Why Do I Own This? is a column exploring the weirder pop-culture flotsam and jetsam that washes up in the lives of A.V. Club writers, the impulses that drive us to acquire such things, and the motives for clinging to them long after their ephemeral eras pass.
What is it? I have never listened to Sting’s Brand New Day. I don’t know what the single was from it—“Desert Rose,” maybe? I’m honestly not trying to be cooler-than-thou, but I lost interest in Sting somewhere in the late ’80s, and the only thing he appears on that I even own at this point is The Police’s Outlandos D’Amour, which I outlandos d’love. The only thing I own, I should say, except for this autographed copy of Brand New Day, which very conspicuously says, “To Josh, Sting!”
On many occasions, particularly when I’ve been getting ready to move, I’ve considered getting rid of this CD. The thought crossed my mind to try and track down a Sting fan named Josh and give it to him. The thought crossed my mind to just throw it away. Or sell it to a used CD store without acknowledging the scrawl. But when I’m holding it in my hand, I stop and say to myself, “Well, this is a tangible reminder of the day that you sang karaoke with Sting. You should probably hang on to it, even if you’re never going to listen to it.”
How did I get it? It’s a pretty insane story, and one that I’ve repeated countless times, mostly to the disbelief of people hearing it. And I don’t mean that they’re incredulous but ultimately trust that I’m telling the truth. People that have no reason to think I’m a liar just don’t believe me, because the whole premise is so outlandish. (Outlandish d’amour?) But it’s true.
I worked at a record store, Atomic Records in Milwaukee, for a long time. The opportunity arose on occasion to hobnob with people that I actually wanted to meet, so I have fun artifacts from that time like Dr. Dre’s autograph (his dressing room was awesome) and a photo of me and Eminem flipping off the camera (his dressing room was off-limits, because there were naked women in it).
So one day I got a phone call from a friend that worked at Interscope Records—this would’ve been December 7, 1999, according to a quick Internet search—saying something to the effect of, “Do you want to come down to the Riverside Theater and do karaoke with Sting at his soundcheck?” My first reaction was, “I don’t really like Sting, so no,” followed by, “Yes, of course. I’ll be right down.” So me and some friends headed to the theater, which seats about 3,000. With us and a few people we didn’t know, there were about 10 seats filled, and Sting’s band was running through some songs.
In short order, the man himself came out and said hello to us from the stage. I think I remember him singing a song or two before saying something like, “Okay, who wants to come up and sing a few? I don’t want to lose my voice.” (He had been spraying it with some concoction, too.) So, one by one, these few people in the audience took to the stage and sang a song, with Sting providing the occasional backing vocals while playing bass. He had a set list and a lyric sheet sitting on a music stand in front of him. As each person went up, he introduced himself and asked their name. My friend Mark belted out “Moon Over Bourbon Street.” This went on and on. Sting’s crew laughed their asses off at how bad most of the people singing were. At one point during a particularly bad rendition, I recall somebody throwing a white towel on stage, as if it were a prizefight.
So finally—I was hesitant—I got on stage with my friend Rich, who owned the sadly now-defunct Atomic Records. Sting introduced himself. Now, you’re all expecting Sting to be a total douche, right? He wasn’t. He was very nice, and apparently has a pretty great sense of humor to do a soundcheck like this one. (I felt bad at some point in here, thinking what a real Sting fan would give for this experience.) Anyway, he showed us the list of songs—most of which I didn’t know. I said, “How about ‘Roxanne’?” to which he replied, “Are you going to do my version or Eddie Murphy’s?”—a reference to the movie 48 Hours, in case you missed it. I said, “Probably Eddie Murphy’s,” meaning that I’d likely butcher it. So he told me that we couldn’t. In a moment of slight panic, we chose “If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free,” instead.
The actual singing is kind of a blur; I only remember that we didn’t do very well, and sort of hammed it up for the crowd of five gathered in front of the stage. I also remember Sting laughing at us, but it was the good-natured laugh of a man who has zillions of dollars and hours of sex at a time, not the derisive laugh that, say, Bob Geldof would deliver in this situation. I was then, and I remain now, confused by Sting’s motivation. It must’ve just been fun.
And then, after probably 30-45 minutes of karaoke (I just did the one song), Sting climbed down and sat on the edge of the stage to sign autographs for us all. As each person approached, Sting called them by name—he remembered everybody’s name—and gently critiqued our performances. My pal from Interscope slid me a copy of Brand New Day, and I approached. “Josh!” said the artist formerly known as Gordon Sumner. And the only thing I could think of to say was this: “Sting!” I don’t know if he added the exclamation point to the autograph specifically because I exclaimed his name, but I like to think so.
What’s its cultural significance? I’m not entirely sure it has one. Do you know any songs from Brand New Day?
Why would I get rid of it? I have decided to cap my CD collection at 2,000. When a keeper comes in, something has to go. (Everything is backed up, of course, even the stuff that I get rid of.)
How much could I get for it? It’s tough to say, because any potential buyer would have to be named Josh, which limits the eBay field pretty significantly. That said, the right buyer named Josh might be willing to part with, I dunno, $75?
What are the chances that I’ll keep it? Who am I kidding? I’m keeping it.