Sting Relives Hearing ‘Roxanne’ on the Radio for the First Time: ‘That Was the Most Exciting Moment’
Sting stopped by the Howard Stern Show yesterday to promote his new 57th & 9th LP with a handful of musical performances and a wide-ranging interview that touched on everything from new music to his illustrious past — in and out of the Police.
Stern took audiences on a sort of guided tour of Sting's back catalog, with a particular focus on the Police's early records and how the band got started. The first stop, naturally, was "Roxanne," sent to radio as a trial balloon through a one-off deal the band had with A&M Records. As Sting explained, the song came to life as a fictional exercise, inspired by the sight of Parisian prostitutes during one of the group's early — and decidedly low-budget — trips to a bad part of town.
"We were in Paris with an early version of the Police, staying in a cheap motel in a really sort of seedy part of town," Sting explained. "I'd never been exposed to that, and I was fascinated by it. I couldn't afford one, so I conjured one up in my room as 'Roxanne.' Thinking, well, what would it be like to be married to one of these girls? Or be the boyfriend?"
"Roxanne" failed to chart during its initial release, but it did achieve limited success on a handful of radio stations — and left Sting with a pivotal memory that could never be eclipsed by all the Grammys and platinum records that came after: hearing his song on the radio for the very first time.
"I was painting my kitchen," he recalled of the moment when it happened. "I had a basement flat in London, and my little son was on the floor. I was up some ladders painting some white emulsion on the ceiling with the radio on when that song came on, and I started singing and went, 'F---! I'm on the radio!' I just about fell off the ladder. Then the phone rang and it was Stewart Copeland, and then the phone rang with Andy [Summers] — 'We're on the radio!' That was the most exciting moment. You can never reproduce that."
As Stern pointed out, even in the band's earliest years, they had enough belief in themselves to pursue their own path — even if it meant turning down an offer to open for Foreigner because, as Stern paraphrased Sting's position, "we don't open for anyone." Asked to describe the arrogance behind that rejection, he admitted it didn't always seem like such a wise decision at the time.
"Well, as an alternative, what we did was play in Poughkeepsie to three people," Sting laughed. "A lot of the decisions we've made, and I've made, have been counterintuitive, but in the long run, they've worked out. ... We were pretty focused, and I think, pretty arrogant too."
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