Thursday, January 22, 2015

Book Review: 'Broken Music' by Sting

Though the pages are numbered/ I can't see where they lead/ For the end is a mystery/ No-one can read/ In the book of my life. 
-Sting, 'The Book of My Life' (Sacred Love)

"The Early Life and Misadventures of Gordon Sumner (Abridged)" would have sufficed for a title, but it would have been far too literal for the author of the engaging autobiography, Broken Music (352 pages; $26 Hardcover).

In this sometimes shocking self-portrait, the post-punk musician and poet known to the world as Sting first meets readers in the rainforests of South America in the 1990s, and takes them along on an hallucinatory semi-religious experience induced by ingesting a native plant — through time and memory — back into the life that molded him into a front man for The Police.

"It is a story very few people know," Sting writes in his introductory notes. "I had no interest in writing a traditional autobiographical recitation of everything that's ever happened to me. Instead I found myself drawn to exploring specific moments, certain people and relationships, and particular events which still resonate powerfully for me as I try to understand the child I was, and the man I became."

Often as eye-opening in its normalcy as it is in the offhand way it deals with what should have been outlandish, the narrative is always engrossing.

Here are unflinching examinations of young Gordon's family members, their hard lives, and the circumstances of his upbringing. In the process, those who know Sting's music and lyrics will find themselves recognizing the origins of his "summoner's tales" — the shipbuilders, the "Saint Agnes," the fortress round his heart.

It's little wonder that, reading Broken Music, I was repeatedly reminded of specific lines and images from Sting's albums — especially The Book of My Life, a track from his 2003 album, Sacred Love.

"Having been a songwriter most of my life, condensing my ideas and emotions into short rhyming couplets and setting them to music, I had never really considered writing a book," Sting writes in the book flap.

The title comes from a remembered moment when young Gordon, searching for an emotional outlet after realizing that his mother is having an affair, bangs on an old piano at his grandmother's house; the woman comes in and asks if he can't play something other than that "broken music."

And so he begins trying to use music to put things back together.

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(This review originally appeared in The News Herald on Jan. 30, 2005.)
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