By Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
Sting and ecotheology? Seriously? What possible connection could there be between the famous pop music artist and the study of ecology and religion? Read on!
My husband Jim Schade (himself a professional musician, a seasoned jazz drummer) gifted me with Sting's new album 57th & 9th for Christmas, knowing that I have been a huge fan since the Police in the 80s and throughout his solo career in the subsequent decades. I had been looking forward to hearing what one of my favorite singer-songwriters had produced after a three-year hiatus from recording. The album met and exceeded my expectations. Titled after the street corner he crossed daily on the way to the recording studio, the album not only exemplifies the trademark "Sting sound" of intellectual pop his fans enjoy, the songs plumb the depths of human experience and provide a poignant soundtrack for our time.
The multivalent meanings of Sting's poetic lyrics are one of the things that keep me hooked on his music and this album does not disappoint. His songs are at once self-reflective, philosophical and poignant. They invite multiple listenings to ponder and puzzle out the hidden treasures of the words nestled between polyrhythmic drum beats and richly-layered chords.
The first two songs, I Can't Stop Thinking About You and 50,000 were each smartly arranged with a driving rock beat. Down, Down, Down and If You Can't Love Me are both quintessential Sting lovelorn melancholia, reminiscent of King of Pain and When We Dance. Sting does heartbreak well—not quite wallowing, but deeply engaged in the emotional pain of loss.
Longing is another theme that drifts through this album. Heading South on the Great North Road follows the yearning of wanderlust that seeks but never quite finds fulfillment; while the The Empty Chair, written for a documentary about a photojournalist who was murdered in Syria, is saturated with longing for the seat of the dead to be filled with more than just memories.
But it was when the song One Fine Day came on and I listened to these words that I realized Sting had entered new territory on this album:
Apologists say, The weather's just a cycle we can't change.
Scientists say, We've pushed those cycles way beyond.
Dear leaders, please do something quick,
Time is up, the planet's sick...
I nearly missed my turn while driving as I listened—Sting wrote a song about climate change! After listening to the song twice, I stopped the CD to read the liner notes about this piece:
Lately I've begun to pray that those who regard climate change as a hoax, a hoax perpetuated for the express purpose of hobbling our economies and the profit margins of energy corporations, are correct! Perhaps it is in fact a deliberate hoax and we can all just carry on with our rapacious and profligate behavior in regards to the finite resources of this planet without a thought for future generations and the depleted world they're likely to inherit. I sincerely and passionately hope that the skeptics are right and that the majority of scientists in the related fields of research are full of baloney, and for that ... perhaps we'll all be grateful ... one fine day!
That kind of response is one I've given in one form or another to so many people who have argued that climate change either isn't real or is not caused by humans. To hear the bitter irony of his words woven into a song that will be heard by thousands, perhaps million, was a much-needed balm for this weary climate activist's soul.
It's no surprise that Sting would write a song about a politically contentious justice issue. Songs such as Driven to Tears (world hunger), Russians (the threat of nuclear war) and Children's Crusade (child slavery and drug addiction) are just some examples of his socially-conscious songs. His social activism is well known, having lent his music and concert appearances for causes such as Live Aid, disaster relief and numerous human rights issues.
But what makes 57th & 9th worthy of an Ecopreacher review is the fact that three of its songs connect the subjects of climate change, religion and the refugee crisis in Syria in a way that illuminates the intersectionality of these issues. Following One Fine Day, the song Petrol Head barrels down like a ZZ-Top roadster, with Sting taking on the persona of a burly truck-driver. His growling, gravelly voice sings:
You'll know me just like I know you,
Where every gospel word is true.
I'll drive this car, I'll be your guide,
Just fasten your seat belt, let's go for a ride.
I'll take you someplace that you've never been before.
A place you might have only dreamt about what's more...
Now don't you worry your pretty little petrol head.
"Insatiable"—Theodore Bolha and Chris Davis
Where the Patriarchal Western Industrial Complex has taken the world is certainly "someplace we've never been before." The polluted and overheating planet we now inhabit is a direct result of the kind of arrogant masochism typified in this song.