We here at Forum Magnum are pretty much a family. In fact three of us are family and our other contributor is the closest thing you can find to family without the blood or legal designation. Like any good family we agree on many things, and we disagree on a fair amount as well. This idea is all about the disagreements. Legend or Lame is something that we will revisit from time to time in this space to settle, once and for all, the arguments that we wage against each other in the world of pop culture*. In order to do this we must set some ground rules for debate. They are as follows:
- There will be a maximum of four rounds to the argument, less if we get bored;
- Each round will follow the format of (a) opening argument (b) opponent’s rebuttal and (c) rebuttal to the rebuttal;
- The lead arguer will rotate each round providing an equal amount of opportunity to state your case;
- After each round the anointed judge will declare a winner to the round, most rounds takes the argument;
- In the case of a tie on rounds, judges discretion to who had the better overall argument.
Now that the pleasantries are out of the way we can focus on the subject for our first installment of Legend or Lame, Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner CBE. Better known to the world as Sting. Much can be said about the enigmatic front man of The Police, and still so many questions that go unanswered. Why the bass? Why couldn’t The Police hug it out? Why is there no video to King of Pain?** How did you get the moniker of Sting to stick? All questions that remain unknown to most, even the most rabid of Sting’s fans. However, the key question to us at Forum Magnum is this. Is Sting a legend or is he lame? Maybe lame is too harsh of a word, although some might say he has some lame tendencies. However, the question is a valid one. Has the career arc of Sting from front man of one of rocks more unique acts to solo artist to solo experimental-ish musician tarnished his legacy in any way that he would not be considered to have that legendary status that would have likely been earned had he just stuck with turning out reggae-pop to the masses with Andy and Stewart. To help us come to this understanding I have enlisted our resident Police and Sting fanboy extraordinaire C. Smith and the Keith Richards of the early 2000’s industrial rock music scene in Cleveland, Mitch. These two will duke it out over three rounds of debate to determine once and for all is Sting legend or lame.
Utilizing the age old method of flipping a coin, it was determined that C. Smith would have honor of leading off.
C. Smith: I’m honored to be asked to defend my argument of the legend of Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, who I will, from now on, refer to simply as Sting. The easiest, and best place to start is with some hardware…
Either with The Police or Solo, Sting has been honored with 38 Grammy nominations, winning a whopping 16; nominated three times for an Academy Award; a Lifetime Contribution award by the Kennedy Center; nominated seven times for an MTV Video award, winning once; nominated once and won an Emmy; star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; appointed a Commander of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for services to the Music Industry; French Government appointed Sting a Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Letttres; and finally, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In total, Sting has been nominated for 76 awards and won 36.
In addition, four of the five Police albums have been selected as 500 of the Greatest Albums of all time by Rolling Stone, with two of their songs be included as one of the 500 Greatest Songs. They were also included in both VH1 and Rolling Stone 100 Artists of all time.
This should pretty much seal the deal immediately out of the starting gate as Legendary. If you disagree, which I believe you will, you will at least have to think this puts him into the Legend discussion. Like his music or not, that’s a lot of accolades by his peer group and, not to mention he has sold over 100 million records, a sizable number and large recognition by his fan base.
So, I’ve laid out my initial foundation of why Sting is a legend. I await your rebuttal.
Mitch: I’d like to begin my argument with a question… how do you just decide one day that you have a nickname like Sting? Do you decide, or is it assigned to you? How do you perpetuate its usage, “name’s Gordy, but folks call me Sting?”
The term legend gets thrown around pretty loosely these days. To me, for an artist to be considered a legend they have to have significantly shifted the course of music and have a major impact on everything that follows. As C. Smith has pointed out, I do believe Sting is in the discussion, but I think there are two areas where he falls short…
1) Song writing: I don’t necessarily hate Sting’s music; I just think that he’s significantly overrated as a songwriter. Based on the era that he did the majority of his most successful writing, I feel he has benefited by getting lumped in with serious songwriters like U2, Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. While “Roxanne” and “Every Breathe You Take” are great songs, I simply feel this makes the Police more of a one or two hit wonder than a legendary act. Many other songs in the Police catalog are repetitive and quite lame like, “De do do do, De Da Da Da.” De do me a favor and change the channel.
2) Relatability: First of all, Sting is a notorious prick who didn’t get along with his band mates and just sort of has the face of and asshole. Secondly, He eats weird food and lives in a castle doing freaky tantric sex shit and never ejaculating… I can’t relate to this guy!
So, the hardware and awards C. Smith has laid out is impressive. But let’s just keep in mind a few things 1) Michael Bolton has multiple Grammy and American Music Awards and 2) The Staple Singers are in the Rock Hall… So, in the end, do awards make a legend?
C. Smith: Thanks for the thoughtful email and let me respond accordingly.
First, Gordy didn’t invent the name Sting. He was given this name very early in his career, pre-Police, when he appeared at a gig, playing base with some older dudes, wearing a sweater that was black and yellow. His fellow band mates thought he looked like a bee, so they began to call him Sting. The nickname stuck and he has forever been referred to as Sting. We can debate whether the name Sting itself is lame, but I challenge you that having a single name speaks to legendary status already, i.e The Boss, Madonna, Cher, Bono (you knew I couldn’t go much further without some kind of U2 reference), “Prince Symbol“, you get the idea.
But let’s discuss the meatier rebuttal points. Song writing was actually going to be one of my future points to support my legend argument so let’s start there. True, De Do Do, is a little fluffy, and Sting has certainly produced a ton of Pop love songs. But you must dig a little deeper to fully understand his song writing prowess. I sense you may need a little education regarding Sting’s background, and one important point is worth mentioning. Sting spent some time as a school teacher; thus, many of his lyrics have not only literary and historical references, but often times follow a narrative.
One of the easiest examples is from the Synchronicity album, Wrapped Around Your Finger (it’s the video with the candles). First two lines of the lyric:
“You consider me the young apprentice,
Trapped between La Scylla and Charybdis.”
The second line refers, to Greek legend(s) of two sea creatures and/or opposite sides of the Strait of Messina (between Sicily and Italy). Which metaphorically refers to having to choose between two evils. Before I even go any further, how many ‘lame’ rock n roll song writers would challenge their audience with this kind of reference?
Any who, as the song progresses, the young apprentice is enticed by another woman who happens to have a ring around her finger (wedding ring). Hence the chorus, “I’ll be wrapped around your finger.”
In the third, and most important verse, another historical reference: “Devil on the deep blue sea behind me, vanish in the air you’ll never find me, I will turn your face to alabaster, when you find your servant is your master.” Wait for it…“You’ll be wrapped around my finger.” Tables have turned and the woman is now love with our young apprentice.
Not only has Sting referenced myths and Greek legends, but he has created a short story narrative, all within one song.
I’ll continue. In another Police song, Don’t Stand So Close to Me, he again creates a short story narrative of a young student who temps the teacher into a love affair, causing the teacher to “Shake and cough, just like the old man in that famous book by Nabakov.” How many songs can you name that reference Humbert Humbert?
I could go on, but I think I have made my point regarding songwriting, that may not be legendary, but is certainly not lame.
I’ll lightly address your final point about reliability, for you touched on several different points. Specifically, if we singled out every artist who was a prick, looked like an asshole and couldn’t get along with his/her bandmates, then few could claim legendary status.
Also, it sure didn’t take long for you to start slinging some mud. What weird food? Sounds like to me he was on the cutting edge of this silly vegan craze, Yoga and trying to satisfy your partner. I only wished he would have written a how-to book and set the bar high for everyone that’s trying to emulate him. And who, by the way, wouldn’t want to live in a castle? Isn’t the popular phrase “my home is my castle“?
Whoa, I’m going to stop right now and keep this argument above the line. You went deep early. But I’ve still got two more major points for my four pronged strategy.
That being said, I knew I shouldn’t have mentioned the Rock Hall earlier. Live and learn.
Mitch: The Police watered down punk and reggae music and made it more palatable for white American record buyers. Then, Sting leveraged his fame into a sad adult contemporary career.
Jeff (the Judge): I will serve as an impartial judge here because 1. I do like the Police and 2. I do think some of Sting’s solo work is lame. So that’s about as middle of the road as we can get.
This was a compelling first round. I will say off the bat I was disappointed in C. Smith’s argument on hardware. The Grammy’s are a notoriously senseless bunch (I mean Jethro Tull won the first ever ‘Metal‘ Grammy award). Additionally, only one has been in a Big 4 category (album, song, record and best new artist) winning song of the year for Every Breath You Take. It should also be noted that while The Police have been inducted into the Rock Hall, Sting is still lacking the induction for his solo work.*** The Rolling Stone list references are valid as these were actually compiled by various artists and industry people submitting their own top 50 lists which were then compiled into the larger lists. It should be noted though that once again we have all Police albums but none for solo Sting. So The Police seem to be clearly a legendary act, but it begs to question is Sting legendary?
Mitch brings up a fair point De Do Do Do is a very stupid song. Also, there are a fair amount of people who are Sting’s contemporaries who are, in all likelihood, better at songwriting. However, I feel that C. Smith successfully defended Sting’s songwriting by digging a bit deeper into The Police’s catalog as I was planning on bringing up Wrapped Around Your Finger and the narrative storytelling style of many of The Police’s songs (Message in a Bottle also qualifies).
The relatability is a decent point, but as C. Smith points out which bands actually get along? Gene and Paul are notorious pricks towards Ace and Peter. The Beatles didn’t get along all that well towards the end (stupid Yoko), Roger Waters and David Gilmour…the list goes on. That is what makes the U2 boys somewhat of an anomaly. They have been at it for 35+ years now, same lineup, no squabbles over who gets paid. Hell even Bono and The Edge made a Broadway musical together! On his eating habits, although it is a short list of vegans who I actually trust, I can’t fault the guy for eating his veggies.
Although there are some interesting points that were made on both sides, and some of them will expand in the arguments to come. I have to give this round to C. Smith. Between his fellow artists providing some accolades and interesting lyrical references there is more to the man than meets the eye.
ROUND 1 – LEGEND
Part 2 coming tomorrow…
*Generally over copious amounts of alcohol. We will try to keep it on the level here though.
**This is C. Smith’s number one question for Sting. Seriously.
***Fun fact Eric Clapton is the only three time inductee to the rock hall (Yardbirds, Cream, Solo). Sir Paul must be eagerly awaiting the nod for Wings.