Garden has the decibel power of a Concorde take-off.
Sting looking as thin as a blade of grass, in his black suit, jack-knifes his body as he plucks out the first bass chord of 'Message In A Bottle' and the screams from the audience grow louder still as they recognise the song. The band slide quickly through 'Shadows In The Rain', and then guitarist Andy Summers - in baggy blue trousers and glittery jacket - is bouncing around the stage like an astronaut in zero gravity for 'Walking On The Moon'. Though it is only the third song the audience is already singing along word perfectly with the band.
In full flight now, with drummer Stewart Copeland powerhousing away, behind them, the Police soar into 'Bring On The Night', 'One World Is Enough' and 'Invisible Sun' virtually without a pause. Next comes Roxanne, Police's first hit and the harsh white spotlights are shone on the vast audience - three times as large as any seen at Wembley Arena - while they call and reply to Sting's chorus. Then suddenly the band has vanished and the audience hold lighters and match flames aloft in the darkness as they scream and plead for their heroes to return. Moments later, the Police are back to thunder through 'Don't Stand So Close To Me', 'Can't Stand Losing You' and 'Regatta de Blanc'.
Sting, drunk on the adulation, looks scathingly at the New York Knickerbocker banners, hanging from the lofty ceiling, and rasps: "It seems very curious that this roof on Madison Square Garden has been here so long. I realise tonight's the night it goes - but I need a little help. All you have to do is finish this song..."
Straight into 'Be My Girl' then, and I swear the roof does almost tremble, as 20,000 New Yorkers roar out the words. One man is so moved that he feints past the army of security guards to dance briefly beside Sting. One song later the band go again. But the crowd are at such an emotional pitch that they refuse to leave until the trio returns to sing 'So Lonely'. I doubt if one person takes the new lyrics Sting fits to the melody seriously. "Here in New York City ah ... I feel so lonely, feel so lonely."
Yet later as the beautiful girls and hustling men clamber over one another to be near Sting at the party staged in the band's honour at the Underground, the words ring curiously true. "These people don't touch me," Sting whispers to me, as he poses for yet another photograph. "They touch Sting. The thing they impugn on is not me personally. I can just detach myself from all of this."
This strange ability to be at once apparently open and available whilst simultaneously remaining closed and unreachable gives Sting an aura of mystery which is a part of his appeal for many fans. It is a quality he was aware of even in the days when he was teaching himself to play acoustic guitar at his parents' home in Newcastle.
"I'd bury myself in it," he once recalled. "I was pretty selfish and isolated. I think that's what made my Mum smash my guitar once when I was about 14. I watched her do it. I could have beaten hell out of her but I responded to the dramatic nature of the gesture. I just looked at her and made her feel ashamed, then walked out and didn't come back for two days."
Now that he is 30-years-old, a millionaire and a superstar, music has become work - rather than something to withdraw into. Instead, he now turns to literature for escape and isolation. At least two of his songs were inspired by Ted Hughes poems. And he quotes Jung or Arthur Koestler as glibly as pop song lyrics.
"It's really one of the things that having money has done for me," he says. "It doesn't mean I feel any more fulfilled than I did five years ago. But, in a sense, money has been a catalyst to help me find something other than the need to earn a buck. It's enabled me to find time to read about, and become interested in things like politics and mysticism."
Sting's aloofness, his relentless drive to succeed, has led in the past to unhappiness for those drawn too close to his flame. He still becomes distressed at any mention of a girlfriend who miscarried his baby when he was in his 'teens, and who subsequently committed suicide after her mother died from cancer. And his relationship with the hugely experienced 39-year old Andy Summers and the strong-willed Stewart Copeland has frequently been Stormy. At the Underground party, a worried Andy Summers confided to a friend that he believed Sting was planning to record a solo album. A rumour Sting refused to discuss.
"I like the tension between the three of us," he confesses candidly. "Strength, conflict, hate, love, joy, pain, and we are winning - that's why we are still together after five years. The ego clashes are essential to the dynamism of the group."
Though Sting is exhilarated by the Police's success, he is well aware that their triumphs do not bear comparison with those of the Beatles. "They were totally, utterly alone and unique," he says. "Rock is old now. Our audience isn't just 14 year old girls. You can't get the 35 year olds who also come to our shows into a state of hysteria. We are entertaining people who are not going to become hysterical."
Nevertheless, Sting's following, coupled with his distinctive good looks, now make him instantly recognisable in most corners of the globe. "Sometimes I do wish I wasn't famous," he says. "Like when I'm walking the dog or out with my son. And the nightmare that sometimes hits me is that even if I stopped now and had no further success I'm probably always going to be recognised as the bloke who used to be Sting..."
© The London Evening Standard by Jon Blake
Radio sticker image courtesy of Dietmar & Raphael