For two rounds we here at Forum Magnum have waged a heated debate about Sting and whether or not he is a legend. In round one C. Smith cited hardware and songwriting prowess to take the point while Mitch came back with body blows about Sting’s influence on future musicians to take round two. Now it is time for the final round. Time to see who can wage the better argument. Time to determine once and for all is Sting a legend or is he lame.
C. Smith: I didn’t think this debate would become as rich in thought as it has become. I figured a few references to some lyrics and the greatness of The Police would quickly be rebutted by tantric sex and overall smugness of the legendary Gordon Sumner.
So let’s continue.
I think we’ve touched on two subjects that are at that the heart of this debate. First, Sting’s body of work and influence is divided into two distinct parts, one greater than the other – front man of The Police (although by the 5th album, he had written all but one of the songs and had eclipsed the other two members, so arguably much more than a mere ‘front man’) versus his solo career. Second, the distinction between what is a Legend and what is an Icon.
I’m thinking there’s a real tough argument regarding the first point above. As we mentioned before, if Sting had died after peaking during the Synchronicity years, legendary status would probably be easy argued and his later solo career would not have tarnished the accomplishments to that date. However, since he didn’t die while choking on a crust of bread, we’re stuck with early years of shedding The Police, and far too many later years of frequent experimentation, and almost ten years of writer’s block. In short, even with a better than average solo career, it’s too difficult not to see that Sting’s legacy will almost be surely tied to The Police. During this debate, I’ve touched on three ideas that were the basis for my argument – influence of The Police for musical ability, songwriting and lyrics; Sting/The Police’s accolades, awards and recognition by fans and peers; and, finally, Sting’s accomplishments and achievements outside of music. My last leg of the 4 legged chair was about his influence on music videos, which were recognized as having a great stylistic quality and influence on other artists. Unfortunately, this last argument really only relates to The Police, so in the spirit my ramblings above, I’m going to leave this alone.
**Judge’s Note** I couldn’t let all three of these posts happen without posting at least one video from The Police. So here it is, my personal favorite as it captures Sting’s smugness and awesome 80’s walkie-talkies. Watch at the 1:19 mark for some serious awesomeness.
Now back to the argument.
So, let’s consider the second point. Mitch you’ve mentioned how you personally feel to achieve legendary status, one has to have a major influence on those that that come after him/her. The youth wants to become them, emulate them, be like them. I can say personally, I wanted to be Sting. I wanted the ability to write pop love songs that contained literary references and stylistic videos that was bigger than the sum of the parts of lyrics and chords. I thought he was a different sort of front man, playing the bass in a band with only three musicians, while seemingly pissing each other off. He seemed just slightly more cool, smart and just a little cocky. In my teens, he was an early influence of how I thought about girls, love and the power of lyrics. During college, he kept me laughing thru six packs of cheap beer while he danced around making silly videos while taking off his shirt, hungover on a ski slope and dancing and kicking on a mixing board. But it wasn’t all fund and games. One of my first fights with my wife concerned the tempo of Don’t Stand So Close to Me.
You see the point, right? I’m reasonably convinced that if you had spent as much time as I have watching this guy work, you would agree he could be considered legendary. I’m not giving up on my argument, but through this debate I’ve come to appreciate how internalized this can become and how each see’s something a little different than another.
Mitch: You bring up some very good points in your statement. Since this is, in fact, the closing arguments phase, I will start by addressing your most recent comments and end with a brief recap of my position.
First of all, I think you touched upon a great point – music is extremely personal. That is what makes this debate so much fun and so challenging. As much as I enjoy arguing about music, I truly do respect everyone’s individual tastes and opinions. Furthermore, through this process I’ve ironically come to learn, know and appreciate more about Sting. However, I am still not convinced he’s a legend, and there’s still one, big, glaring reason why – musical influence.
I fully appreciate that there was a moment in time during the Police-era when Sting was a pop culture icon that you and other youths wanted to emulate. I certainly have had my pop idols through the years, including everyone from practically indisputable legends like Bruce Springsteen to flash-in-the pans like MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice (yes, Vanilla Ice…but I was 10). My point here, once again, is that I believe there is a definite distinction between pop icon/idol and music legend.
I’m certainly not comparing Sting to Ice and Hammer, but if we measure The Police against other artists from roughly same era I find it hard to justify legendary status. With other potential legends of the era, I can draw lines to the artists they influenced with absolute clarity. I will give two examples from the same era as The Police: U2 and the Ramones. The latter practically invented a whole new musical style influencing their contemporaries like The Clash, Sex Pistols and later the Chili Peppers, Green Day, etc. The former changed and evolved with each passing album creating layers of sound no one had ever tried before inspiring their contemporaries like INXS, Duran Duran and later Radiohead, Oasis, and Coldplay the list goes on.
I have trouble performing this same exercise with The Police. Who have they really influenced? I just can’t come up with a solid line. We’ve established that they’ve written a number of really great pop songs, but is that enough? To me, there’s simply nothing sonically innovative, or game changing. It’s not like Edge’s guitar sound that’s been copied 1,000 times over or The Ramones’ bombastic, fast-paced songs that created a whole new genre. It’s just tough for me to find their place. Sting’s a good singer, but he’s no Freddy. He’s a good songwriter/story-teller, but he’s no Boss. He’s a good bassist, but everybody knows that’s what the least talented guitarist ends up playing… just kidding Gordy! But seriously, I see solid… I don’t see legend.
C. Smith, you’ve mentioned their influence on music videos, and I have to admit that I can’t speak to this. I was unborn and/or crappin’ in my Huggies during the late seventies and early eighties. You’ve also mentioned his style, his attitude, his philanthropic work and his acting in previous posts. I have to admit, your argument has softened my anti-Stingatism. And, perhaps you’re right, if I’d spent as much time watching him as you have maybe I would put him on the list of hands-down legends. But alas, I have not…so I de do do do not think so.
C. Smith: I certainly respect your last comments regarding the inability to quickly name the major rock bands that have been influenced by The Police/Sting. Commonly you hear Men at Work, No Doubt, Simple Minds, John Mayer, etc., but I can’t disagree that these musicians were ever earth shattering.
That does not change the fact that each of the individual musicians that make up The Police are highly respected musicians in their own right, Sting on the bass (and about 10 other instruments he’s seemed to play throughout his career), Copeland on the drums, and finally Summers on lead guitar.
Perhaps we should consider that their influence has been diminished for two reasons that are intertwined. Each individual musician is so damn good, they played in a three piece band (not easily duplicated when you arguably feature all three), and their was a magic synergy that was gained when all three were on stage and in the studio. This uniqueness was not easily duplicated by other bands, so the influence just wasn’t there. I know it’s a nuance, but I think it’s important to point out.
Jeff, we come to the closing of this spirited debate and want to thank you for the opportunity to participate. I think Mitch and I have both laid out a solid argument and you have a lot to ponder.
In closing, I approached my argument with four pillars:
- Recognition by fans and peers with millions of records sold and many awards (both solo and The Police), and his relevancy today, i.e. still touring, The Police reunion tour (highest grossing tour of that year), etc.;
- His ability to write legendary lyrics and music that incorporated themes and ideas that were beyond a typical pop love song;
- His artistic talent outside of music by starring and appearing in a number of movies and writing/producing/starring on Broadway; and
- Legendary Police videos.
I rest my case.
Jeff (Judgement): I have thought long and hard about this. There are clearly arguments to be made on both sides and I won’t lie, I have considered copping out with the final judgement. However, that would be clearly against the spirit of what we are trying to do. In thinking through this (and while searching for stupid Sting pictures for these posts*) I came across a quote in a Rolling Stone article from the lead singer of The Killers, Brandon Flowers**:
“Oscar Wilde said that an artist has succeeded if people don’t understand his work but they still like it. By that standard, the Police were a huge success…everything they did was really smart and worked on a few levels; you could love a particular song, then realize a year later that you had totally missed the meaning.”
At the end of the day I can’t get past the fact that this is a man who made popular music about stalkers, hookers, inappropriate relationships between teachers and students, and cougar hunting. His work if nothing else is completely interesting, even during his solo years as he tried to evolve and become more interesting sonically. Although there is a lack of influence to cite I am of the opinion that fronting a legendary band from the bassist position and driving both rhythm and melodies is an accomplishment that a musician of a lesser stature would not be able to achieve.
Although Sting is trending downwards from a legendary status, and I wouldn’t recommend investing if he was a stock, I think that when you look at the entire career that Sting has put together there is only one logical judgement to come to.