Sting on songwriting, "The Last Ship," Kennedy Center Honors


Sting first gained fame in the 1970s with The Police, before going solo. He is currently performing eight shows a week in "The Last Ship," the Broadway musical for which he composed the music and the lyrics, reports "CBS This Morning" co-host Charlie Rose.

The songs were originally written for the 2013 album of the same name. They tell the tale of a town in transition and diminished opportunity. It is much like the town of Wallsend, where Sting was raised in Northern England.

"I was born at the end of a street where the end of the street was blocked by a giant ship. And that was for the first 15 years of my life," Sting said. "Where life working in a shipyard would seem to be the logical conclusion of where I came from. I did everything in my power to escape it."

Shipbuilding was part of his family tradition, though, so being a songwriter seemed out of the realm of possibilities.

"Even when I was successful," he said.

It was Sting's mother that showed him the path of music.

"My mother was a really good musician. She was a piano player. And she, you know, invested me with the dark arts of music. And she encouraged me," he said.

Sting moved from the small shipping town to London. It was there that he launched his rock star career as the front man of The Police.

Sting was joined by Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers. With their blend of rock and reggae, The Police went to the top in the late 70s and early 80s.

The six-year collaboration produced five platinum-selling studio albums, five Grammys and a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

When Sting left the group, he said knew he was taking a risk, but that it was time for him to move on.

"I knew that what the alternative was, to just stay in one place and keep doing the same thing and, for me that would have diminishing returns," he said. "My instinct is always to take a risk and so I hope to have the courage to keep doing that."

His songwriting process, while difficult to describe, may also come from his instinct.

"It's a line, a line that has some resonance that you haven't heard before. It's a mysterious process and sometimes -- like fishing, you get nothing. And then sometimes you catch something substantial," he said. "When I feel it on the end of the line, I know what I have. And I do my damnedest to pull it in."

Sting is among this year's Kennedy Center Honorees.

"It's not unique for an Englishman to receive this honor, but it's rare," he said. "And it was unexpected and certainly not anticipated by me at all."

While he was honored for the recognition, Sting said the ceremony was odd for him.

"Not having to do anything, not even required to speak and never mind sing," he said. "I'm used to singing for my supper. It was a wonderful experience, but it was difficult to just sit there."

At 63, Sting has no shortage of new fans, but admits before writing "The Last Ship" that he went through a creative drought.

"I was in a writer's block, I would call it. But not a short one -- maybe eight years, where I didn't feel the compulsion to write songs or maybe I was just sick of me?" Sting said. "A songwriter tends to be a naval-gazing, you know obsessive. And I was sick of that. I was sick of offering myself to the scrutiny of the world -- just for the sake of commerce."

It was when he decided to tell stories not just about himself that he began to write songs again.

"And yet when I decided I would write about other people, the community where I came from, I think I revealed more about myself than I had actually intended," he said. "It's my attempt to honor my community, but I'm in it, perhaps unconsciously."

Sting said in addition to his community, he's specifically honoring his father in "The Last Ship." Unable to attend his father's funeral, he said, the show is in part homage to him.

"I saw him just before he died. And then I had some commitments and I didn't go to the funeral. I didn't want the media circus to follow me there to that personal place," he said. "But not having mourned my father in a conventional way, I was cursed to mourn him in a more extravagant way and a much more protracted way."

Sting said compared to his life, which was "rather exotic and strange," his father was never satisfied with his own.

"He was not a fulfilled man. He was an intelligent man, but he never really felt satisfied with life," he said. "And I wanted to thank him, I suppose."

Sting said based on his history of doing things against the odds, his life has been satisfying.

"Leaving a successful band at the height of their career, making records on paper that don't seem like they'd stand a chance on earth," he said "You know I never really sought to coincide with popular tastes, yet often I have. But my intention is just to satisfy my curiosity."