To quickly recap round 1 C. Smith took round one of the Legend or Lame dispute by providing us with a in depth look at the lyrical styling of Sting and citing some of the hardware he has taken home over the years. A solid argument, however, many holes are there that need to be filled. It is time for this argument to enter the Thunderdome.
Mitch: Okay, so we’ve established that The Police are a legendary band and I can live with that. But Jeff brings up an excellent question; does this automatically make Sting a legend? And I guess the larger question being, does fronting a legendary band automatically make you a legend? This is kind of a tricky area. Bands that stick together and continue to pump out sub-par music don’t seem to be subjected to the same scrutiny as an artist who goes solo. This isn’t exactly fair, but I don’t make the rules. I simply abide.
Take the Rolling Stones for example. Whether you’re a fan or not you have to respect their place in rock history and I think most people agree they had a pretty good run there in the mid-to-late sixties/early-seventies and have been pretty much on autopilot ever since. The flip side of that is a band like U2, who’ve managed to continue to put out albums that are not necessarily great, but respectable.
Solo life after a legendary group is a little tougher. Ozzy managed to slur his way into a successful post-Sabbath career. But think about his colleague, Robert Plant, who fronted one of the most legendary bands in rock history, then followed that up with numerous solo albums that even the most hardcore Led Zep fans listened to once (maybe twice, but only to see if their ears had betrayed them). One could argue that RP’s solo work is so tragic that it’s actually diminishing his legendary status…
And then there are artists like Sting. I have to admit, I don’t really know that much about Sting’s 30-year solo career other than the handful of songs that got radio play including: “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free”, “We’ll Be Together”, “Fields of Gold”, “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You” and “Desert Rose.” These are perfectly good songs, but I would argue that if you imagined that The Police never existed, and that this was a brand new artist, the best-case scenario would be that he’d be mentioned in the same context as a Bryan Adams or Richard Marx. In other words, not a legend.
I guess the other thing I’m having a hard time with about Sting (both solo and The Police) is his impact on music as a whole. I just don’t hear a lot of people say, “Man, that Sting really made me wanna learn to play bass guitar,” or, “The Police had a huge impact on my musical direction.” And, while I understand the points that have been made about his songwriting and lyrics, I’d say 1) narrative story-telling in a song isn’t anything new or innovative and 2) referencing Greek Mythology and obscure short stories only reinforces my argument that this guy’s just not relatable to a lot of people. I will admit that it’s clever, but honestly I’ve never been moved enough by any of his songs to delve that deeply into their meaning.
C. Smith: As I thought about crafting my argument after I received the initial Legend versus Lame challenge, your main point below was the weak link in the chain. Does Sting’s solo career tarnish what he accomplished with The Police?
I think we agree that if The Police would have continued making music at close to the level they produced during their five album run, legendary status would be fairly easy to argue. Of course, The Police are not ever going to be mentioned with the Mount Rushmore legends you mention below, i.e Stones, Led Zeppelin, etc. However, I think, assuming they continued, The Police would have eclipsed some of their later peers like Pearl Jam and REM, which have had at least some staying power throughout the decades. By the way, I’m not arguing that Pearl Jam and REM are legends, I only mention them as reference points for comparison.
I’m not going to spend a lot more time on Sting’s solo music career, but I must mention that his first solo album went triple platinum and was nominated for four Grammys. His second and third solo albums also went multi platinum and also had Grammy nominations. In addition, during these early solo days, he recruited many top musicians who wanted to play music with the legendary Police front man including Bradford Marsalis, Kenny Kirkland, and David Sancious. Point is that Sting continued to be a relevant force within popular music and was continually recognized by both the industry and fans many years after the breakup of The Police.
To completely understand the legend of Sting, I think we should also consider his contributions and work outside of making extremely popular records. I mentioned in my first argument that not only has he been recognized in the music industry, but he has also been nominated three times for an academy award and has also won an Emmy. But that’s still producing music.
There’s much more to our little Gordon Sumner. You might not know this but Sting is also a thespian.
He’s appeared in a dozen films, with one of my favorite’s being Dune. That’s one hell of a messy movie, but his character is basically lifted from the Synchronicity video. That’s the video where he’s wearing multi-colored rags while hanging from a rope with trash blowing in his face. Google it next time you’re drunk and you might have bad dreams. He also wears this garb in the 1983 Atlanta concert video. Google this concert’s version of King of Pain and you might have a wet dream. Another memorable role is in Ritchie’s Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. It’s a bit part, but worth watching.
But there’s more. Sting has also starred on Broadway and, just recently, wrote, produced and starred in a Broadway musical, The Last Ship.
Jeff, I think it was wise to not define what characterizes a legend. Each of us probably has a different viewpoint. I believe that you must consider how relevant one is to those around him and whether the public continues to recognize and value your contribution. Sting has proven that he continues to have something to say and people are listening. True, that legend was created as a front man for a legendary rock band, and he continues to pirate on that success with a huge reunion tour with the original Police members, and a current world tour with Paul Simon, where I suspect his set list will heavily rely on the De Do Do Da, and Roxanne.
Even through our few emails, we addressed qualities, good and bad, that make up legendary. Sting is know for crazy diets, yoga and weird sex. He has a castle a few miles from mystical stones in England. He sometimes writes weird music and plays crazy instruments. He appears on stage with Puff Daddy somehow producing a hit song while butchering one of The Police’s greatest hits. He tried to save the rain forest.
Taken all of this as a whole, Sting slowly becomes more than the front man of The Police. He’s pompous, arrogant, smug, confrontational, but weirdly talented and charismatic. He’s been on the world’s stage for over 35 years and is as easily recognizable any of the Beatles or the Stones.
In short, Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner is legendary.
Mitch: I really feel like this is a very close race. But, as is my challenge, I will continue my argument that Sting has not quite done enough to enter into the pantheon of legends.
C. Smith brings up a good point. Had Sting continued on with The Police, or, for that matter, joined the dead-by-28 club, we would not be having this discussion. It is the culmination of what he’s done post-Police that has taken him from potential legend to run-of-the-mill pop celebrity.
I get it. It is hard as an aging artist to continually re-invent oneself to stay relevant. There are few who have done it successfully. I would argue David Bowie for one. Set aside a few questionable decisions like the Let’s Dance album and the movie Labyrinth, and we’re talking about a pretty legendary, on-going career.
I think Sting’s fatal flaw as a solo artist is his devotion to jazz music. By no fault of his own, the majority of the pop and rock listening public simply doesn’t like tunes that are too heavily jazz influenced. We are largely a three-chord society, love it or hate it. You start throwing in augmented-seventh chords, world instruments and 7/8 time signatures, and most people are running for the exits. Post-Police Sting loyalists may have purchased these albums, but I’m guessing that in large part they a) didn’t understand most of what was trying to be conveyed musically and b) overall, didn’t like them. I took the time to read the reviews of his last few albums, and they came with diminishing accolades. I, for one, commend Mr. Sumner for following his musical path, but while I respect it, I don’t think it allots him automatic legend status.
No offense, C. Smith, but when it comes to Sting’s acting career, I think you’re grasping at straws. Every musician thinks he can act, just like every actor thinks he’s a legitimate musician (Bruce Willis, Russell Crowe, Johnny Depp, etc. etc.*) Although, I will admit, Dune and Lock Stock are the shit.
As you said, I think the crux of this argument is how each of us defines a legend. In my opinion, a legend has a lasting impact on not only his/her peers and fans, but the music scene and generations that follow. There are plenty of artists that I adore uncontrollably that I don’t consider legends. Same as there are artist that I don’t like that I must admit are legends (i.e. Bob Dylan). I think the distinction truly is what defines a legend and what simply makes an artist an icon. In my opinion it’s lasting relevance. Example: Justin Bieber is a pop icon, but few would argue he will achieve legendary status.
I am definitely not suggesting that Sting and Bieber are in the same category, but I think this is an extreme example of how legends and icons differ. Personally, I consider Sting to be more of an icon of his era than a true, lasting legend.
Jeff (Judgement): I am going to start with some help from my friends at Merriam-Webster:
Icon – Noun – a person who is very successful and admired or an object of uncritical devotion
Legend – Noun – a famous or important person who is known for doing something extremely well
This is interesting. Not that I think these definitions are the end all be all, just a fun point to raise. Is Sting someone who is known for doing something extremely well or is he an object of uncritical devotion?
On to the debate at hand an my role as judge, jury and executioner. For starters I am not weighing much on Grammy nominations or wins. As this past year has shown U2 could basically release a record of Bono taking 12 dumps and it would get a Grammy nomination. Also, around the period when Sting was receiving these nominations the likes of Steve Winwood, Bruce Hornsby (solo), and Bobby McFarrin were winning big awards. That’s not exactly a murderers row.
Of all the arguments posted on this round I think Mitch makes a very interesting point that absent the Police how would people view Sting? I tend to agree his solo work merits the comparative likeness more to a Richard Marx (or gasp Kenny G or Michael Bolton) than say someone like his purple holiness Prince or David Booh-ie**. I see C. Smith’s point that people are still buying and listening to Sting, but does that qualify him for legendary status or does that make him merely iconic? A thin line to be sure, but an important one for purposes of this exercise.
For now I just judge round 2 and I think the weak link (as C. Smith put it) takes the round.
ROUND 2 – LAME.
*Eddie Murphy? He liked to party all the time, and gave us classic Rick James.
**See this post for more information