Sting at 60 looks back, and ahead...
On a bright, crisp mid-September morning, Sting - singer, songwriter, actor, environmental advocate, yoga and tantric sex enthusiast - strides into his record company's Midtown offices looking, predictably, fit as a fiddle. Under the altogether sunny circumstances, it's surely not too early to wish him a happy birthday.
Or is it? "I've still got two sexy weeks left," Sting points out when the subject comes up, eyebrows raised in mock defiance.
True, the veteran pop star will not turn 60 until Sunday. But he's hardly trying to deflect attention from that milestone. On Saturday night, the eve of the big day, Sting is set to join a posse of fellow icons - among them Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder and Lady Gaga- for a celebratory concert at the nearby Beacon Theatre, benefiting the local poverty-fighting Robin Hood Foundation.
And Tuesday marked the release of Sting: 25 Years, a box set chronicling the former Police frontman's solo career through three remastered CDs featuring album tracks, remixes and live performances, plus a DVD of previously unreleased live concert footage. A single-CD edition, Sting: The Best of 25 Years, will be available Oct. 18.
With all that opportunity for retrospection, what has Sting discovered? "I had the most fun in the previous decade, between 50 and 60," he says. "So I'm anticipating that the next one will be even better. I mean, why not?"
He'll kick off his seventh decade the same way he's spent much of his adult life: on the road. Sting's Back to Bass tour launches Oct. 21 in Boston, with dates in other cities scheduled through early December.
He'll be backed by longtime colleagues Dominic Miller and Vinnie Colaiuta on guitar and drums, respectively, along with Miller's son Rufus, also a guitarist, and two violinists.
"I have no idea what this new band is going to sound like," Sting says. "It could be a triumph; it could be a total failure. But I don't think anything worthwhile is without risk."
That has long been Sting's creative philosophy. His next original project will be a stage musical, The Last Ship, scheduled for a reading in New York in October. "I've written lots of songs," says Sting, who hasn't released a full album of new material since 2003's Sacred Love.
But if his artistic restlessness isn't waning, Sting allows that, in his personal life, he's learning to stop and smell the roses more. "When you reach a certain age, you realize that life is finite. You can be depressed by that, or you can say, 'I'm going to appreciate every minute to its maximum potential.'"
Sting has outlived his parents, who both succumbed to cancer in their 50s. And a keen sense of mortality comes naturally to him: "I've always been a bit saturnine, a serious person. An older person than I was in years. Perhaps that's why I'm not feeling particularly strange about reaching 60."
Music journalist J.D. Considine says that trait could prove an asset, careerwise. "The greatest advantage Sting has is that he has never seemed juvenile. If maturity wears well on a younger man, it should wear even better on an older one."
There are risks for any star who has managed to maintain his sex-symbol stature. "That's the only question, how he can play that aspect of his image," Considine says. "You can be vital and charming at 60, but if you try to act studly, you can seem foolish or lecherous."
Skeptics could point to a recent photo spread in February's Harper's Bazaar that showed Sting cavorting naughtily with a scantily clad babe. But their case would be shaky, as the woman in question was actress/producer Trudie Styler, 57, Sting's romantic partner of 30 years and his wife since 1992.
Sting concedes that the longevity of his and Styler's union, almost surreal by showbiz standards, hasn't come without work. "I think marriages often fail because once people sign the contract, they say, 'That's it.' But a relationship is a living, breathing organism. It needs to be nourished. It also needs to evolve, to be adjusted; you need compromise and flexibility."
Physical intimacy, he adds, "grows as you get to know someone better. And it takes years to get to know someone, really. But you're rewarded for your diligence."
His six children, ranging in age from 15 to 34 - four with Styler, two with ex-wife Frances Tomelty - also provide more joy as the years pass. "I have one at high school here in Manhattan. There are a couple of actors, a couple of musicians, a filmmaker. They're all working their butts off, which is really nice."
Sting stresses that he "didn't encourage any of them to go into show business. We just told them to work hard and enjoy what they do, to treat it as a spiritual path, rather than a method of becoming rich and famous. But they don't take fame seriously, anyway - it's boring to them. When I'd pick them up from school and some mothers would ask for my autograph, it was like, 'Dad- can't you be a fireman or something?'"
Family has been in the fore of Sting's thoughts as he works on The Last Ship. His 1991 album The Soul Cages, written in the wake of his father's death, was "the starting point" for the musical. Cages "was about my upbringing, my hometown in the northeast of England. I lived very close to the shipyard, and the story in the show is about a shipyard that closes, and what happens to the men and women of the community."
Sting notes that musical theater "was my early education, before The Beatles. My mother had all the Rodgers and Hammerstein records, and I ate and drank them as a child. I'm still a show-tunes queen - scratch me and I'll start singing something from Carousel."
He feels that Ship's themes will prove "topical in a way, because a lot of our industries are shutting down. We don't make things anymore in Europe or America."
Indeed, the man who wrote, "You could say I lost my belief in our politicians/They all seem like game-show hosts to me" (from If I Ever Lose My Faith in You, included on 25 Years) has hardly developed a more sanguine view of world affairs.
Asked about the climate in our country as another presidential election nears, he says, "I'm disappointed in the level of political discourse. I hear a lot of nonsense, a lot of downright lies and obfuscation."
Of President Obama, whom he has praised in the past, Sting says: "I think he needs to get tougher. He needs to stand by what he believes in. He seems a bit shy sometimes, when he needs to be strong. But I don't see any alternative - though I don't vote here."
Sting chuckles here, as he does now and then in conversation. Rob Mathes, who produced the box set and co-produced Sting's last studio album, 2010's Symphonicities, insists there's a lighter side to this self-described serious man.
"I think the greatest misunderstanding about Sting is that he's buttoned-up," Mathes says. "He's this incredibly put-together guy; he writes these complex melodies and beautiful lyrics. But when you work with him, he's one of the guys in the band, just charming - and funny. He can be hilarious."
And self-effacing, Mathes might add. Sting says that working on The Last Ship has been "freeing, because I'm writing songs for other people to sing, from different points of view. You reach a point where you think, 'Maybe I'm not sure what I want to say from my point of view anymore. And maybe people are sick to death of what I'm saying.'"
Not that Sting has plans to retire anytime soon. "I play music every day," he says, and he draws inspiration from those who have been at it even longer.
"I saw Tony Bennett the other night," Sting says. "He's still singing his heart out. I need to consider how I'll use my next 25 years. I want them to be useful. I don't want to put my feet up, you know?"
(c) USA Today by Elysa Gardner