November 12, 2008

Requiem for a Music Geek: The Decline and Fall of Juvenile Idolatry


So a few months back I threatened to begin a new series about being a hopelessly nerdy rock fan, and now that certain sociopolitical realities have resolved themselves, well, here it comes, gang. Stand back and hold your noses.

For some bizarre reason, people have a pathological need to create heroes. I don't know why, and I don't want to get too deep into a discussion about that, because we've had enough of that silliness thanks to uber-fans of our new president (or insert other obsessive enthusiasm here), but I do know that for a few years of my own adolescence my bass-playing, song-writing supreme idol was none other than Gordon Matthew Sumner, aka Sting, or in some circles, "the biggest wanker to ever walk the earth," which is of course a hotly contested appellation.

Anyway, he's probably not the best choice for someone like me to admit fandom for (even at some point in the distant past), but I believe one has to own up to one's personal moments of "meh," as well as larger successes and failures, so I must admit that Sting is the reason that I play a Fender Jazz bass today. He's also a contributing factor to me being a lyricist and playing in a band—and why I sometimes find it difficult to just stand back by the drummer and shut the fuck up, and why I've acquired an occasionally marvelous ability to be a self-centered, pretentious asshole—but so many other people, famous or otherwise, have reinforced that sort of behavior, so Sting can't take all the blame for it. Even so, Sting is also the reason that I wear pea coats, the reason that Nick Clemente once smacked me stupid in a movie theater (more on that later), and why Bill Fedderson nearly despaired of ever seeing eye to eye with me musically. Now, that doesn't mean I still don't enjoy every Police album—and, to skate on thin ice, three of Sting's solo discs—but that has more to do with childhood nostalgia than anything else, and as you all know, I'm always a pathetic sucker for that stuff.

See, when I was 15, Sting's Soul Cages album was my favorite CD ever. I had no idea that could potentially be a major problem in many future aesthetic aspects of my life, but I still like the disc a lot and don't lose too much sleep over what anybody thinks about that. Also, I really enjoyed the whole Dream of the Blue Turtles/Bring on the Night period too, mostly because I associate those albums with happy times from when I was a kid and other false fantasies from deep within the mists of time. I had no idea that these discs were widely hooted at by critics, or mocked mercilessly by uber-cool punks and other people too bitchy for their own good, because I was a happy eight-year-old kid who liked dinosaurs and thought it was cool that Sting sang about them on a Police tune from Synchronicity. Things get a bit muddy from there, though. At this point, I can take or leave 1987's Nothing Like the Sun disc, because I haven't played it in a loooong time, and it sounds horribly dated in many ways that you'll just have to take my word for. I still enjoy Soul Cages, however, and for some reason it's more reliable than a rain dance if droughts are threatening. Seriously—the sky has never failed to open up with rain, be it mild drizzle or deadly El NiƱo flooding, when I play this album. Weird.

So yeah, I'm apathetic about the guy and his music—no matter how much time I spend griping about it now—and it's been a long time since i've actually cared. I didn't even want to try to get Police tour tickets, but I don't go to too many big-ass arena shows anymore. I haven't bought a Sting disc for a decade and haven't really been interested for 16 years, because the dude has been in some serious decline for what seems like decades now. In hindsight, it wasn't as quick or ruthless as I remember, but when the end came, it was a slippery slope indeed, with each blow more fatal than the last: the underwhelming adult-contemporary boredom of Ten Summoner's Tales (1993); the lame and presumptuous 1994 Best-Of and its attendant schlocky "When We Dance" ballad; the abhorrent "All For Love" team-up with Rod Stewart and Bryan Adams; the holding-pattern blandness of Mercury Falling (1996); appearing with Puff Daddy at the VMAs (1997); his awkward bartender cameo in "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels"; the desperate commerciality of Brand New Day (1999); the sheer idiotic irrelevance of Sacred Love (2003). After that shit-storm of mediocrity, an all-mandolin album like Songs from the Labyrinth (2006) barely registered on the wankery outrage scale.

He wasn't finished, though—we would of course have plenty of Sting to kick around for many years—and it was, unfortunately, somewhat challenging for me to accept the inherent suckitude of an erstwhile musical hero. Oh sure, the man tried to claw his way back, taking his best shots at the big bulls-eye of shameless nostalgia with both the Broken Music Tour (2005) and the cute but apparently musically toothless cash-in that was the Police reunion tour of 2007-08, but personally, I just didn't give a shit—I was too busy paying attention to other entertaining distractions like baseball or politics or my own bands or whatever. I didn't have the time or the patience to follow someone like Sting down every little creative dead-end that might have amused him at the moment.

And that's okay, because there were plenty of other egomaniacal fools to replace him with. Exhibit A, naturally, is Bono—but I've kicked that guy around enough on these pages, so I'll leave Yer Man alone for the time being. Also, it's not like this slavish impulse is ever truly killed, because I've caught myself indulging in its treacherous waters all too often, and that pull is exponentially deadlier when genius hot chicks like PJ Harvey or Jenny Lewis are involved. Sooner or later they will all betray their most rabidly loyal fans, though; I could write a column like this (and I have) for almost every artist I've ever had even a fleeting interest in, but then I'd definitely be degenerating into Lester Bangs vs. Lou Reed territory, which is also a place I hope to never visit anytime soon.

If there's a lesson in any of this revisionist, projectionary bile of mine, it may be that I should be more willing to shine the brutal light of Truth onto my own stuff, searching for creative wankery with the obsessive detail of the fanboy, but really, it wouldn't be too hard to find. Still, it's not like I'm gonna give out directions or point to telltale landmarks. No, Gordon. Eventually we all must belatedly Grow Up, Move On, and Get the Fuck Over It. Sorry, mate.

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