Ghost In The Machine

New York City, NY, US
Madison Square Gardenwith The Go-Go's
Princes Of The City - they came, they played and they conquered...

The streets of the city were littered with banks of dirty yellow snow and the people shuffling about visibly winced and moaned in the battering icy wind.

Inside Madison Square Garden, the spiritual and traditional home and the burial ground of the brave, the successful, the valiant losers, the pop group Police gathered together to snatch the keys of yet another kingdom.

Police, for ever in the charts, the successors to the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, those other idols of the emerging generations in search of living gods, were about to go on before 18,000 people at the Garden.

The Garden, the scene of some of the greatest and bloodiest prize fights in history. A place which seeps fame and abject defeat from every plastic pore.

Sting, tall, ashen-faced, with that constant blue shadow on his chin, was dressed in black leather trousers, a polka-dotted black shirt and his old tatty scout's neckerchief draped round his shoulders.

He lay on his dressing-room floor and rested his silver-blond head on a black, square block of wood like a Samurai meditating before a battle. People stepped over him while his misty blue eyes, a world away, concentrated on a spot on the yellow ceiling above. He exuded the air of a guy who knew that in a couple of hours' time he would step down from the glittering stage at the Garden and fame could get no bigger and riches would swamp the group for the rest of their days.

''What this one gig means here in Madison Square Garden to a sell-out audience is that we will be taking on America as a whole. Nervous? Of course I'm nervous. It's a bit like a boxer getting ready for his one big fight. That aggressive element is there, like a guy wanting to go out and win. This date is the most important point in our career. You can't crack America bit by bit because it is so vast, so this night is the end of a hard, slogging, gruelling assault on America.

''We are about to push this great big country right over the edge. You know like the Beatles were? That's the sort of thing we hope to match. That's the Valhalla of all the groups and this tonight is our battle ground. The symbolic main event in our lives.''

Sting got up and rifled through a pack of tarot cards. He turned up a card of a gang of naked men fleeing from a blazing tower.

''Now what do you reckon that means?'' he said, the soft voice fading to a questioning whisper. He looked like a bloke staring at the end of his life in the bottom of a tea cup.

I said he couldn't take the tarot seriously. But he does. Sting, the hard man, the man said to have a tongue like a tortured viper when the mood takes him said: ''I think they have a genuine reference to the way we all are towards each other.''

He carried on in that off confidential whisper: ''I still remember when we first toured America doing gigs for forty dollars a night when nobody has heard of us and here we are now going on for the big one. I'm rich now sure. And I'm getting richer all the time. But that means nothing to me any more. The money doesn't make me any happier, does money make anyone happier?''

Police - the other two group members being the scratchy Andy Summers and the cool, lanky sarcastic Stewart Copeland, son of a former high-ranking CIA man - are known to have their disagreements. Both are jealous of Sting's prominence and squirm with anguish when fans refer to the group as Sting.

Sting said: ''Sure we have our fights, but we care about each other so we fight. That's what makes us so strong and durable.''

Andy Summers is taking pictures of the scene with a special camera that rolled an all-seeing eye round the room. A minder removes the cork from a bottle of chateau produced red wine and begins to pour out a glass for Andy. But Andy grabs the bottle and gulps it down straight from the neck, his scrawny Adam's apple bouncing up and down and a thin red stream like blood rolling down to stain his blue stage suit.

''Tonight I can feel the pressure. That feeling of all the people here trying to get close to you. It's a bit frightening sometimes.''

Stewart Copeland, his face as white as driven slush outside, said: ''This night is incredible. Everyone has been on to me for tickets, including Brooke Shields.''

In the auditorium a warm-up pop group is jiggling around stage ignored by the restless multitude and the scent of marijuana hangs in the air like a morning mist. The walls drip with the fever of anticipation and dozens of arc lights tinge the scene with violent crimson and lilac hues.

As the minutes rush by, the faces of the group grow visibly paler. Their eyes go deeper into their sockets and Andy Summers is almost on the last of the wine. The group's manager, the belligerent Miles Copeland, raises his head towards heaven and proclaims in a mock holy roller voice: ''Lord we are about to deliver your sons unto you, may you shower us with deserved riches. Amen.''

Then the group are on prancing into the arena while the crowd moans like delighted animals. The rough 'Roxanne', 'Message In A Bottle', 'Walking On The Moon', the group builds up an iron-and-velvet grip on the grated nerve ends of the worshipping fans.

The walls of sound lap and surges round the amphitheatre and one guy with a mighty leap and obviously in the giddy grip of temporary lunacy clears the barrier round the stage. He is bundled back by a couple of bouncers who could have arm wrestled Big Daddy.

And the beat goes on... Sting in his skimpy black stage suit and no shirt screams: ''You want some more? You want some more?''

He sounds in a delirium of sexual ecstasy and the crowd roars back Now, Now, Now, in a climactic answering shriek. It's the nearest I've been to witnessing the world's biggest love-in. Standing next to me and suddenly picked out in a blast of lemon-yellow arc light, a good looking girl, all in black, has dug her taloned fingers into the neck of her boyfriend and blood is rolling down to stain his shirt collar. He is staring at Sting feeling no pain like someone entranced and oblivious to all else.

Sting riding the emotions of the crowd like a surfer, bellows into the mike: ''Help us raise the ******* roof of Madison Square Garden in New York, New York...'' The mob literally slavering at the mouth dutifully chant back, Yes, Yes, Yes.

If the ancient Romans had discovered this sort of music they would have lost interest in that boring old game of feeding Christians to the lions. The group go off with towels draped round their heads like winners of the main event. They are drawn back twice by the invisible umbilical cord they have created between themselves and the mass. Even when The Police are back for good in their dressing room, the 18,000 are still there in the darkened auditorium emitting a high-pitched plea or more.

Sting, his eyes bloodshot, moves through the backstage party sipping a beer while some of the most beautiful girls in the world rape him with their eyes. He pours me a glass of white wine and says to me in a whisper, ''I think that after tonight America is ours...''

The fleet of big black limousines pull up at a side entrance and the new princes of this treacherous golden realm vanish into the innards of the richest city in the world.

The main event is over.

(c) The Daily Mirror by William Marshall

English Trio at Garden...

Except for the Rolling Stones' appearances here last fall, no other rock event in the last year has aroused such high expectations as the arrival of the Police, the English trio that was at Madison Square Garden on Friday. Augmented for their tour by three South Jersey horn players who call themselves the Chops Horns, the Police put on one of the most exciting arena concerts that this observer has seen in a long time.

The Police are the first white group to thoroughly integrate Jamaican reggae into a pop setting in a way that doesn't seem dilettantish or didactic. For the Police's songs are genuinely internationalist in outlook. They assume a one-world consciousness that is very much a product of global telecommunications.

While their viewpoint is leftist, it is not strenuously revolutionary. Unlike many of his other politically-minded peers in rock, Sting, the trio's chief songwriter, lead singer and bass player, writes with the light touch of a natural phrasemaker. The pessimistic, alienated side of his sensibility is balanced by an irrepressible pop enthusiasm that expresses itself in wonderful tunes that blend modal reggae chants with strong pop hooks.

The Police's music is so catchy that at Friday's concert the audience was able to sing along with at least half the songs. The addition of the horns gave the songs an extra rhythmic punch and in places provided a soulfulness that the recorded versions lack. Live, the band's signature sound is as striking as it is on disk, with Andy Summers' shimmering rhythm guitar springing off of Stewart Copeland's buoyant pop-reggae foundations to echo Sting's keening rock tenor in almost a mirror-like effect.

The Go-Go's, the Los Angeles-based women's quintet which opened for the Police, have improved considerably since they played the Ritz some months ago. This time around, they were able to reproduce the sassy close harmonies and to convey the conspiratorial wit that made their debut album, 'Beauty and the Beat,' one of the surprise successes of the past year. 'Our Lips Our Sealed,' their signature hit, with its nostalgic echoes of Tommy James, the Ventures, and the Crystals, was the obvious highlight of a delightful set.

(c) The New York Times by Stephen Holden

Sting conquers all... (and stays semi-detached)...

Sting, the leader of the Police and face of 1982, is holding court in a seedily exotic New York night spot called The Underground. Next to him a marshmallow-breasted blonde is whispering of the things she could do if only he would let her. Though Sting doesn't appear to be listening, she looks furious when her burblings are momentarily interrupted by a fat man, sweat dripping from his face on to his solid polyester suit, who muscles in to tell the singer of the new film he wants him to star in.

''It's made for you... made for you...'', he splutters.

Close by, like a vulture hovering is a cross-eyed drug dealer waiting his moment to try to offer the star the little envelope of cocaine crystals he holds in his hand. And every few seconds a fresh, nervous supplicant arrives to plead an autograph, a picture, or simply a gawp. To the victor, truly, belongs the spoils.

Hours earlier, 20,000 fans had stamped, clapped and cheered their approbation when the Police had played one of the most triumphant shows of their career at Madison Square Garden. After conquering Britain, the Police are hell bent on taking on the world. They have just been voted band of the year in Rolling Stone, America's only important rock magazine and Sting tied with Mick Jagger for the title of best singer. All of their last three albums have achieved platinum status in the States, all the singles have made the upper reaches of the charts.

Not since the sixties has any British band galvanised America's young people, so shaken up the business who pull the music industry's strings. Small wonder then that the screams from the audience when the band steps on to the stage at Madison Square Garden has the decibel power of a Concorde take-off.

Sting looking as thin as a blade of grass, in his black suit, jack-knifes his body as he plucks out the first bass chord of 'Message In A Bottle' and the screams from the audience grow louder still as they recognise the song. The band slide quickly through 'Shadows In The Rain', and then guitarist Andy Summers - in baggy blue trousers and glittery jacket - is bouncing around the stage like an astronaut in zero gravity for 'Walking On The Moon'. Though it is only the third song the audience is already singing along word perfectly with the band.

In full flight now, with drummer Stewart Copeland powerhousing away, behind them, the Police soar into 'Bring On The Night', 'One World Is Enough' and 'Invisible Sun' virtually without a pause. Next comes Roxanne, Police's first hit and the harsh white spotlights are shone on the vast audience - three times as large as any seen at Wembley Arena - while they call and reply to Sting's chorus. Then suddenly the band has vanished and the audience hold lighters and match flames aloft in the darkness as they scream and plead for their heroes to return. Moments later, the Police are back to thunder through 'Don't Stand So Close To Me', 'Can't Stand Losing You' and 'Regatta de Blanc'.

Sting, drunk on the adulation, looks scathingly at the New York Knickerbocker banners, hanging from the lofty ceiling, and rasps: ''It seems very curious that this roof on Madison Square Garden has been here so long. I realise tonight's the night it goes - but I need a little help. All you have to do is finish this song...''

Straight into 'Be My Girl' then, and I swear the roof does almost tremble, as 20,000 New Yorkers roar out the words. One man is so moved that he feints past the army of security guards to dance briefly beside Sting. One song later the band go again. But the crowd are at such an emotional pitch that they refuse to leave until the trio returns to sing 'So Lonely'. I doubt if one person takes the new lyrics Sting fits to the melody seriously. ''Here in New York City ah ... I feel so lonely, feel so lonely.''

Yet later as the beautiful girls and hustling men clamber over one another to be near Sting at the party staged in the band's honour at the Underground, the words ring curiously true. ''These people don't touch me,'' Sting whispers to me, as he poses for yet another photograph. ''They touch Sting. The thing they impugn on is not me personally. I can just detach myself from all of this.''

This strange ability to be at once apparently open and available whilst simultaneously remaining closed and unreachable gives Sting an aura of mystery which is a part of his appeal for many fans. It is a quality he was aware of even in the days when he was teaching himself to play acoustic guitar at his parents' home in Newcastle.

''I'd bury myself in it,'' he once recalled. ''I was pretty selfish and isolated. I think that's what made my Mum smash my guitar once when I was about 14. I watched her do it. I could have beaten hell out of her but I responded to the dramatic nature of the gesture. I just looked at her and made her feel ashamed, then walked out and didn't come back for two days.''

Now that he is 30-years-old, a millionaire and a superstar, music has become work - rather than something to withdraw into. Instead, he now turns to literature for escape and isolation. At least two of his songs were inspired by Ted Hughes poems. And he quotes Jung or Arthur Koestler as glibly as pop song lyrics.

''It's really one of the things that having money has done for me,'' he says. ''It doesn't mean I feel any more fulfilled than I did five years ago. But, in a sense, money has been a catalyst to help me find something other than the need to earn a buck. It's enabled me to find time to read about, and become interested in things like politics and mysticism.''

Sting's aloofness, his relentless drive to succeed, has led in the past to unhappiness for those drawn too close to his flame. He still becomes distressed at any mention of a girlfriend who miscarried his baby when he was in his 'teens, and who subsequently committed suicide after her mother died from cancer. And his relationship with the hugely experienced 39-year old Andy Summers and the strong-willed Stewart Copeland has frequently been Stormy. At the Underground party, a worried Andy Summers confided to a friend that he believed Sting was planning to record a solo album. A rumour Sting refused to discuss.

''I like the tension between the three of us,'' he confesses candidly. ''Strength, conflict, hate, love, joy, pain, and we are winning - that's why we are still together after five years. The ego clashes are essential to the dynamism of the group.''

Though Sting is exhilarated by the Police's success, he is well aware that their triumphs do not bear comparison with those of the Beatles. ''They were totally, utterly alone and unique,'' he says. ''Rock is old now. Our audience isn't just 14 year old girls. You can't get the 35 year olds who also come to our shows into a state of hysteria. We are entertaining people who are not going to become hysterical.''

Nevertheless, Sting's following, coupled with his distinctive good looks, now make him instantly recognisable in most corners of the globe. ''Sometimes I do wish I wasn't famous,'' he says. ''Like when I'm walking the dog or out with my son. And the nightmare that sometimes hits me is that even if I stopped now and had no further success I'm probably always going to be recognised as the bloke who used to be Sting...''

(c) The London Evening Standard by Jon Blake