08.01.1983 - Smash Hits
Approaching it from New York in a big black car, Shea Stadium looks like the spaceship that lands at the end of 'Close Encounters Of The Third Kind'. It's almost round and completely bathed in light; a warm halo glowing against the night sky. Driving closer, an atmosphere of intense excitement and activity is evident. 67,000 people have bought tickets to see the Police play here tonight. Thousands more have been disappointed.
"Don't show up if you haven't got tickets," warns the Channel 7 TV reporter. "Police are keeping all non-ticket holders away from the stadium."
Nevertheless crowds have gathered around the stadium in the hope of hearing the group from outside and mounted police brutally move them on. At the gate leading backstage you can't even get in if you've got a pass and there's a lot of pushing and shoving.
The Police are so hot in America at the moment that everyone at the stadium seems to want to get closer to them. Kids with tickets for the top levels of the stadium want to get to the lower levels. Kids on the lower levels want to be on the pitch. Kids on the pitch want to get in front of the stage and a lot of kids want to get backstage. People who've got backstage want to stand beside the stage just to see Sting, Stewart and Andy going on while the hangers-on beside the stage actually want to stand on the stage while the band play. That's close.
"They're gonna be great!" a fan interviewed on TV shouts. "They're gonna ROCK THE HOUSE! They're number one!"
All day over New York City the brooding melody of 'Every Breath You Take' can be heard spilling out of radios, cars and shop doorways. On the day of the concert it has been Number One single in America for seven weeks while 'Synchronicity' is at the top of the album charts. The concert in New York sold out in a matter of hours and even bigger concerts in Philadelphia and Los Angeles will follow it as part of the Police's 30-date tour. Today it seems that the Police are the biggest group in America, just as on another day it might seem like The Rolling Stones or The Who.
"It all seems to have happened step-by-step," says Sting, "and this time everything fell into place. We've got the biggest album, the biggest single, the biggest video, the biggest concert tour. It's the result of hard work - we've done about nine or ten tours here. It's just a logical progression. It really is." He smiles.
The problems and personal pain that fame has brought Sting have been endlessly chronicled by the press (and Sting himself in songs like 'Every Breath You Take' which refers to his recent split with his wife). There's even rumours that the Police are about to break up. An American music paper reports that they recorded 'Synchronicity' without really communicating to each other, going into the studio to record their individual parts separately.
"That's rubbish!" splutters Sting. "We've realised what our strengths are and what our weaknesses are. In a sense we must get on terribly well to be on-stage together. We still work as a group, our records are better than they've ever been. Something somewhere works, man, and it's worth the difficulties, it's worth the problems."
In spite of these problems he's remained charming and lively. In conversation his North-Eastern roots are still obvious; the way he says "man" in a sentence is pure Geordie, as in "howay, man" rather than they "hey, maaan" drawl of the music business insider. And while he's ambitious and determined he retains a bit of an 'it's better than working for a living' attitude towards his career.
"I could be a car-worker, you know. I could be a coalminer. No life is wonderful."
He returned from Mexico a few weeks ago, having completed a role in the film 'Dune' ("They're still filming it but my bits are done") and now rates himself "a promising apprentice" in acting. But it's not his long term ambition.
"I have ideas to express and the only way to express them is to be director or the producer but certainly not a bloody actor. It's a foot in the door as far as I'm concerned."
What other ambitions has he left?
"I'd like to climb a mountain in the Himalayas."
Selling out a concert at Shea Stadium has a significance for many people far beyond mere crowd statistics. In 1964 and 1965 The Beatles played here, attracting 55,000 people, at the time the biggest audiences ever gathered to hear pop music.
"It means a lot to me," admits Sting. "If you look at the reasons why I'm a musician, I'm a musician because of The Beatles. There's no doubt about it. My life was changed by The Beatles and so to do what they did, to stand up there on stage and think, well Lennon stood here, is very emotional for me - almost unbearable.
Backstage, the arrival of the Police is preceded by the road crew indulging in some last minute tearing around while around the ramp that leads to the stage a crowd gathers, mainly composed of young women in short skirts and long, black hair (in America, the 'rock'n'roll' chick is still a thriving species). Wives and girlfriends and nannies holding children are the first to march up the ramp. Then Miles Copeland, the group's manager stomps up, followed by a roadie carrying a red guitar. Suddenly Sting is striding up, looking both nervous and rather cocky. Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers aren't far behind. Sting dances a few dislocated steps, wiggles his index finger at Stewart and Andy, and the three run on-stage.
It's a triumphant concert. After a dull start with three songs from 'Synchronicity' Sting leads the communal singing of 'Message In A Bottle' and a rapport with the audience has somehow been forged. Above the stage hang three big video screens, transmitting moving images of the Police to the entire stadium. As the opening chords of 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' shimmer, the screens display Sting's face. He's lightly running on the spot, as he often does while playing his bass. A light breeze ruffles his blond hair and his sharp, bony face and gleaming eyes are brought into focus. For a moment he looks too good to be true, almost unreal, like a beautiful alien. And then the moment passes and soon the crowd are joining in with the woh-ohs! that crop up in numerous Police songs, the call and response like the dialogue between the synthesiser and the spaceship at the end of 'Close Encounters Of The Third Kind'.
"I'd like to thank The Beatles for lending us their stadium," he jokes before encores of 'Roxanne' and 'Can't Stand Losing You' and then it's pandemonium and all over.
"You know," he says to me at the party afterwards in the stadium's bar, "I'm an old man. I can play in front of a hundred thousand people and not bat an eyelid but tonight I was close to crying."