Anyone who knows me knows that I have an obsession with Sting. It’s a passion bordering on mania, but this is a spiritual arousal: Not an unhealthy fixation indicative of dementia. As another dedicated member of the Sting official fan-club pointed out (thank you, Sabine), “Let’s face it – Sting puts a lot of himself out there on purpose and we just lap it up.” Besides, as ALL celebrities know, the only thing worse than being talked about is NOT being talked about. So, I do manage to integrate him into conversation with effortless frequency, bubbling naïveté and truckloads of admiration and gaiety.
I first encountered Sting when I was 10 years old. I am originally from Trinidad and Tobago, and we had a second television station added in 1991. The state monopoly on broadcasting was broken, and MTV, VH1, Grammy and Academy Award spectacles made their way to our islands. Sting had just released his Ten Summoner’s Tales, so he was all over the entertainment media. In 1993, my first impression of him was that he was a hard man. Not particularly attractive in my eyes, but mysteriously compelling. I wondered why this older man was still a star! When he opened his mouth and sang “If I ever lose my faith in you” I understood why.
It was a beautiful song. Its rhythms reminded me of a hallowed church, a holy place that would provide me with refuge had I sought any. Its gentle melody was full of sentiments simultaneously ethereal and palpable. The zen-like softness that flowed out of him, was at odds with his indurated exterior. This inner quality both captivated and captured me almost two decades later.
I was relatively impervious to Sting in the years that followed. I paid cursory attention to his album releases, and enjoyed his songs whenever they were played. However, I was not a diehard fan. All of that changed in September of 2011.
September of 2011 found me extremely discontented, and a hair’s breadth away from being thoroughly demoralized. I was living in Canada, and had graduated with a Bachelor of Public Affairs and Policy Management. Prior to an enforced period of unemployment, due to immigration proceedings, I was living my dream and working in the Social Services sector. I had the supreme privilege of helping people, within an organized and remunerated environment. Then, for 19 long months I was subjected to unpaid inactivity. Those 19 months were the most excruciating period of my life, to date.
I HATED not working. I do not believe that using synonyms, nor repeating that word, adequately conveys the anger and frustration experienced. I was mouthing obscenities as much as I was chanting mantras. My normally calm and compassionate self was in upheaval.
I had been meditating for 4 years by then, but this situation was extremely challenging. Meditation is designed to bring you into contact with your authentic self, but when your authentic self is inextricably linked to your external activities, as an expression of your inner self, a cataclysm must occur. The false identity that is associated with your profession must be destroyed. This is an extremely difficult process to endure.
I was 28 years old and bursting with impatient energy. I considered my ‘self’ and my talents trapped. However, I endeavoured to stay calm and occupied my mind with various pursuits.
Enter Sting: One night, after a Nritya Yoga session, I turned on the television to search for interesting French programming. “My Music Brain” documentary had been translated and was showing on Radio-Canada. I reclined in my leather chair but then could not relax: Sting was walking through the hallways of the Montreal Neurological Institute, and I felt extremely euphoric and uplifted.
I had NO idea why I felt so happy in his presence. Why was I inexplicably elevated? Why had this blissful feeling materialized out of nowhere? Why did he make me feel this way? WHY STING?
I had hitherto been incredibly disinterested in celebrities. I paid scant attention to what they did, beyond analysing their contributions to world affairs. I was both baffled and intoxicated by this sudden fixation with Sting. Who was he?
I googled his name like a woman possessed and obsessed. I read all the articles that I could find about him. I ordered his autobiography ‘Broken Music’ online. And I thanked my lucky stars that he was touring!
He was approaching his 60th birthday and coming to play at Massey Hall in Toronto. I made it my business to obtain a ticket for his performance. I failed miserably after my first lack of attempt. I overslept by one hour the first day they released concert tickets. Then, thankfully the organisers added an extra date, and I awoke on time to resounding and ecstatic success! I procured a good seat in the balcony section, and Sting said one word that would forever change my life…
“FUCK!” He let loose an expletive, as microphone feedback overpowered the room. “FUCK!” The problem reoccurred. I sat there speechlessly absorbing the fact that no one gave a shit. I believe that concertgoers were in shock and awe! The majority of us did not have the privilege of saying “Fuck” at work. I re-evaluated myself and my life until that moment. I had always said the right thing, done the right thing, held politically correct beliefs and been a genuinely good person. Did anyone care? NO! One rock-star said “FUCK,” and 3000 people thought that was friggin’ fantabulous!
Right then and there, I envied Sting. Not for his money, nor his fabulous lifestyle, but for his freedom. The liberty to express oneself without fear of judgement, nor material deprivation, is true freedom. It can certainly be enjoyed if one is not wealthy, but it’s more sublime if one is. I left Sting’s concert feeling slightly high and emboldened.
Before leaving for Montreal, I chastised a young man who was wrongfully berating a street-woman. I told him quite unequivocally that she needed compassion rather than abuse.
Sting could have easily become the working-class man depicted above. He was born Gordon Sumner to a milk-man and a hairdresser, in a far-flung corner of England called Wallsend. At the end of his boyhood street, lay the Swan Hunter shipyard. The most gigantic ships to ever traverse planet Earth were built there. These ships blocked out the sun for most of the year, and young Sting was deeply terrified that working there would become his destiny.
Sting was and is an extremely intelligent individual. He won a scholarship to a prestigious Grammar School, and became seduced by the refineries of an intellect-based existence. His dreams grew larger than those of his working-class peers. He incubated and hatched his fantasies of glorious escape in this milieu.
In his autobiography, he recalls waking up at 5 a.m. from the age of 7 to assist his father with the milk-rounds. During winter-time, it could sometimes be so frigid that there was frost inside of the windows!
The winters of my memory are grim, and there are mornings when I have no sensation in my feet for hours on end, my hands and face blue with cold…Because my dad is tough and stoic I too never complain, or ask to be sent home.
It was during those early-morning hours that he let his imagination run wild. In the silence of those hours, he created “fantastical futures” for himself: He vowed to travel the world, be the head of a large family, own a big house in the country, and be wealthy and famous.
Sting dedicated himself wholeheartedly to his dreams. He endeavoured to become a musician to accomplish these feats. He took inspiration from the Beatles, who came from a background similar to his. He figured that if they could achieve wealth and fame through their music, he was not excluded from this possibility.
He worked determinedly. He taught himself how to play guitar, but quickly realised this wasn’t his forte. He calculated that in order to become hugely successful, he would need to perfect his bass playing and singing. For 16 years, he practiced playing his instruments as a member of various bands. He played different styles of music in diverse arenas: Theatres, bingo halls, local bars and even a cruise ship. Apart from being a musician, he earned his livelihood effecting jobs such as bus conductor, construction site laborer, tax officer and teacher. He was compelled to take welfare checks at certain stages in his life. He writes:
Walking to the Lisson Grove dole on Wednesday afternoons will put me into the blackest of depressions. I hate signing on, queuing up in long straggling lines with hundreds of others like me, able-bodied but marginalized individuals made to feel utterly useless by an impersonal and dehumanizing bureaucracy. But like most of these others in the noisy hall, I really have no choice. We have a baby to feed, we have to find the money to pay the rent…In my quest to become unique, I’ve become a statistic.
Yes, Sting embarked upon his quest with a wife and baby in tow. He was not yet 26. In his father’s eyes, he was highly irresponsible and pursuing ‘pie in the sky’ ambitions. He had quit his job as a teacher in Newcastle to move to London. In doing so, he subjected his wife and baby to uncertainty and near-poverty. It was sheer madness and gargantuan nonsense to his father. Yet, despite these immense pressures, Sting writes:
Even at these low points,I still have no doubt that I’ve done the right thing in coming to London. I can give no rational reason why it feels right to have done this, except I know that London is where the prize is. I know that at the center of this labyrinth, this multidimensional, socioeconomic, psychocultural, and artistic puzzle is the glittering, singular trophy of success. It may be elusive, but it is so powerful in its gravitational pull as to render everything else insignificant.
The rest, as they say, is history. We all know what happened. And we benefited from what happened.
The Last Ship
I glanced at the miniature screen in front of me, and jubilantly saw Sting.
It was January 10th, 2015, and I was on my way to St. Lucia. Sting was participating in a New York Times Talk interview, which I had already ingested when it first aired. He was promoting his Broadway play, ‘The Last Ship,’ and I was thrilled to see it presented on my flight. I hopefully but warily interpreted this as some sort of sign. Unbeknownst but to two of my friends, I had booked my holiday between New York and St. Lucia, to accommodate the off-chance that I would meet Sting, and acquire his signature on my copy of ‘Broken Music.’ Since I had obtained just one paycheck instead of the expected two, ahead of my vacation period, I was forced to be fiscally conservative. Seeing ‘The Last Ship’ was down to winning the daily ticket lottery, but I intuitively took the risk. Others thought I was crazy for substituting 3 days in St. Lucia, with time in New York, but the possibility of meeting Sting was not one that I felt impelled to reject.
As we descended over the Caribbean paradise, an ad for ‘The Last Ship’ aired. I was torn between beholding the majestic Pitons and watching the ad. In the end, they both won.
Darshan in Sanskrit means ‘auspicious sight.’ It refers to an event where a devotee beholds God, or some other manifestation that heightens the person’s consciousness or spirituality. When I was going through my immigration ordeal, Sting’s music was the only music that could calm me. Hindu holy songs (bhajans), Buddhist chants, offerings from other artists; none of these could provide me with peace. Sting’s ‘Soul Cake’ became my sole balm. I believe this is because he constructs his music around a framework of silence. In his 1994 address to the Berklee College of Music, he postulates:
I’m wondering whether, as musicians, the most important thing we do is merely to provide a frame for silence. I’m wondering if silence itself is perhaps the mystery at the heart of music? And is silence the most perfect music of all?
I believe that source and silence contain the ethereal matter of which all webs are spun.
Sathya Sai Baba wrote it beautifully:
The voice of God can be heard only in the depth of silence. Silence is the speech of the spiritual seeker. You can experience divine bliss only in absolute silence.
I could not access source or silence when I was in turmoil. Sting is a conduit for silence, and his music is my and many others’ gateway to it. In his Berklee address, he said:
…If ever I’m asked if I’m religious I always reply, “Yes, I’m a devout musician.” Music puts me in touch with something beyond the intellect, something otherworldly, something sacred.
On the official Sting website, the daily Sting quote of February 3rd, 2013 was:
I would equate music for me as a kind of combination of two things. It’s my mistress. It’s also my religion. It’s my spiritual link to creation. I don’t belong to a church but I’m very devout in that way it’s a spiritual path.
So, did I meet Sting?
These were the fish that I saw while snorkelling. They’re sergeant major fishes.
This is the cover of ‘Broken Music.’
I interpreted this as a sign. A wonder of nature, reduced to a young boy’s jumper to serve my purposes.
On January 15th, when I arrived outside the Neil Simon Theater, I looked for a partner with whom I could enter the lottery. Flo (another member of the Sting fan-club) had suggested I double my chances of winning. Ana Krauchik from Argentina was on-hand. She had a quiet energy which seemed triumphant. Indeed, she had won a ticket in the lottery just two days prior. I wisely aligned myself with her.
Later on, I would find out exactly how triumphant she was. She had photos with other members of The Police, Dominic Miller (Sting’s guitarist of over 20 years), and a photo with the man himself in Romania! She had the ‘juju’ as Kim (another member of our fan-club), would put it. The move paid off and we got front-row seats for $30 a piece.
This was the end result:
Without Ana, this would not have been possible. I am eternally grateful to her. But, I do a disservice to other members of the Labyrinth, if I do not speak about the love and support that flow freely within its realms.
The Labyrinth (lab) is an online community of Sting-lovers. The forums are curated by Dave, Wendy and Tina, the official managers of the Sting website and fan-club. They are wonderful people, allowing us to do what we like. (Providing we don’t offend or abuse anyone!) They also organise loads of contests and giveaways, including concerts or promotional events featuring Sting, and even meet-and-greets with him.
This was my initial reason for joining the fan-club. However, once I started interacting with its members it became a true community. People speak about their triumphs and tribulations. Counsel is shared on a wide-range of topics from grief, to divorce to dysfunctional families. We celebrate all types of anniversaries: Weddings, birthdays and adoptions. We discuss politics, religion and spirituality, very cordially. We even have a haiku thread! I’ve also done yoga with Bryan Kest, courtesy Sabine. But most important of all, it’s a safe-space and haven of love and light. The photo below is a wonderful analogy for our lab.
Taken in Montreal’s Baldwin park, in the summer of 2014, I observed how the dogs gravitated towards each other, and instantaneously became friendly. It was a loving recognition of “You’re like me!” That’s exactly how we are: Sting-obsessed individuals, gravitating towards his love and light and then sharing it.
Sting’s journey has become a part of our lives, and we have become part of each other’s. There’s an excerpt from a French film called ‘Superstar’, which chronicles the life of an ordinary man who became famous, but then became unknown once more. In his ghost-written autobiography, ‘he’ writes:
I hope my story will help those who have battles to wage, who feel lonely and misunderstood, there’s always hope. My story united people who never should have met. Each of them helped me. I wanted to thank them for having loved me a little because being loved means you’re useful.
Sting: You’re very loved and very useful. You have brought joy into the world, and hope for countless others on physical and visceral levels. You are a link to the divine consciousness that has manifested us all. You are a mere man, but you have shown us what is possible. Thank you, infinitely.
- Sting, by Scott Ableman, Flickr. (Photo 1)
- Sting, by Roberto Rizzato, Flickr. (Photo 2)
- Bermuda Floating Dock ready for launching (ca. 1900), Wallsend, Newcastle-on-Tyne, by Municipal Archives of Trondheim, Flickr (Photo 3)
- Sergeant Majors, Neil DeMaster Flickr (Photo 6)
- Sting, by Ana Krauchik, used with permission. (Photo 8)