Sting Contemplates Cold Reality
NEW YORK - Unlike many rock stars of a certain age, Sting is not especially interested in denying or defying mortality.
"I'm not a young man," he declares over coffee in his living room. "I'm 58. I'm not in the winter of my life yet, but I need to prepare for that passage."
Hence the title and content of If on a Winter's Night. . ., a seasonal contemplation mixing traditional English songs and carols with Sting's own The Hounds of Winter and Lullaby for an Anxious Child, as well as music by Bach and Schubert. He'll showcase the album tonight at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in Manhattan, his only U.S. stop.
"I've always had an affinity for winter," Sting says. "We get distracted by the razzmatazz of Christmas, but it's traditionally a time of reflection, of dealing with ghosts so we can move forward."
The songs on Night nod both to Christmas and a more general, at times pre-Christian sense of spirituality.
"I never thought about covering Silent Night or Frosty the Snowman. I wanted to produce something fresh, and to strike a balance between winter's celebrations and the idea that it can be a difficult time. If everyone's going to their family home and you have no family, it's terrible."
Does he view Night as a successor to his last solo album, 2006's Songs From the Labyrinth - another collection of old folk tunes, by Elizabethan troubadour John Dowland? Sting allows, "I seem more interested, at this point, in interpreting other people's work than in creating something from scratch."
He's less eager to revisit his own past, after touring in 2007-2008 with his reunited band, The Police. Sting announced during that trek that it was the group's last hurrah, and he hasn't reconsidered. "It was nice to create that nostalgia. But there's no need to do it again."
Rolling Stone contributing editor Anthony DeCurtis says Sting is "in an enviable position. With all his success, he can pursue things that genuinely grip him and know that at least a certain number of people will gravitate toward it."
Sting agrees that his fans have come "to expect the unexpected, and I relish that." He's currently promoting Night and a DVD, Sting: A Winter's Night . . . Live From Durham Cathedral, recorded in his native Newcastle, England. "I was onstage with the biggest band I've ever used, 35 musicians, playing the quietest music," he says.
As for future projects, he notes, "I don't want to give people the impression that I've stopped writing songs. But I never know what's next. Something will come, in time."