Autobiography, Music, Culture

Sting and the unbearable lightness of sorrow

I was born in the 80s. This means that I listened to a lot of the best music of the previous century as a child. But as you grow older, some music acquires new meaning, either because of your experiences or because you just finally became conscious enough to listen to the lyrics. When I was in junior high, I realized how creepy or sad his Sting’s lyrics were. Without fail, every song is filled with shades of the dark triad traits or utter remorse at unrequited love.

But what is so weird about Sting is that his songs sound so upbeat, pleasant, and even energizing that it’s difficult to associate them with negative emotions or immoral pursuits! He can sing about wanting to die, being the king of pain, having an affair, stalking a woman who ignores him, or being a creepy teacher with the same exuberant tone!

That being said, two songs from the current decade reminded me of the Police’s Can’t Stand Losing You (below). The first is Somebody that I Used to Know by Gotye and Kimbra.

Here are the most obvious lyrics, though both songs are about the same experience:

Gotye Sting
You didn’t have to cut me off
Make out like it never happened
And that we were nothing
And I don’t even need your love
But you treat me like a stranger
And that feels so rough…
You didn’t have to stoop so low,
Have your friends collect your records and then change your number…
I see youve sent my letters back
And my lp records and theyre all scratched
I cant see the point in another day
When nobody listens to a word I say
You can call it lack of confidence
But to carry on living doesnt make no sense

If you listen to them both, they Gotye sounds deeply troubled and sorrowful about getting his records back. Sting sounds overjoyed even though they’ve been destroyed and he’s contemplating suicide!

The next is Chalk Outline by Three Days Grace:

Three Days Grace Guy Sting
You’ll be sorry baby, someday
When you reach across the bed
Where my body used to lay
You left me here like a chalk outline, etc


I guess this is our last goodbye
And you dont care, so I wont cry
But youll be sorry when Im dead
And all this guilt will be on your head
I guess youd call it suicide
But I’m too full to swallow my pride

The similarities are striking. Both are using the spectre (as it hasn’t occurred) of their impending suicide to make the other feel sorry/guilty. The chief difference is, again, the character in the Three Days Grace song sounds angry and sorrowful, perhaps willing to end his life and just letting her know it’s connected to her. It’s a crappy thing to do, but obviously a call to help.

Sting sounds cheerful and pleasant like Moriarty or the Joker. [spoiler] In the Sherlock television show and in one of my favorite Batman comics of the 80s the villains commit suicide specifically to cause trauma to the protagonist (legal, emotional, existential, it doesn’t matter).[/spoiler] I think Sting’s character in the song above really would do it out of a sadistic need for revenge and a narcissistic desire to be a permanent fixture in the thought space of the other. In other words, the character in many of Stings songs is a villain on the level of Satan, the Joker, or Hannibal Lecter. And it is the case that the dark triad traits correlate with short term sexual success and those same traits correlate very highly with sadism. Now, I find the Police and Sting’s songs catchy and fun. On the other hand either Sting or the character he plays as he writes his music (he has a background in literature) is a dark triad expert, as this biography linked indicates he was a bad teacher.

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