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Having wandered through so many paths within music, he often brings back things we are not used to.
The Man's Whereabouts Since Being a Pop-Culture Icon
The short of it is that Sting is still (vigorously) alive and doing what he has always been doing: performing music that millions of people enjoy. I talked with his former manager Miles Copeland to hear his views on Sting and the music world in general.
Cody Brooks: By the first time you saw The Police, you already had a wealth of experience; what sort of spark did you see which enticed you to manage them?
Miles Copeland: Well, it wasn't something where you immediately see a band and think 'Oh wow, they're great.' It was a pretty strange time in terms of the record business. I was working with a lot of bands who were struggling to get attention. The Police did not get much attention, because they really did not represent the new generation in that Stewart [Copeland, The Police's drummer] had been in Curved Air, Sting was in a jazz group, and Andy Summers [The Police's guitarist] was in Soft Machine. So, if anything, from a young punk perspective, they were a bunch of phonies. But they did latch onto the energy that the new generation was coming up with. So they had bought into the energy factor, and the sort of notion that it wasn't about all the money that was behind you. It was really about your attitude to get out there and kick butt, basically.
When I heard "Roxanne," I knew that that...was something different. So literally it all came from that moment when I listened to that song and realized what it was. None of them did. I mean, nobody in the band thought that the song was a game changer at all.
CB: So I suppose it was a roller-coaster ride in the beginning?
MC: No, it wasn't a roller-coaster ride at all. It was a nothing ride. There was no ride. You were playing shit places, and getting gigs because the bands that got booked failed to show up. So there was no glamour, there was nothing.
CB: So, how was it managing your brother [Stewart]?
MC: I don't know if there's an answer to that question that would be particularly meaningful, because you're dealing with musicians who have an ego, they have an attitude, they have a whatever it is. And maybe [with the relations situation] you have a little bit more; but in the end you're dealing with the fact that it's their band and they want to succeed. And in a lot of ways if you don't make that happen, you're not wanted. So, brother or not, it plays a fairly minor role.
CB: What do you think of the quality of music today, as opposed to back then? Do you think it's better or worse, or do you not see a difference?
MC: I think every single generation, the older they get, they look at the current generation as not doing what was as good as what they happened to look up to when they were young. So if I happened to say that things were crap today, I would sound like what somebody would have said twenty years ago, and what my father said twenty years before that. So I don't know that that sort of statement really has any relevance. The point is out of every generation you've got great stuff happening, and you've got shit happening.
CB: I'm actually in a band, and I look back nostalgically at the days of the so-called "gatekeepers," because it seems like the whole swamp of, say, YouTube, is really difficult'but maybe that's just me being envious.
MC: Well, remember, in the good ol' days, for every band that succeeded there'd be ten to twenty that failed'and that's with big labels behind them. So it's always been difficult to break through.
CB: Is Sting an easy guy to work with?
MC: When I worked with him, he was. I can't speak for now.
CB: Because he's more in his own world nowadays, isn't he?
MC: Well he can afford to be, number one. I think the major difference is that when I was forthright and open'let's say in giving my opinion and advice, and you could call it guidance'he was open to listen, analyze and decide whether he thought I was right or not. Now he has people around him who just say "Yes sir, Mister Sting," and he doesn't get that kind of input.
CB: He seems to be in that upper echelon of stars that still sell out concerts, but like you said, he's not really pop-culture phenomenon any longer.
MC: Sting has sort of stepped back and out of the limelight. I think maybe he wanted to. I'm not voicing that as a criticism necessarily. I'm just saying that he was somebody who was very, very important; but when you look at comparisons, I don't know that I would say that he has that mantle anymore.
CB: You've managed a ton of different musical acts. What do you think keeps musical acts going for so long successfully?
MC: Think of how many bands are out there right now, living off of what they did twenty years ago; but ten years ago, the band didn't exist. You think "Gee, what happened here?" you know? So in a sense you have your moment of fame, you say "fuck it, I'm out of here." Then you wake up one day thinking "Why did I do that when someone is offering me money for something I did twenty years ago? Shit, let's take the money!" And the reality is: who can blame anybody?
CB: Where do you think Sting lies on that? Do you think he walked away, or ' well, he did have The Police Reunion Tour.
MC: But again, if you look at that reunion tour, it did well business-wise, but where was the heat? To me, you hear a date sold out, but there was no buzz.
CB: Right, there wasn't that juice.
MC: And you think "what a shame?"
CB: Yeah, from all the energy back then compared to now.
MC: I mean, it was sort of pale. That's the reality of it'it was pale. They went to the money. Sting once said to me, "If you do it only for the money, you're going to end up with egg on your face." So he sort of broke his own motto. He was right!
CB: What about you? Do you have any current business ventures that you're excited for?
MC: I've morphed into a company that is saying, "Okay, the record business as we knew it is no longer there, but there is great interest in music." Music is as important today in people's lives as it was twenty years ago, or thirty or forty years ago, going back to caveman for all I know. But the way you access that music, the way you hear the music, the way you promote the music, and all that sort of stuff, is different. And actually the way you earn from it is different. So, in many ways, I think that the music is not necessarily the way you make money. It's the spinoffs. In the same way that you go to a movie theater and you think that you watching a movie is where the business is. Really, the profit is in the popcorn. So in a very real way you're not in the movie business, you're in the popcorn business.
Now it's entertainment, it's the branding business. You can't really say it's the music business, because that's not much of a business. It's like saying that McDonald's is only hamburgers; pretty soon we might find out that they're selling more coffee than they are hamburgers'then would you call them a coffee company?
CB: What do you think the reason is for that change? Do you think it's the simple answer of internet piracy?
MC: Yeah. Music's free. You can't live off of free. Start a free hamburger stall, one in every street corner like McDonald's; McDonald's would die in a day. Free hamburgers? Who the fuck's gonna go to McDonald's? It's over! So the reality is: you can't compete with free.
Recently Sting toured in 2010 and 2011 in his Symphonicity tour, a reinterpretation of his songs as symphonic compositions. He went everywhere: North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Oceania. This year he is doing the Back to Bass tour around Europe and Africa. The standard is for these shows to be packed or sold out in the thousands or tens of thousands. He said in an interview with David Letterman that his decade from age 50 to 60 was "the best I've ever had."
To me it seems that Sting has won the right to do whatever he pleases, and he uses the freedom to essentially experiment with complex musical forms like jazz and classical, along with flares of world. He enjoys re-imagining songs, also; in his 2009 album "If On A Winter's Night..." he made a song out of the old British ditty "Soul Cake" from the late 1800s. The feel of Sting's songs nowadays have a tinge of maturity, and perhaps boredom. He is like many artists in his position: having wandered through so many paths and caves within music, he often brings back things we are not particularly used to. One can hear the "musician's musician" from time to time within his later work.
Sting still makes film appearances'a track he has been following since the late '70s'most of them as himself. If anyone remembers the 1984 movie Dune you can recall that he was actually not too bad of an actor. (Sting! Act more!)
Sting, really, hasn't gone anywhere. He's just in that "other-realm" where musicians go to enjoy themselves.
Cody Brooks, Contributing Writer: A Caucasian local born and bred in Hawaii, I have gotten used to being in the middle of things — ideologies, politics, race, culture, whatever. Though I rarely know where I stand on a topic, I have come to be quite good at that. I have done an odd variety of things, from saving people in the surf as a lifeguard, to studying philosophy in New Zealand, to fronting a band in Los Angeles. Do not let the preceding lead you astray, though. I have vehement opinions on nearly everything that I will... (more...)