Dana Carvey made an excellent point in his 1995 HBO special Critic's Choice. Gordon Sumner must have had serious balls to ask his friends to start referring to him as Sting. Carvey describes the young musician with his pals as he reminds them of his new name, to which they reply with something along the lines of, "Shut up and get me a beer, GORDY!" Somehow, Mr. Sumner made the transition.
The man not only survived whatever chaos ensued from the moniker mutation, but went on to head one of the biggest rock bands of the late '70s and early '80s--The Police. Crossing the lines of rock, punk, pop and reggae (sometimes all in the same song), the band succeeded at expanding the boundaries of what was radio friendly and its audience's literary knowledge. They did, after all, incorporate the mythic "Scylla and Charybdis" into their lyrics of one hit single ("Wrapped Around Your Finger") and reference Nabakov in another ("Don't Stand So Close to Me"). Well-educated, talented and exceptionally cool, The Police acquired quite the large audience and did something truly invaluable in rock: They quit while they were ahead.
Now we look to Sting and his solo career subsequent to his stint as a Police-man. Still intelligent, still cool, still undoubtedly talented--after all, where would that run off to? Here's the thing, though; he's become an icon in the dreaded genre of adult contemporary. The guy who once pushed the musical envelope has gone from a jazzy solo success to the poster boy for artists who trade their talents for radio play and record sales. Maybe he's been lagging and going for excessive compilations of greatest hits because he's so wrapped up in his role as an activist. Who knows?
What we do know is that circa 1985 and his first solo release, The Dream of the Blue Turtles, through 1987's ... Nothing Like the Sun, Sting was the proverbial shit. He went against what people expected, turned a great phrase here and there and made an impact with a band replete with serious jazz musicians. In fact, we prefer to focus on those salad days of The Police and his first ventures as a monosyllabic act. The Dallas Museum of Art seems to agree with us, since it chose the documentary Bring on the Night as the first of its outdoor film series beginning Friday.
The film documents the recording of the Blue Turtles album and features jazz greats Branford Marsalis, Kenny Kirkland, Omar Hakim and others. It also lets the audience in on the creative process that occurs in a collaboration of a rock entertainer and a supreme jazz band. Sting sires his first solo album as well as a son during the filming of the documentary, and his manager, Miles Copeland, behaves the same way the little mini-Sting might. That is to say, he's a bit of an infant.
Copeland is notorious for his brashness; Sting weighs in on the side of artistic pretension; and Marsalis evens them out with his well-timed wit. Sounds like any other business collaboration. The DMA could have picked many a film to project, but the museum did a good thing choosing Bring on the Night. It has selected a film that's unapologetic, true to its purpose and, hey, if you're gonna watch a film about a time in Sting's career, make it the time of the Blue Turtles...or at least before he would use his music to pimp a line of Jaguars.