Broken Music

Broken Music

by Sting


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“Sting’s gift for prose and reverence for language, nearly the equal of his musical gifts, shine on every page. Even when Broken Music addresses the quixotic life of an aspiring rock & roller, it reads like literature from a more rarified time when adults didn’t condescend to the vulgarities of pop culture.” —Rolling Stone

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. But upon arriving at the reflective age of fifty, I found myself drawn, for the first time, to write long passages that were as stimulating and intriguing to me as any songwriting I had ever done.

And so Broken Music began to take shape. It is a book about the early part of my life, from childhood through adolescence, right up to the eve of my success with the Police. It is a story very few people know.

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385338653
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/25/2005
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 342,899
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.19(h) x 0.75(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Sting is an award-winning singer, songwriter and human rights activist.

Read an Excerpt

Music has always been my refuge from sadness. The guitar I inherited from my uncle John now has decent strings, and I’m no longer making the “broken” music that so upset my grandmother; in fact I’m making a lot of progress, but the limitations of my first instrument are holding me back. There are things that I simply can’t do with this primitive heirloom.

From the money I earned on the milk rounds I have saved up enough for a new acoustic guitar that I’ve had my eye on. It has been hanging from the wall in Braidford’s Music Shop for three months now. I go and see it after school every evening, praying that no one has bought it. It is a beautiful steel—stringed instrument with a blond finish, an ebony fingerboard, and delicate marquetry inlaid around the sound hole. It costs me sixteen guineas, which is a large amount of money, but I’m in love for the very first time.

I first heard the Beatles in my final year at junior school. I remember being in the changing rooms of the swimming baths. Mr. Law had just supervised one of our chaotic and impossibly noisy trips to the baths—by “supervised” I mean that no one had actually been drowned. We were drying ourselves off and, as was our custom, flicking towels at each other’s genitals. It was at this point that we heard the first bars of “Love Me Do” from a transistor radio in the corner. The effect was immediate. There was something in the sparseness of the sound that immediately put a stop to the horseplay. John’s lonely harmonica and Paul’s bass played “two to the bar,” and then the vocal harmony moved in modal fifths up to minor thirds and back again to a solo voice on the refrain. Not that I could articulate any of this at the time, but I recognized something significant, even revolutionary, in the spare economy of the sound, and the interesting thing is, so did everyone else.

By the time “She Loves You” reached number one in the charts I was already at the grammar school, but it wasn’t the confident primitivism of the “yeah yeah yeah” chorus that excited me so much as the G major chord with an added sixth that colored it at the end of the coda. Again, I couldn’t articulate this then, but I knew as the G major chord with an added sixth that colored it at the end of the coda. An old dance band cliché, but when the Beatles used it there seemed to be a subtle irony at work. Again, I couldn’t articulate this then, but I knew instinctively that it was pointing to a level of sophistication that I hadn’t been aware of in pop music until then. The Beatles would succeed in manipulating as many musical forms into their songs, whether classical, folk, rock and roll, the blues, Indian raga, or vaudeville, in a dizzying and seamless pastiche of ideas and cultural references. It was music without frontiers and the ubiquitous soundtrack for a generation that thought it could change the world.

Jim Berryman, in his otherwise excellent biography, A Sting in the Tale, claims that I was outside the City Hall when the Fab Four played there in 1963, and that I managed to grab a lock of McCartney’s hair. This is of course fantasy, and would have been out of keeping with the budding intellectual pretensions that I was nurturing at the time. But it is impossible to stress too much the influence that the Beatles had on my early life, and the fact that they came from a similar background to my own was fundamental to the vague plans of escape and glory that I was hatching in my imagination. Lennon and McCartney were both grammar school boys from humble roots in Liverpool, a town not dissimilar from Newcastle. From their initial chart successes they went on to conquer the world with songs that they wrote themselves. This gave an entire generation of musicians the confidence and permission to at least attempt the same feat.

I pore over Beatles albums with the same obsessive and forensic scrutiny that I’d applied to Rodgers and Hammerstein, only now I have a guitar. I have an instrument that can reproduce the practical magic of the chord structures and the network of riffs that their songs are built on. And what songs, one after the other, album after album. I learn to play them all, confident that if I persevere, what I can’t play immediately will yield its secret eventually. I will reapply the needle of the record player again and again to the bars of music that seem beyond my analysis, like a safecracker picking a lock, until the prize is mine. No school subject ever occupies as much of my time or energy. I’m not claiming that any kind of prescience about the future is at work here, but there is something in the driven and compulsive nature of this obsession that is unusual, something in the unconscious saying, This is how you escape. This is how you escape.

It is 1966 and England, having won the World Cup against Germany that summer, is at last enjoying the fruits of the postwar boom and is considered to be, in the quaint argot of the time, “swinging.” In Newcastle, however, the hedonism of social change and cultural revolution is limited to a small enclave surrounding the university. King’ s College gives the pubs and clubs and bookshops an air of musty intellectualism and bohemian sophistication. Wittgenstein, of all people, is supposed to have spent some time in the city during the war—I can just see him trying to explain the more difficult passages of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus to the coves in the Haymarket snug in a blue haze of Woodbines and brown ale.

The Club A Go-Go is above some shops in Percy Street, behind the Haymarket. It was originally a jazz club catering to the sophisticated tastes that developed in and around the university. The Go-Go is where the Animals had their residency before they hit the big time, and living proof that the Beatles miracle could be repeated, even in Newcastle. When I am fifteen years old, the first live band I ever see is there: the Graham Bond Organisation. It is a fortunate introduction. Graham Bond is a big round-faced man with long greasy hair and a mandarin mustache. He plays Hammond organ and alto sax and sings in a gruff and passionate baritone. His band contains figures who will soon become legends: Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, who will become more famous as members of Cream, on bass and drums respectively, and Dick Heckstall-Smith on tenor. The music is harsh and uncompromising and I’m not sure if I like it, but I have a strong sense that what is being played has a weight and a seriousness that will later be characterized and then caricatured as “heavy.” Graham Bond would later become obsessed with the occult and end his own life under a train in London’s Underground.

I go to see John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, again at the Go-Go, although I don’t remember which of their subsequently legendary guitarists was on duty that night. It certainly wasn’t Clapton, though it may have been Peter Green. But it wasn’t until December of that year that I really had my mind blown.

I would watch Top of the Pops with a religious devotion at 7:30 every Thursday evening. I loved this show with a passion. Almost forty years later I can still see a picture of the DJ, Jimmy Savile, standing in front of a large chart of the top twenty, circa 1966, and am able to sing a line from every entry. Such familiarity with the music of the time could not, however, have prepared me for the whirlwind, the tidal wave, the earthquake, the force of nature that was Jimi Hendrix.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience appeared on Top of the Pops in December of 1966 and changed everything. Hendrix had transformed “Hey Joe,” an old folk song, and propelled it by the elegant ferocity of his guitar playing into a sassy, bluesy vehicle of awesome power. His vocal was as sulky and offhand as it was passionate and openly sexual, and as the three-piece band stormed through the three-minute song, I imagined everyone in whole country in front of their tellys sitting bolt upright in their chairs.

—excerpted from BROKEN MUSIC: A Memoir by Sting
Copyright © 2003 - by Sting
Posted with permission. All Rights Reserved.

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Broken Music 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 36 reviews.
ChadAaronSayban More than 1 year ago
3.0 stars – good Born to working class parents in the English port town of Wallsend, Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner was a smart, quiet boy with good grades who would become a teacher, get married and have a couple of children. This is the person we don’t know. The person we do know is a Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, activist, actor and philanthropist – who’s stage name is Sting. Broken Music is Sting’s autobiography of his life leading up to the moment of his first real commercial success with The Police in 1978. The book takes us through the loneliness of his youth, the contentious marriage of his parents and the failings of his relationships. Sting is very open about his upbringing as well as his shortcomings, including his propensity to be seen as arrogant. It is a charge he doesn’t try very hard to dispute. What does become apparent is how his upbringing and experiences shaped not just his life, but his music as well. Success was not the product of overwhelming talent, but rather single-minded, dogged determination. And while he was never the best pure musician, Sting’s strength was in storytelling and performance. This probably forms from his love of literature. “For to sit in a room full of books, and remember the stories they told you, and to know precisely where each one is located and what was happening in your life at time or where you were when you first read it is the languid and distilled pleasure of the connoisseur.” I found Sting’s story very interesting in and of itself. The writing is solid, if not great. There are also a lot of distractive asides and jumps back and forth in time that make it difficult to follow the narrative. However, the biggest letdown is the incomplete nature of the autobiography. While Sting wrote Broken Music in 2003, he essentially ends the narrative at the end of the 1970’s just as The Police were hitting it big. Knowing that there are so many fascinating parts of his life left unmentioned – his break with the Police, his role in the movie Dune, his solo career, the 9/11 concert in Tuscany, and many more – it is a letdown to not get to experience his personal take on these watershed moments in his life. So while I enjoyed what I did get to read in Broken Music, I was disappointed in what I didn’t get to read. It is a good, but incomplete look at a fascinating individual in popular culture. I just wish there could have been more.
Guest More than 1 year ago
At first I had hard time believing this was really written by Sting, given that most celebrities hire a ghost writers to write the stories of theirs lives. The writing is truly exceptional, and far better than the writing of some classical writers I have attempted to read (i.e. Capote). The language is often poetic and the images described are therefore vivid. It is one of the best written books I have ever read, and have read my fair share. Despite the outstanding writing, however, the book could use some editing. For example, I did not need to read an entire chapter about a cruise Sting was working on. The chapter did not draw any meaningful conclusion that pertained to his life other than perhaps the illustration of his dislike towards pompous social elite. I Highly recommend this tale of struggle toward stardom
Billychic More than 1 year ago
It is true that I have been a Police fan since 1980, and was a fan of Sting over the years after their break up. I had a crush on him as a pre-teen and teenager. When they recently went on tour a couple of years ago after their 25 + year break-up, I made sure I had my ticket (much to my landlord's chagrin since rent was late due to the amount MSG charged for tickets). However, I have also been, for the last 20 years, a critic of his as well; I blamed his arrogance and egomania on the band's dissolution and thought some of his general public statements were of a man too big for his britches, although I still loved his music (which at times I felt was phoned in). So this review is completely about the book, regardless of my love for the music. However, in reading this autobiography I was carried away to a childhood from across the ocean, with dreams of becoming as good as one can be at their art. Being an "artist" myself, I can identify; the moments he talks about listening to music with a methodical and obsessive way to not only escape life but to become a better person are rich in detail, distinct and beautiful in prose. I can relate; it was to his music with the Police and Hendrix and Zappa and Supertramp that I did the same. For those who say that it is overly fluffy with long words, let's not forget that the man was a schoolteacher, who taught English; perhaps being an English major myself I had no problem with understanding his lyrical and candid writing. If it is picture books you want, go get one of many pop culture biographies out there; if you find the language difficult for some reason, then simply extend your knowledge base and use a dictionary if you must. But I recommend this book to everyone out there who has ever dreamt of becoming something greater than what they are. I do agree and hope that he writes a second book; one that discusses in the same lovely way the second half of his life. But, for now, I will enjoy this.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sting is a wonderful writer. I loved how the book made me feel we were in a conversation together. I only wish he went into more detail about his life after the Police. The ending was superb and I enjoyed the symbolism of the lake on his property.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Could this book be filled with any more extensive and unusual words? It felt like I was reading a dictionary without the definitions. At first this was a turn off for the book but then I realized that this was one of the best songwriters of all time. Also, it tended to drag on longer than it should have. Other than that, a fantastic book that is guaranteed to satisfy any hardcore Sting fan.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This by far has been one my most enjoyable readings of the summer. I would have to agree with some of the reviewers here that this book makes the reader enjoy the story of an English boy who would become Sting. To be honest, I don't think that I would want to have this memoir written in any other way, there has been already enough written about the Police and Sting from a mass-culture viewpoint. It was nice to read the story written with the same wit, emotional intelligence and romance as his songs that we have all come to love. The narration flows, and the use of British English did not bother me at all. The book is not written at a 4th grade reading level, so if you can't read even such an enjoyable piece, then obviously such literary masterpieces as 'War and Piece' and 'Crime and Punishment' will always remain a mystery for you. My suggestion: work on your reading skills and don't hesitate to use a dictionary if you run into trouble understanding your native English. Thank you Sting for telling us your life story.
Melanie_Hughes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed learning about the experiences that made Sting the performer and man he is today. A very interesting person and some moving moments in the book.
foomy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm a huge fan of his music but not of his arrogant, hypocritical writing. I think he has a strong ego and a wanna-be-writer. I admit he is an intellectual literate for a musician but he has received enough recognition as an artist that he doesn't have to prove more. He should take an example from his other fellow musician-friends for their humbleness: Clapton, Dylan, Cash etc...
Augusti on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I recently got into the music of The Police, so I was curious about the band, and also about Sting's acting (Dune, Quadrophenia, etc.) Even though Broken Music is about Sting's life leading up to the band's huge success, the book gave me the insight that I was looking for.Sting has a truly mesmerizing way with words that pulled me through the book faster than I expected. He grabbed my attention with the opening, but then things slowed down during his initial recollections of his very early years. In the end, this helped to explain the path that he took in life and sheds some light on his public persona. He also describes his early musical background as a jazz cat, which helps to explain the direction that he took after leaving The Police.I found surprising humor in Sting's perspective and in the way that he sort of pokes fun of the absurdities of life. His memoir is tragic at times, but rather revealing and honest.Now, if only The Police's founder and brilliant drummer Stewart Copeland would write a book! He does write a few things at but it would be great to hear about his early years.
eduscapes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This great autobiography provides interesting insights into the life of one of my favorite musicial artists, Sting.
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ThePoughkeepsieKid More than 1 year ago
This was a wonderful look into the making of a man with a focus on his relationship with his parents and how it colored his relationships throughout his life. Economical in length, erudite in form and poignant in tone this reads almost like a poem(without the meter or rhyme).   It is not a moment by moment autobiography filled with too much fluff and puff. Sting admits many damning personal details of his life, warts and all, in an effort, I think, to educate those who read to accept your life as it has been, forgive people for not being what you wanted them to be, and move on in life with wonder and joy; ie: find your bliss.
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AvidReaderCA More than 1 year ago
I had this book on my shelf for ages. I finally decided to read it and could not put it down. Then it was my husband's turn. We are not huge fans of Sting or his music but I will now pay closer attention. His story is worth reading and I have a new found respect for how he climbed to the top. I would recommend this book for anyone who loves a success story. Sting has our respect and we'll be urging our friends to read "Broken Music" too.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Just like his music, Sting seems to have mellowed with age. Mellowed to a dangerous state in which he may get near to being bland or boring. On these exquisite stories of his life, the reader (as well as the avid Police fan like me)welcomes the inroads we get into his secret self. They arouse interest and, at times, they touch you, like when you can feel his tears as he tells the story of his first girlfriend. However, I still feel that Sting has kept too much hidden, and has been too polite. It is commendable to be autocritical, and he probably feared a backlash such as the review given by Uncut, a fine magazine that clearly hates him as a whole, but, like with his best songs, we are ready to have our heart broken. To be stung, in fact. We need the release and the emotion that he has produced in the past. Since, like most writers, he will not revise this book and it will be all we get, I would like to express my wish that he lets go of all reserve when he deals with the next part of his life, that period in which he made with Andy and Stewart the album that changed my life: Reggatta de Blanc. Love, Ramón.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sting is not only a master songwriter, he is a brilliant author. I could not put this book down. I enjoy reading books that pique my interest and challenge my intellegence, and this book is no exception. I am always intrigued by anyone who accomplishes greatness; Sting is exceptional not only as a muscian, but as a great author. Get your dictionary ready.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you've loved his music, you'll enjoy seeing how Sting came to be. There's nothing here that amazes the reader, but rather leads you to understand his path to becoming a musician. Much of the story is generic, but it's always fascinating to observe an artist's determination and commitment needed over so many years, and the evolution of talent, that all leads to success.