Shut Up and Sing: Sting Edition

By Graeme Wood
Andrew's readers are giving Gordon Sumner, better known as Sting, a hard time for his song "Russians":

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http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2010/11/shut-up-and-sing-sting-edition/67085/

It's not one of his better songs. There are hilariously pretentious lines here, including the indefensible "Mister Reagan says we will protect you / I don't subscribe to this point of view," sung with unaccountable emphasis on "point" and the first syllable of "protect."  The failed meter is more repulsive than the politics.

I had the chance to take this up with Sting last March in Bombay, India. I was going into the Taj Hotel after a very late night at Leopold's, the cafe around the corner. The Taj and Leopold's were two of the sites attacked on November 26, 2008, when terrorists raided Bombay and killed 167. The Taj's security is understandably tight, with metal detectors and concrete barriers that create a small but permanent snarl of people waiting to enter and exit the hotel. Sting, or someone who looked just like him, was in front of the hotel with two women, among those on the way out.

At the time, Sting was in the news for his decision to play a concert in Uzbekistan for the daughter of President Islam Karimov. Karimov is accused of boiling his opponents to death. Sting reportedly took between two and three million dollars for the concert, which he claimed was sponsored by Unicef for some reason.

I turned back and asked him, "Are you Sting?"

His expression turned dead, and he stared off into the distance before saying, "No." I laughed. I had met Sting's wife, Trudy Styler, once before, and she was standing next to him. If the guy wasn't Sting, Styler certainly had a type.

"Are you sure you're not Sting?" I asked. He was sure, and kept looking off expressionless into the humid darkness of Front Bay. It was getting late, and not wanting to make him deny himself thrice before the crowing of the cock, I laughed again, wished him a good night, and went inside.

The next day I ate lunch by the Taj pool with Eli Lake of The Washington Times and Michael Kennedy of NPR. Sting was at the next table, but we left him alone. Then, as I sipped a dessert smoothie, Sting walked up and crouched by my chair. He wore a tattered blue t-shirt tight enough to reveal a lean, extremely healthy physique.

"Hi," he said. "I'm Sting. Sorry about last night when I said I wasn't Sting. The truth is, my wife and I were having a bit of a row, and, well...." He struggled a second for words. "It's nice to be Sting, but sometimes you really don't want to be Sting." We talked for a couple minutes before he shook my hand, apologized again, and sprang up to leave.

I found the gesture so charming that I forgot my quarrel with him, either about his crappiest lyrics or his tarnished human rights record.

He may be Sting, I thought, but he's not completely a prick.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2010/11/shut-up-and-sing-sting-edition/67085/